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Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Talented Mr. Buckley

Bill Buckley has been gradually retiring since, well, since before I started reading National Review, bit by bit (editorship, ownership control, Firing Line, skiing, sailing, public harpsichord performances), which I wager is a nice way to do things, though the impression that I get is that the only real retirement he'll ever take is the "until judgment day" kind. He quit the lecture circuit years ago, but gave what was billed as his "final speech on public affairs" last night. Here's my hang up: if these Yale kids are so smart, why do they say things like (quotes from the YDN italicized) this:

Although most students said they liked the humor in Buckley's speech, others said he did not actually address the matter at the heart of the debate.

Yeah, the topic of the debate was "Resolved: The Democratic Candidates for November 7th Should Withdraw", why would you care if he focused on that? He's William F. Buckley, and you got to be there, take what you can get.

Eric Purington '09 said although Buckley was extremely eloquent and an impressive public speaker, he wanted to hear more about the actual topic in question.

"I expected a broader interpretation of everything he has stood for for the past 60 years," Purington said. "Also, his suggestions weren't really conceivable."

Eric, I know you're only a sophomore in college, but even you should be able to figure out that any "suggestions" offered probably weren't meant to be taken very seriously. Also, 60 years is a long time to condense down for your pleasure. He's probably written enough material that it would take a normal person 60 years to read it all.

Geoffrey Shaw '10 said he did not feel that Buckley's points adequately addressed the question at hand.

"It was funny that he said that the way to correct the Democrats' platform was to listen to him, but he never really elaborated on his own ideas on how to change it," he said.

Greg, I think you and Eric should hang out, maybe if the two of you put your heads together you'll be able to get the point. Buckley is good as an apologist (drop the negative connotation here), but I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better polemicist on the right. Is this because the content of his arguments is that much better than every other writer out there? Of course not. At a certain point, style matters; Buckley’s got it, the new class (Coulter, Hannity) wishes it did. Some of the younger old timers, in my opinion, come close, specifically Peggy Noonan and Pat Buchanan (when he’s not being crazy).

But others said they believed Buckley did justice to his reputation of being a good speaker in his last address.

Finally, a guy who paid attention:

"His tongue-in-cheek humor added to the effectiveness of his speech," Alexander Gregath '09 said. "He is the master of the underhanded insult, and he wouldn't be saying the things even in a humorous way if he didn't believe them."

Close enough my friend. Making fun of these kids, while not very nice, did remind me of one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons, "A Tale of Two Springfields." And not just for the chloroform jokes. If you aren't familiar, the setup is that Springfield is split into two towns, Old Springfield and New Springfield. Old(e) Springfield, as Homer points out early on, is home to Mr. Burns, Dr. Hibbard, Kent Brockman and pretty much anyone with money. Homer (the mayor of New Springfield, incidentally) is watching TV. Enough set-up. This exchange gets me every time:

Kent Brockman: Scientists say they're also less attractive physically, and while we speak in a well-educated manner they tend to use low-brow expressions like "oh yeah?" and "come here a minute!"

Homer: Oh yeah? They think they're better than us, huh? Bart, come here a minute!

Bart: You come here a minute!

Homer: Oh yeah? *shaking fist*

Well, maybe it isn't as funny in plain text, since it depends on running the words "come here a minute" together into something like "comeeraminit" and on Don Castellaneta's voice work on the two key words "oh yeah" (which is completely unlike that of Duff Man, or the Kool-Aid Man for that matter). It's because of this that I often shake my fist and say "oh yeah?" for no apparent reason.

Today, however, I'm shaking the "oh yeah?" fist at these Yale kids who had the great fortune to attend a once-in-a-lifetime event and didn't appreciate it for what it was.

The notion of Bill Buckley talking election hypotheticals with college kids is funny enough; I remember after the 2004 Presidential election reading in one of Mr. Buckley’s columns in which he remarked terribly casually that it would probably be his last. There have been similar remarks in other speeches, and columns and such.

As I alluded to in the beginning of this post, Mr. Buckley seems to be narrowing the scope of his endeavors, winding up his affairs. Here's what I'm trying to say: When Russell Kirk passed away, (and now I'm copying directly from his obituary, written by WFB,how odd) on “his last day, he rose, breakfasted, sat down in his armchair, exchanged words with his wife and two of his daughters, closed his eyes, and died.” I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a freshly finished manuscript on his desk, along with a column or two.


Yeah, the topic of the debate was "Resolved: The Democratic Candidates for November 7th Should Withdraw", why would you care if he focused on that? He's William F. Buckley, and you got to be there, take what you can get.

As a current member of the Yale Political Union, I can assure you that Mr. Buckley himself insisted on that particular resolution, and wouldn't speak on any other. And while I was deeply honored to witness the last (or not) speech of such a remarkable figure, and appreciated thoroughly his humor, I don't think my classmates or I are out of line in wishing simultaneously for some sort of ideological or policy-related content to his speech. Again--the speech was remarkable, and at times touching, but I find it strange that you should defend him in his choice to never actually address the topic.

Yes, he *can* do whatever he wants. But one of the things he wanted to do was deliver his final speech to a political organization. Are we out of line to expect a political speech? You seem to think him so important, his acceptance of our invitation such a condescension, that we should be happy with whatever scraps of policy we can garner from his speech. I think we should indeed feel honored for his presence--but what I really take issue with is your ridicule of my fellow Yalies--friends of mine, in fact--merely for having an opinion of the policy component (which was, indeed, lacking) of his speech. And I'll add that it is not particularly uncommon for important political figures to 'talk election hypotheticals' with the Yale Political Union. We've had Michael Dukakis and Al Sharpton come this semester; Justice Scalia will come to speak next week. Both had substantive policy arguments--I expect that Justice Scalia will as well. Is it really so unreasonable for us to expect one from another guest? In general, I suppose I take issue with your systematic demeaning of our opinions and concerns, apparently just because we're undergrads.

Lastly, I'll add that Buckley's other casual references to 'last' this and that aside, he informed the Union (of which he was once a member) in advance that he had a special announcement for us at the meeting--this announcement was that it would be his final speech on matters of policy.
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