They don’t make conservatives like Bill Buckley anymore. Today’s conservatives whine, cry, ululate and otherwise bluster and puff with outrage. I have in mind Glenn Beck’s teary face and the late Andrew Breitbart’s fully extended reactionary maw. But no one among the current superstars of conservatism has Buckley’s intellectual heft. They have showmanship, but not brains. And perhaps not brawn either. While Mark Savage and Rush Limbaugh act tough behind microphones, it’s hard to imagine them saying to an ideological foe, “I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered,” as Buckley famously said to Gore Vidal at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, after the two had witnessed the Chicago police riots. That would take guts and an eagerness to mix it up with an opponent. The conservative press now is more theater than debate, and when compared to Buckley’s time, it appears ironically sapped of its previous machismo. I say “ironically” because, for much of the twentieth century, liberals were the crybabies and conservatives were the ones making them cry—and then taunting them for their little girl antics. Now it’s the other way around (though liberals don’t do enough taunting in my view). Even if you disagreed with Buckley’s stuffy social positions, and even if you stood in wonder at his weird sorta-plummy accent, you had to admire the guy. He smiled when he fought.


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