Leave it to Bill Buckley to die while writing. Buckley, age 82, was found dead by his cook at his desk Wednesday at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. His son, writer Christopher Buckley, said that he was probably writing one of his famous columns. Buckley was also in the middle of writing another book.
Some on the right hail Buckley as the ultimate intellectual heavyweight, perhaps because he took full advantage of the English language's rich vocabulary, using polysyllabic words that most had never heard before. Yet while Buckley was capable of a clear exposition on conservative political philosophy or his cherished Catholic faith, I think his legacy is more unique than that of a political philosopher or informed layman.
Buckley's family came from wealth--oil and lots of it. As a result, William F. Buckley, Jr., was educated at the finest private schools, some of them in England and France. In an exceptional biography by John Judis titled William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives, Buckley opened up about his odd accent, one that made him sound more British than American to many.
But as it turned out, English was not his first language: French was. He learned it from his nanny. Buckley was teased mercilessly about it when he was a young officer in World War II. On more than one occasion, he had to insist that his voice was no affectation. "This is just the way I talk, OK?" he said. In short, he came by his accent honestly.
I bring this up because so many young conservatives have tried to imitate Buckley over the years, using big words, perhaps some even trying to talk like their patron saint, who predates Reagan and even Goldwater as the founding father of the modern conservative movement in the U.S. But they miss the whole point of Buckley's American life by doing so.