Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Death Watch: William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, conservative icon, novelist, mayoral candidate, magazine publisher and television personality, died today at 82. Most of his holding forth came way before my time, but his idiosyncratic accent -- a self-confident mix of upper crust lower New England, British received pronunciation and, seemingly, a few martinis -- made a quick impression on anyone who has heard it.

Buckley was also known for his demonstrative gestures -- he was always pointing at something with either his finger or a pencil. In his written prose Buckley used more commas per square inch than anyone I've ever come across.

If you want to see the man in action check out this clip from 1969 of him debating Noam Chomsky on cold war policy. Not only do both men disagree, but they clearly despise each other. Yet when the linguist and the man who had his own sort of language argue, the rhetoric is eloquent and elevated. If they put that kind of stuff on TV today it would get really bad ratings.

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