A Christian Gentleman

Joseph Bottum, The Weekly Standard, March 10, 2008.


In photographs from those days, the young William F. Buckley Jr. of the 1950s always seemed to have his legs stretched out–his feet up on a nearby chair, or a pile of books, or an open desk drawer. Slumped down, the phone squeezed to his ear by his shoulder, his fingers twiddling a pencil, he looked both involved and distant, caught up in the moment and a little bit removed, self-absorbed, and self-ironic: a 30-year-old man with a fairly clear idea of what his talent was worth and what it wasn’t. He always seemed to be doing what he did and something more besides.

Perhaps that more is the key for understanding the man, who died last week at the age of 82. Obituary after obituary spoke of the tools he had used to help create the modern conservative movement: his compelling voice, his eloquent speeches, his good looks, his family wealth. As it happens, his voice wasn’t really resonant; he talked through his teeth too much, the words all formed in the front of his mouth and pushed out by an act of will. For that matter, he wasn’t classically eloquent; he often phrased things to draw attention to his phrasings, and from the beginning of his career to the end he fancied long words solely for the sake of his fancy. He wasn’t even handsome, in truth: his grin lopsided, his eyes too small and too sleepy, his face somehow seeming to be wrapped further around his skull than it needed to be.

The Weekly Standard