Before the hordes who now describe themselves as conservatives, before Ronald Reagan, before even Barry Goldwater, there was William F. Buckley.
Buckley, who died at work in his study Wednesday at age 82, had ranked at the top of the list of the nation's foremost conservative thinkers, writers and champions since the dawn of the Cold War. At the beginning of his career, in the early '50s, he was one of only a few intellectuals espousing conservatism, but he lived long enough to see much of his philosophy fulfilled and embraced by millions of Americans.
Buckley founded the biweekly magazine National Review in 1955, writing columns for it the rest of his life. He was host of an early political talk show and a frequent guest on others. He once even dipped his toe into elective politics, running for mayor of New York City in 1965 on the Conservative Party ticket. When asked what he would do if he won, he replied: "Demand a recount."
A keen wit endeared him to many, including many of those who were his political opposites. He was erudite, eloquent, and possessed of an intimidating vocabulary that he wielded like an epee.
Buckley also had wide-ranging interests. He played the harpsichord. He was an expert sailor, who crossed the Atlantic three times -- and wrote a book about the experience. He also wrote more than 50 other books, not just books about politics and public affairs but also a series of spy novels with the recurring hero, Blackford Oakes.
While steadfastly conservative, he was not entirely doctrinaire. In a 2006 interview with CBS, for example, he labeled the Iraq war a failure.
We doubt that Buckley, with his patrician manner and taste for civilized discourse, would lay claim to the volatile and voluble phenomenon of conservative talk radio. He never was a shouter or rabble-rouser.
For that reason, among many, he will be almost as fondly remembered by his political foes as by his fellow conservatives.
William F. Buckley was among the foremost conservative thinkers of the past 50 years.