Ronald Reagan is often hailed as the hero of the modern conservative movement. The movement?s architect and intellectual leader, however, was William F. Buckley Jr.
Like many others, we were saddened to learn of Mr. Buckley?s passing yesterday at the age of 82. As founder of the political magazine National Review, host of the television show Firing Line and author of the syndicated newspaper column ?On the Right,? Mr. Buckley influenced generations of conservative thinkers ? including the group that launched this very paper back in 1969.
Indeed, The Badger Herald?s existence to this day owes no small bit of gratitude to Mr. Buckley. Faced with mounting debt and an uncertain future, the fledgling Herald invited Mr. Buckley to appear at a fundraising dinner in Madison in 1971. Luckily for us, he accepted.
?One might as well undertake to found a Republican paper in the basement of Buckingham Palace as a conservative paper in Madison, Wisconsin,? Mr. Buckley said that night. Erudite as ever, he predicted the Herald?s move to a daily format, ?a shot that will be heard ?round the world, which will challenge the hegemony of the poor radicals who run the Cardinal.?
The Herald has grown and evolved a considerable deal in the years since, of course. For Mr. Buckley, the decades that followed brought fruition to the movement he helped launch in the 1950s, as Mr. Reagan ushered in a new era of conservatism with his election in 1980.
Of course, Mr. Buckley?s record did have its blotches. In its early years, the National Review vigorously defended segregation in the South. But Mr. Buckley also successfully fought to strip vestiges of anti-Semitism from the conservative movement.
A true pundit until the end, Mr. Buckley became dismayed by certain aspects of George W. Bush?s presidency in recent years, telling the Wall Street Journal in 2005: ?Bush is conservative, but he is not a conservative.?
If ever one was qualified to make such a distinction, it was Mr. Buckley. The man called “the most influential journalist and intellectual of our era? by Mr. Reagan will certainly be missed.