MR. BUCKLEY: Well, there was an accumulation of material and two-or- three months — no, I guess four-or-five months ago — the Atlantic Monthly asked me to submit a piece on why I decided to finally to sell my sailboat, and that required me to think through why at certain points in one’s life one makes certain divestitures. So I wrote a substantial essay, and in the course of it, fleshed out what I had been up to and doing for the last 50 years (dignified chuckle) and came up with this autobiography, which has a lot of stuff in it which I hope you and your listeners would enjoy.
RUSH: Well, you know, Bill, you are a true renaissance man. You’re in the clouds above so many other people, and it’s a real treat to bring you to people who… You know, the audience in this program spans the demographic spectrum, many young people — for example, who have not read God & Man at Yale which was one of the things that established you and put you on the map, and so let me ask you about that. What…? For people who have not read the book but maybe have heard about it, why did you write it? What was the point? What’s it’s staying power?
MR. BUCKLEY: Well, what happened there was that as a student at Yale in my junior and senior year, certain paradoxes sort of crystallized. One of them had to do with Christianity. Although Yale was at least ostensibly a Christian-oriented college having been founded as such 200 years earlier, there was a kind of nagging inattention and sometimes hostility to religion in the classrooms, and then it was — I’m talking about 1945, ’46, ’47, ’48. There was a great infatuation with postwar socialism, so that the socialist government in Great Britain was spoken about here and there as sort of a high point of political sophistication. So when I pulled out, I thought that these paradoxes should be examined in the framework of a book that said, ‘What is a college supposed to do by way of furthering missions?’ and who is entitled to vote on what should be in that mission, my point being that the alumni who sustain a college should have a significant voice in it. What really was extraordinary, Rush, was the reception to that book. It was just simply
RUSH: Yeah, it doesn’t sound like things have changed too much (laughing) in terms of reaction to conservative thought, and if that was the reaction back in 1945, what is, how — you’ve gone through the whole period since, that book and then National Review. You have gone through these years as arguably the leader and the go-to guy for the definitions, the explanations of modern conservatism. How have you been reacted to over the years, and did any of it surprise you?
MR. BUCKLEY: Well, what happened when we started National Review was that we acknowledged that it was necessary to excrete the kooks ’cause here were anti-Semites in the conservative movement, and there were — well, there were people whose sense of balance was in disorder.
RUSH: I think you cited the John Birch Society.
MR. BUCKLEY: Yeah, for five years there was the John Birch Society. So we had to — gently but very firmly — say to these people, ‘Look, we consider the movement as very wide and as capable of many, many voices, many, many interpretations, but in the course of progressing, one has to engage in exclusion. If you believe a set of things today, that set of things is arrived at by rejecting certain other things,’ and that included, in our century, a rejection of the kind of racial animosity that culminated in Germany and what you and I both know and weep over. So that figured — and you asked about the reaction to my own row. It was sometimes pretty feverish, pretty unfriendly. It would have been unthinkable back then to have somebody of your stature say, you know, pleasant things about my work. That has changed. By no means totally, but it has changed (chuckle). It has changed in a direction you would approve. What are you going to do when somebody like Ronald Reagan, who was an early enthusiast for National Review, is elected president of the United States? You can’t rule him out as a right-wing fanatic — not that some people didn’t try. (chuckle)
RUSH: Oh, they still do. Well, but, Bill, you know, as I study things today, you are now treated and received — and properly so — with great affection and great respect, and there are some who say that, ‘Oh, we wish for the old days of Buckley conservatism when it was urbane and erudite and polite.’ They say that the modern era of conservatism has descended into harshness and other things.
MR. BUCKLEY: Well, that’s a weapon. People use that when they want to be anti-Limbaugh. They will say, ‘Well, Limbaugh belongs in that school of polemical thought which really should be excluded.’ They do that to Bill O’Reilly and, of course, they’ve done it to me in the past. I’m not saying that that criticism cannot be leveled. Sometimes it can be leveled, but to level it with the license that they use against you and O’Reilly speaks to me of a different motivation. They want to argue with you by simply outlawing your voice on the grounds that it is eccentric and extreme. It is, as I say, simply a polemical device.
RUSH: Rather than debating the issues, disqualify and discredit the voice, then, is the technique?
MR. BUCKLEY: I think that’s true. I think that’s true.
RUSH: Bill, before the break, you know, I failed to pick up on something, and I’m genuinely curious about, because I know your love for sailing and I know you’ve sailed the Atlantic and I know you almost had a life — well, you did have a life-threatening disaster while at sea while at dinner. It came up on you suddenly. Why did you sail the sailboat?
MR. BUCKLEY: I sailed the sailboat as a result of a gradual acknowledgment of the coefficient of work over-against satisfaction. The kind of work you need to do in order to maintain a sailboat, to sail it competently as I did three times across the Atlantic, once across the Pacific, requires an investment of certain ergs of energy, and those ergs of energy give you, classically, ergs
RUSH: Do you miss it?
MR. BUCKLEY: Yes, I do miss it, but I miss it less than I was afraid I would. I spent a lot of lot of time at sea, and it gives you special pleasures but sometimes those pleasures have to be foregone. I don’t play the piano anymore, same reason I can’t ski anymore. So one has to integrate movement of that kind with a sense of gratitude for what went before and the memories that are residual.
RUSH: This inspires another question, and… You know, I’m just one of many who have sought to emulate you but have fallen way short in my own ways… See, I hope these questions don’t embarrass you, and they’re rat-tat-tat. How did you become — I mean your naturally born intelligent, but you had to still spend time
MR. BUCKLEY: (burst of laughter)
RUSH: Well, I mean it takes time, Bill. I mean a lot of people —
MR. BUCKLEY: Absolutely.
RUSH: — a lot of people, it’s all the time.
MR. BUCKLEY: You mustn’t apologize for being so nice to me because nobody’s going to really believe you when you go to such lengths. I know a certain amount. I by no means have the background of a genuine scholar, but what I do have is an ear for language and an appreciation of its use. My father was very stern in the matter of language with his ten children, and, although he was very permissive, he would be very cross if grammatical mistakes were made or sloppy uses of language. So probably that disposition inhered in my training which maybe — that’s a maybe that’s reflected in this autobiography. Miles Gone By refers to miles gone by not only crossing the Atlantic and skiing and debating with Ronald Reagan on Firing Line and all those other activities, but also slowly sensing and attempting to appreciate the English language and what it will do for you.
RUSH: Now, Bill, you’re selling yourself short. You have the Blackford Oakes mystery series, novels.
MR. BUCKLEY: That’s right.
RUSH: You have written and edited countless books. You have supervised National Review. You went to Rome with Charlton Heston when he filmed Michelangelo [in The Agony and the Ecstasy, 1965]. You have been — I mean, to me, judging your life from the outside, you have not had time to sleep. You’ve had one of the most magnificent lives, but yet you’ve had the ability that you’ve had to do so much with your life. It doesn’t sound to me, it doesn’t appear going through this book and knowing you as I do, that you have wasted a moment. It seems you have to have had some incredible discipline. You have been able to maximize your professional desires and talents as well as the enjoyment aspects of life. They may intertwine and overlap at times, but it’s an amazing life.
MR. BUCKLEY: I’ll tell you one thing. I’ve never taken on is 15 hours of broadcasting every week. I defer to anybody who remarks on what I have done in the light of undertaking what you have done. This is not a
RUSH: We’re talking with Bill Buckley, and you are, ladies and gentlemen, experiencing some of the most amazing humility that you will ever hear in a human being.
RUSH: We’re back with William F. Buckley, Jr., whose autobiography is finally out. It is entitled Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography, and I would heartily recommend it to all of you who have even the vaguest of interests in where and why the conservative movement came from and exists today.
MR. BUCKLEY: Oh, Rush?
RUSH: Yes, sir.
MR. BUCKLEY: Perhaps you should recommend it to people who don’t have a vague interest in order to try to stimulate it?
RUSH: (laughing) Well, I’ll recommend it to virtually everybody who can read.
MR. BUCKLEY: (laughing) All right. Thanks very much.
RUSH: (laughing) But I wanted to make sure that that particular audience didn’t pass this book by. Bill, you served in some capacity, the CIA in the ’50s. Can you talk about that?
MR. BUCKLEY: Actually, it was 1952. I was a deep cover agent, which meant that no human being with the exception of your wife, and only she after she had had a security screening, could know what you did. You may be amused to know that the only human being in the CIA whose existence I knew was my direct officer was Howard Hunt, in Mexico. The Watergate man.
MR. BUCKLEY: What I ended up doing was, of course, very much off the record. But I was blown by somebody or other and now I can disclose I spent most of my time editing a book in Spanish, an important book written by a Peruvian defector who had an enormous influence in Latin America. So it wasn’t very exciting. I quit after eight or nine months and went into journalism here in New York.
RUSH: How were you recruited?
MR. BUCKLEY: I was recruited because I was conspicuous as an anti-communist at Yale, and it was a recruiting territory. There was a guy there, a professor who had informal — and sometimes I suspect formal — links to the CIA, went around looking for people. They
RUSH: Well, but it’s still a chapter. The CIA. Now, I’ve got two more things, maybe three, if you have time, and I’ve only got one minute left, here. Do you have time to go through one more break?
MR. BUCKLEY: Of course.
RUSH: I’d like to ask you about the current status of the CIA as you see it. I’m curious. James Jesus Angleton. I know you wrote a book about him. He was one of the, probably the foremost, CIA spies, and I also want to get your take on the current climate in American politics with the election coming up and we’ll get to that after the break coming up. We’re talking with William F. Buckley, Jr., who is always just a pure pleasure and delight to be able to speak to, especially here on the phone and share the conversation with all of you. His new book is his latest book, the autobiography, Miles Gone By, and it is suitable reading for virtually every human being, even those who are under the age of six and are just learning to read. Everybody should read it.
RUSH: We are back with a true renaissance man, William F. Buckley, Jr. His autobiography is out, called Miles Gone By. Bill, who’s been the biggest influence in your life, if you could name one. Is there one single person?
MR. BUCKLEY: I don’t think there is one single person, but my closest colleague was James Burnham, the political philosopher and strategist. I owe him a tremendous debt. He, by the way, worked indirectly with intelligence for many years after his teaching, and you were asking what we need to do to animate that whole system. I think the emphasis has to be on universalizing our objective. When we were fighting the communists, everybody knew what we had to do — each in his own way because the threat was singular. Now the threat is not so much singular as varied individual branches of Al-Qaeda, whatever. The need for CIA to flourish depends heavily on the extent to which people will cooperate in other countries and in other cultures, to persuade them that their cause is ours is the terribly important mission at this point, something that has to be undertaken at a presidential level, wouldn’t you think?
RUSH: Yeah. But when you say that, it gives me pause because I don’t know that here in America our purpose is singular. It doesn’t seem to be right now.
MR. BUCKLEY: It doesn’t seem to be in part because there has been so much division on the Middle East and eastern front on the Atlantic union front, but this is something that needs repairing, and I hope that we can repair it before there is a kind of a catastrophe that reminds people the extent to which they depend on us for so much at the margin.
RUSH: Well, but I guess my comment specifically related to the political battles going on now. I mean, if you look just in the current context of the presidential election. The Democrats, seem to me, to want to behave as though — on the one hand they gripe about the intelligence community as being handcuffed and incompetent, and yet they’re the ones largely who handcuffed it, and stripped it of money and put rules on it which made the intelligence community’s job that much harder, while at the same time saying that intelligence may not be the way to go because we can’t allow certain recruits because they’re unsavory characters so we can’t infiltrate these Al-Qaeda groups. And they say, ‘Instead we’ll just talk to these people.’ The Democratic candidate for president says they’ll talk with the Europeans. They’ll talk with these terrorist leaders and we’ll have a dialogue. Richard Holbrooke on the Today Show today said that, well, rather than do anything with North Korea seriously we’ll just talk to them. We need to have serious, serious ‘dialogue.’ We’ll talk to them. Yet on the other hand —
MR. BUCKLEY: I think you’re right. There’s a certain incoherence. On the one hand, pleading our general sort of impotence and on the other hand talking about how utopian and idealistic our goals are. When people ask us to look back and, ‘What would you have done two years ago?’ I wrote a piece this morning in which I said, ‘How interesting it would be for Saddam Hussein to wonder whether
RUSH: Exactly, and you made a great point, I think, with the roundtable on Meet the Press Sunday when you said it would have been — and you just repeated it here, essentially — with what President Bush knew, and what he was being told by his intelligence people not just in this country but from the British and others around the world who collect such data, it would have been foolish not to do what we did given that 9/11 has happened and we thought that certain stockpiles of weapons existed.
MR. BUCKLEY: Correct, and now Mr. Bush is taking the line, which is pretty plausible, that the
RUSH: Not at all, and what you’ve just laid out is a case for feeling optimistic about the abilities and purpose of the United States. Yet I come to work each day and I am greeted literally with hundreds of e-mails from people in this audience who are not unfriendly, and they are very pessimistic. They’re very down in the dumps. The degree to which it changes day to day because of what they see reported day to day about the political campaign and the election in the media. How do you see it? How do you insulate yourself from it, and how do you, if you do stay optimistic, how do you do it?
MR. BUCKLEY: Well, I do it by a very heavy reliance on the ultimate strength of right and reason. The American people tend to be, I think, right-minded with a small ‘r,’ because in a partisan context, they usher people out of public life by and large if they become sort of self-marginalized. They did that to Howard Dean. They did it to Henry Wallace, and they may very well do it again this time around, though it is important to note that both Kerry and Edwards tend to be much more conservative than they were a few months ago. But this is in response to that very muscular American solidarity on certain issues. It’s not constant, but it’s gratifying.