RUSH: William F. Buckley passed away either late last night or this morning at his home in his study in Stamford, Connecticut, a place that I have been privileged to visit countless times. I’ve been reading some of the quickly produced obits and bios on Buckley on the wire services and I’ve had a chance to listen to some people on television who worked for him or knew him intimately talking about him, and I want to leave it to others to describe his history and his role in conservatism. I think a lot of people are not aware of it. I’ll take my spin at that at some point. But in talking about Bill Buckley, I’d rather focus on the instances that I spent time with him, that I got to discuss things with him and the things that we discussed and what a thrill it was to be able to finally meet him under the circumstances that happened. For me to trace my knowledge of William Buckley, I have to go back to when I was 13, 14 years old and hated school. I felt like school was prison. I felt like I was being controlled and dominated. When I feel like I’m being controlled, I’m outta there. I just revolt, I leave, don’t want any part of it from anybody anyhow. So school was not a particularly productive place for me. I did absorb a lot there but only because I had to be there.
My desire to learn actually came from outside the classroom. It came from my father, perhaps the most brilliant man I ever knew intimately, and my grandfather, of course, and many members of my family, and tossed into the mix was Mr. Buckley, who had a newspaper column. I remember at age 12 or 13 it was published in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, which was the morning paper in St. Louis at the time that was conservative for the most part. No longer publishes, of course. But I remember at age 13, 14, all the way up through high school just being mesmerized. It was the things that Buckley wrote in those columns that literally created my desire to learn. Of course, listening to my father just rant on about a number of things constantly regarding politics, cultural things, we were a very active family in that regard, and, you know, the old image of families sitting around the dinner table and talking about stuff was true at our house. For me it was a listening experience, and, of course, peppered with questions and so forth. The single greatest motivation I had to learn to read, write, speak the English language the best I could, to expand my vocabulary, came from Bill Buckley.
Bill Buckley is indescribable. He’s irreplaceable. There will not be another one like him. And although that’s true of all of us, once you take the time to learn about Buckley and his life and look at what all he did with it, he did not waste a moment, did not waste a moment. He was able to pursue, as he called it, his sybaritic delights, his pleasurable delights, such as sailing around the world numerous times, traveling the world with his work. He was prolific in output, but it was his intellect and it was his good humor that was literally inspiring to me. Even after I went through one year of college and I was having trouble, flunked speech, should have called the course Outline 101. Flunked speech, did every speech, showed up at every class and still flunked it. I said, ‘This is not for me.’ And one morning I was sitting in the house at 20 years old and I said, ‘I’m quitting.’ I told my dad, ‘I’m quitting. I can’t handle this. I’m leaving. I’ve got a job offer in Pittsburgh, and I’m going to go there.’ And, of course, he came from the Great Depression, and that was the worst news he could hear. The formative years of his life were the Great Depression and World War II. You go through the Great Depression, and if you didn’t have a college degree you had no chance of getting a job.
He had great fears. I’m the only member of my family I think that doesn’t have a college degree. He was very concerned he was a failure as a father, and I remember telling him, ‘Well, I want to be like Bill Buckley.’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well, I want to be able to sit around and write and think and speak,’ and so forth, and my dad blew up at me. ‘What are you talking about?’ He gave me a two-hour lecture on, ‘Where do you think Bill Buckley went to become what he is? Do you think Bill Buckley just sits around and writes and thinks and speaks, and people like you have this reaction to him?’ I got a serious lecture on how hard and time-consuming achievement is. When you see the output of someone’s work but you don’t see what goes into it, you can make the mistake of assuming it comes easy to them, especially those who are great at what they do. They make it look so easy that you think you could do it, too. And you form impressions of how they do it, and you see these people on television and so forth, you really don’t see any of the prep or any of the hard work that goes into the final product, and my dad was right about that.
So it wasn’t until I left the formal academic setting at age 20, that I got serious about education above and beyond what I’d learned at home. I’m not just talking about politics and political things, I’d absorbed a lot of that. But I started working on my vocabulary, all of these things, trying to acquire just as much knowledge as I could. I did it in trying to imitate Mr. Buckley, thinking he would say something like this. I was reading omnivorously and voluminously, meaning anything I could get my hands on that was of interest to me. So one thing leads to another, my career spawns, it starts and stops, but eventually I got my break in Sacramento in 1984, which led to moving to Sacramento in 1984, which led to moving to New York in 1988. I had over the years developed a halfway decent, with two or three words at a time, impersonation of Bill Buckley. Bill Buckley and his books, his magazine, National Review, I thought Buckley was so unique and special that when I found out about National Review, I thought you had to be invited to read it. I didn’t think anybody could. I didn’t know he was writing a magazine and publishing one just for profit. I thought there was select group of people that were entitled to be part of that. I’d never seen it on a newsstand. I had never seen it anywhere at anybody’s house. But I heard about it and I read about it and so forth.
So one day I called National Review in New York when I was in Sacramento. I was very sheepish, a woman answered the phone and I felt like I was calling God. I didn’t ask to speak to Buckley. I said, stammering, ‘Can I subscribe to your magazine?’ ‘Of course, of course. Where can we send it?’ I was taken aback. I was in that much awe, is what I’m trying to say. I was as nervous making that phone call as any phone call I can remember making. So I began to subscribe to it, got a hold of more and more, continued to read his column. And, of course, he was one of the formative forces in my worldview, political, conservative view of all things: domestic, cultural, political. My first real understanding of the concept of lowering tax rates to generate revenue came from Bill Buckley. I could cite countless other things of conservative orthodoxy. It’s a shame to even attach the term conservatism to this because it’s too narrow. It’s just right. These are principles by which people live and order their lives, and they have been shown over the course of human history to work and to be infallible in governing people, in governing one’s own affairs, leading one’s own life, establishing mechanisms by which people, nations, can manage their affairs to the best of society’s purposes and intents.
All of this, all of this body of thought, all of the inspiration, all of the bright lights going off in moments of just ecstatic understanding — all due to Bill Buckley, after I had left home. When I start my radio show in New York in 1988, of course, I profusely comment on Buckley and National Review and quote him. I was invited — I guess within the first three weeks I got to New York — I was invited to a reception that was at the townhouse of Lewis Lehrman, and there were a number of people who worked at National Review there that afternoon. Richard Brookhiser was there, one of the editors, a number of other people, and I was a kid in a candy store, even though I am 40 years old. I feel like I’m mingling with giants, intellectual giants, people I wish I could be, people that I may not be able to be, but if I hang around ’em I’ll absorb a lot from them and I’ll be better than I am. To shorten this story, because I’m a little long here and I have to go to a commercial break pretty soon, I forget the year, because all these years run together. But it wasn’t long after I got to New York in 1988, might have been by 1990, I received a phone call from Frances Bronson, who was Mr. Buckley’s personal assistant. And if every executive could have a Frances Bronson, there would be nothing that didn’t get done.
She was just thorough, competent. She was half of his brain. I begged her, ‘Find me one of you,’ and she would just laugh. But I got a phone call from her, very formal, inviting me to an editor’s meeting, a National Review editor’s meeting at Mr. Buckley’s apartment on Park Avenue in Manhattan, which I came to eventually call the maisonette, because I read once that first-floor apartments in big buildings on Park Ave are called maisonettes. So I’m shaking on the phone at this invitation. I don’t know if I belong there. You know, this is a cut above, I’m not sure, but I accepted. After I hung up the phone I called my brother, I called my mom, I said, ‘You won’t believe what just happened.’ In my mind, it was like being summoned to as close to God on earth as you can get, and I fretted about this. I didn’t want to go in there and blow it. I did not want to go in there and make a fool of myself. The time arrived, the day arrived, and I had my driver drive around the block four times while I’m mustering the courage to get out of the car and go in. Mr. Buckley’s driver was waiting outside on 73rd and Park to greet the arriving guests, all of the editors and maybe some other guests, too. So we finally stop, I got out, and I didn’t know it was Mr. Buckley’s driver at the time, it was somebody who worked for him, but he told me when I got out of the car. He could not have been nicer. ‘Everybody’s been looking so forward to meeting you, Mr. Limbaugh. We’re so glad that you came.’
Let me take a commercial break here, and I’ll continue this. I could speak about Mr. Buckley today for three hours. I don’t intend to do that. But I do want to finish this particular story, because it has relevance to what’s happening with our, quote, unquote, conservative movement today.
RUSH: So when we were last discussing this, I was just about to enter the door of Mr. Buckley’s maisonette at 73rd and Park. I entered what I thought was a shrine. To my left was a harpsichord. He played the harpsichord. He wasn’t playing it at this point of time, but he played it. He was playing it when I walked in some time later as his guest on Firing Line, taped in his living room, which is where I was escorted when I arrived. Folks, I can’t describe how nervous I was while at the same time trying not to be and just relax and be myself. I was escorted in. The room was full. I was one of the last to arrive because I’d driven around the block four times, trying to get the courage up to go in. He was the first to stand up and greet me, that charismatic, just love-of-life smile, welcomed me into that room as though I belonged there as much as any other guest did. He asked me what I wanted to drink. I said, ‘I’d like a Diet Coke,’ and sat down. I remember Linda Bridges, who announced his death today, was seated to my left.
Look, folks, these people are all the smartest people in the world to me. These are the people that put out National Review! These are the people that helped Bill Buckley in his quest, which was memorable. We owe Bill Buckley every bit the debt. We conservatives owe Bill Buckley every bit the debt that we owe Ronald Reagan. The two occurred simultaneously. And Reagan was also inspired and educated quite a bit by Buckley. They were very, very close friends. We owe Buckley the same kind of gratitude. I was a little mad when I looked at the wire stories today describing Bill Buckley, and when I saw some of the people that AP had gone to talk to. We’re dealing here with the death of one of the greatest Americans in our lifetimes, in three or four generations. In my mind, I rank Bill Buckley as a Founding Father. His passing, I hope, in the coming days will be given the attention and respect that it is due. He was much more than a conservative author and TV host, as has been reported earlier today.
Anyway, Mr. Buckley prepared my Diet Coke, and I sat down, and the conversation at the time I entered they were talking about whether or not James Joyce could publish Ulysses if he tried to at that point today, meaning it was so risqué, could anybody publish it; and they were having a discussion about that and literature in general. You know, I’m sitting there swimming. And this Diet Coke doesn’t taste like Diet Coke. What is this? It tasted like mineral oil that had cola coloring in it. It wasn’t long before Mrs. Buckley — Pat — made her grand entrance into the room after everybody else had arrived, coming down the sweeping staircase into that room. Everybody in that room shot up like jacks-in-the-box. She came over to me first off, welcomed me to their home, thanked me so much for what I had been saying about her husband and her son and the magazine and so forth. My ‘Diet Coke’ was about half empty. She said, ‘Would you like a refill? What’s that?’ I said, ‘It’s Diet Coke.’ So she took it, took it over to Bill, and said, ‘Fix Mr. Limbaugh another one.’
She watched him fix it, I guess, because I’m in the middle of talking to somebody, and I hear her shout, ‘Bill, what are you doing! I said Diet Coke.’ So I was right. It wasn’t Diet Coke. I don’t know what it was that he served me. Don’t read anything into this. It’s just one of these things that I remember. Then we went in to dinner, big circular table in the dining room, and the conversation — and they all wanted to know what I thought about things. They all wanted to know how I go about doing my radio show; what’s my point, what are the things I’m trying to accomplish. They were fans. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life, and I’ll tell you why. Because at the time there was a definable, respected-by-all conservative leader, and he was it. He had no ego. He didn’t feel threatened by the arrival of other conservatives. He welcomed them. Bring ’em all in, find out if they’re legit, find out if they’re worth the imprimatur, but bring ’em in — and that night I was made to feel welcome in the, quote, unquote, ‘conservative movement’ as started by its leader. I can’t describe how he made me feel that night.
RUSH: Just a couple more remembrances here of Mr. Buckley, who passed away either late last night or early this morning. He was in his study working. He was working on a book. I last saw him late last year at lunch, up at his house in Stamford, Connecticut. Norman Podhoretz and his wife Midge Decter were there, and Bill’s young assistant who was helping him work on this new book. I had expected — and I’d been warned by people, he had been in the hospital prior to that with emphysema and other maladies, and I had been warned, ‘He’s not going to look like you remember him. He’s weak and so forth,’ and I was stunned when I got up there. He looked great! He was energetic, feisty. Norman Podhoretz was talking about his most recent book and how he’d gone to Barnes & Noble and the protesters had been violent or threatened violence. They had to have cops help him get out of the Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side. Well, that started an avalanche of stories from Buckley’s past over similar things that had happened. It was like having an encyclopedia that spoke to you.
But he would never fail to chide me. He listened to this program, and if he heard me say things that he thought were incorrect or whatever, I’d get a little chiding, a little note. But I spent a lot of time with him. I remember he had a luncheon to introduce Ward Connerly to much of the New York Drive-By Media, and Dan Rather was there. Dan Rather. Well, you know, Buckley had friends across the aisle. Buckley, a lot of his friends were huge, big-time liberals. I remember Rather and I were one of the first to — I took the day off. This was a luncheon. I took the day off to attend this thing. I told you people about it when I did it; I didn’t sneak out on you. It was just fascinating to watch Ward Connerly speak brilliance to a bunch of people with their mouths wide open, trying to figure out what the hell this guy was talking about. I’m talking about New York liberal Drive-By Media types. Dan Rather, just as a little aside, started talking to Buckley about a brand-new shotgun he had gotten, during the cocktail hour here. Here’s Dan Rather talking about shotguns to Buckley.
Buckley didn’t seem that interested, but he engaged Rather in conversation. There were other times at Buckley’s house up in Connecticut with Henry Kissinger. I ended up being over there quite a lot, ended up talking to him a number of times. I went on magazine anniversary cruises and their 50th anniversary up in Washington at a museum. He became a confidante and a friend and an advisor, and he became somebody that I could, you know, ask, ‘What do you think would be the right way to handle a situation like this?’ and he would tell me. It was like having another father. In fact, I remember the first time — I just remembered this — that I had him and some other people over to my apartment in New York for dinner, I really embarrassed him. After we’d eaten dinner and we were in my current place, my fashionable Upper East Side penthouse. (interruption) No, I wouldn’t have anybody over at that place on the West Side, Mr. Snerdley. I barely went there! (laughing) That was just a place to sleep. The best thing about that place on the West Side was Otis, the doorman, and he’s still there.
At any rate, we’re having some brandy and cigars after dinner at my little circular dining room table. I forget how many people were there. There might have been twelve people. The dining room table could seat 12 people. I guess I’d had one too many brandies, so I was a little less inhibited, and I stood up and I gave Bill a toast. This has to be 1996 or ’97. So this is after I’d met him and known him for a long time, and gotten to know him. I told him, ‘You know, my father passed away in 1990, but you make me think my dad’s still alive here with me,’ and he started crying. He acted a little embarrassed. I said, ‘I see you tearing up, but it’s true.’ I think, for all of the talk about how intelligent he was, that’s not even the word to describe it. Genius. The amount of knowledge he acquired and was able to spit back on virtually anything, was incomprehensible to me. His brain, his intellect, his use of it was indescribable — and he had an ego. He knew who he was and he knew what he bestowed on people. He knew what his impact was, but he was still very humble, and he was not accustomed to hearing a compliment like that.
When I told him, ‘My father is still alive, Bill. You’re here,’ he kind of got choky. He looked around. He looked at Pat and so forth, and I remember, too, Gay and Stanley Gaines, some dear friends of mine from here were there, maybe Newt Gingrich, too. That’s right. It was when Newt was there. Newt had invited a bunch of us, when he was speaker, to have dinner on the terrace outside his office — and then we decided to do it again at a different place. We did it at Buckley’s place next time, and then we did it at my place, and everybody came to the place to finish the troika of this. I remember it was funny. Newt and Buckley would have little arguments, and Buckley would tell Newt what he thought, and vice-versa. I can’t describe to you the thrill all of this was for me to be among such a giant and such an intellect, and somebody who really… We throw this term around ‘conservative movement,’ and I do think that that label, that term narrows what we all are; you and I, what we believe. But, at the time, conservatism was in the process of growing and expanding and destroying the monopoly of the Drive-By Media.
We’ve gotten so big now that we’ve splintered, and everybody is trying to be the next Buckley — not in terms of who he was as a man, but in terms of being thought of as the intellectual leader; the intellectual inspiration for the movement — and, as such, there’s now competition. There was no competition. Buckley just made it okay for people to come out of the closet, and everybody revered him. But now it’s a little different. This happens as organizations and life evolves and changes, and you can’t go back to what it was. But I’ve said oftentimes on this program, be it in elected officials or what have you, what we’re missing outside of the media is conservative leadership. So, we have a number of people who are trying to redefine what ‘conservatism’ is, with themselves as the leader. Fine and dandy. Everybody is free to do what they want, but it’s causing rifts; it’s causing some splinters to take place, which is natural as well. It just makes me miss Mr. Buckley all the more. He was a leader with the power of his intellect and his presence — and not physical presence.
Just the fact that he was there, doing what he was doing, was leadership. I don’t know how many of the others felt about him the way I did. He had universal respect among people, and I’m sure there were people who knew him that had things about him they didn’t like, which is true of everyone, but I never found any of those. I was too enamored and too much in awe. Of course, the awe gave way after time, and it was easy to be myself around him — and that’s, of course, when things really got fun, because he was so welcoming and understanding, and he knew his brain was 15,000 times smarter than anybody else’s. He was patient. He was really patient. He was never insulting, and he was never dismissive. He was always inclusive, and that was born of his confidence of knowing who he was and what he had done, and being very proud of it. To this day, I don’t know how he lived the life he did, to be as productive as he was, and to engage in what he called — as I said earlier — his sybaritic pursuits with as much energy and with as much time. I don’t know how he did it.
I still marvel whenever I read anything he’s written. I always will, and I’ll always continue to learn something from him no matter the fact that he’s gone. You can reread books that he’s written, books that he’s edited, columns. Go back and read some of the early National Reviews. They’re just as inspirational today as ever — to me, anyway — and I think to a lot of people as they were when they were first published. All right, we’ll move on to other things, such as the Democrat debate last night and there are a lot of other things on the agenda today, so we’ll get to those right after this. Thanks for indulging me in all this, folks. We have some clips, by the way. He was last on this program in 2004, for an hour, talking about a number of things. Cookie is going to go through that hour and pick a couple things. We’re probably going to do that on Friday, maybe tomorrow, but we’re working on putting it together for Friday. This has hit everybody. We all knew he was sick, but there were no warnings last night, last week, just (snaps fingers). He was working on his new book, and then all came as a shock. Ten o’clock this morning is when I found out about this.