(March 8-9) 

Conservatives of a certain vintage will all be tipping their caps March 9 to the much-loved James Buckley, former U.S. senator, high-ranking State Department official, and federal appeals court judge, on the occasion of Buckley’s 100th birthday.

Deservedly so. Buckley, who is still reportedly healthy and sharp, is a national treasure. Longtime American Enterprise Institute public opinion specialist Karlyn Bowman, who served on Buckley’s Senate staff in the early 1970s, described him to me as “an extraordinary individual, highly principled, very decent, thoughtful, resolute… very learned, and just a delight.” For most of us, earning just two or three of those adjectives would be a great achievement, but again and again, all who know Buckley described him in similarly glowing terms.

I’m not in the habit of referring to someone else’s column for the definitive take on my own current subject, but Matthew Continetti of AEI has a superb tribute to Buckley, one of the only men in history to serve at such high ranks in all three branches of the federal government. Do read it here.

I write instead to relay something in my possession that captures some of Buckley’s personality. It comes from the files of Kenneth Giddens of Mobile, Ala., who served for more than seven years, the longest tenure ever, as director of the Voice of America, the official international radio broadcaster for the United States. When Buckley served as head of the Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, also U.S. government organizations in the same umbrella as VOA, he wrote to Giddens from Munich, where Buckley was stationed so as to better direct RFE work at the height of the Cold War…..

The Soviets, Buckley said, seemed to have developed a “special animus” against him because of the RFE/Radio Liberty efforts.

“Pravda denounced me as a notorious hawk, ‘obscurantist’ (whatever that means), and an ‘enemy of democracy and détente,’” Buckley wrote. “I try to keep a stiff upper lip.” …. [The full column is here.]


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