If you want a taste of life with William F. Buckley Jr., read Right Time, Right Place Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement. Rick Brookhiser has been writing for National Review since he was 14 years old. He tells the story of his life with William F. Buckley Jr. in his new book. He talks about that story — and the book — with NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: The book jacket and press releases for your book hook people with a letter from WFB that informed you that “you will no longer be my successor.” Do you expect you might rope people in who are hoping it’s a bitter book? LOPEZ: What do you miss most about Bill Buckley?
RICHARD BROOKHISER: They will be disappointed. Bitterness is the shadow of misplaced adoration. One of the stories of my book is going beyond worshipping Bill, then feeling affronted by him, to affection that acknowledges ambivalence.
BROOKHISER: His delight. It was like birds in the morning. You felt new in its presence.
LOPEZ: What are the most important writing, political, and personal lessons WFB taught you?
BROOKHISER: Writing: Swing for the fences. Why not? We don’t remember the cautious because we never read them in the first place.
Politics: Do the right thing, even if all liberalism disagrees, or all conservatism. The risk of independence is that you will be wrong, but the only way never to be wrong is never to think or decide.
Personal: Be generous. Bill was a self-oriented, even narcissistic man, but one of the ways he expressed himself was by showering favors on others. This is a hard one for me.
LOPEZ: What’s your funniest WFB memory?
BROOKHISER: I laugh hardest at his response to Arthur Schlesinger Jr., which is in Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription as well as Right Time, Right Place. Schlesinger made a high and mighty reference to “National Review, or the National Enquirer, or whatever you call your magazine.” Bill wondered, in reply, how Schlesinger would like it if he wrote, “Dear Arthur, or Dear Barfer, or whatever you call yourself.” If you ever need to call a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian on his misbehavior, that’s the way.
LOPEZ: He was so prolific. What was the secret there?
BROOKHISER: Bill was the fastest writer I have ever seen, and the most disciplined. A thousand words here and a thousand words there — pretty soon it adds up.
LOPEZ: Are there specific lessons you might relay to the conservative movement right now?
BROOKHISER: If you think things are bad now, and they are, remember the mid-to-late seventies. Watergate, the fall of Saigon, stagflation, the energy crisis, Cubans in Africa, Soviets in Afghanistan, Ford’s bumbling, Carter’s puniness. It was an awful decade, but it ended in Reagan.
That’s not to say that every debacle has its Reagan.