When I was a student, a friend’s father took her and me to a rally for a politician who was running in a local race. It was held in a huge gymnasium in Queens, packed with a large range of people, children to seniors, couples and families, probably mainly from the lower and middle ranges of the middle class. When the tall, handsome mayoral candidate emerged, the house grew electric and wild cheers and jubilation filled the air. My friend, normally a serene and sedate young lady, screamed in joy as if at a Beatles concert and turned to me with bright, shining eyes. I was surprised at the reaction all around, for this mayoral candidate was in my mind an intellectual, and wealthy besides, known for wittily deploying polysyllabic words. But he had an obvious connection to this crowd of ordinary folks who just loved him, and he knew how to address them and return the feeling without losing the above-the-crowd patrician dignity he was famous for.
I’m thinking you’ve guessed that this was Bill Buckley running for mayor of New York City in 1965. There has been a lot of advice given to conservatives and Republicans in the wake of the ‘08 defeats that they must sharpen their appeal to young people and others. They could begin by asking what made Buckley such a draw for that audience. Granted, he did not win the race, and he didn’t intend to, but he did make his candidacy a chance to define conservative ideas and to ignite a fire in people who both instinctively and rationally responded to them.
This is how I’ll always remember Bill Buckley, and this is how I’ll always think of the way conservatives ought to be — smart, witty, vital, and, let’s face it, sexy!