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The Spanish-Speaking William F. Buckley (dissentmagazine.org)
14 points by tintinnabula on Sept 29, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 7 comments

The "aristocratic English accent being mocked" was actually a Mid-Atlantic accent.


That aside, I would pay money to hear William F. Buckley, Jr. speak Spanish.

Here's an interesting debate between Buckley and Chomsky:


For those with Amazon Prime, a number of "Firing Line" episodes are available with better (relatively speaking) quality from Amazon for free. I think this is the same episode that you linked:


Buckley was not a political thinker. He was a narrow-minded ideologue who used every rhetorical flourish at his command to support his doctrinaire positions. He never saw any gray areas and never acknowledged that his opponents' positions had any value whatsoever.

A great moment was when he made the mistake of inviting Groucho Marx on his show (Marx was a liberal), who made him look like the stiff prig he was. A grotesque moment was his debate with James Baldwin at Cambridge University, during the height of the civil rights movement, when Buckley defended states' rights and racial discrimination. It's on YouTube. The students voted and Buckley lost.

> Buckley was not a political thinker.

No true Scotsman.

> He was a narrow-minded ideologue

Ad hominem.

> used every rhetorical flourish


> doctrinaire positions


> never acknowledged that his opponents' positions had any value whatsoever

Simply inaccurate.

This is really what prompted the response, you can easily find examples of him conceding points to his opponents online.

In his discussions with Hitchens, the default mode is for both participants to bounce between encyclopedic historical/geographical trivia and playfully needling one another. However there are moments where each will say that the other has made an interesting point and carry it forward further. 21:30 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeGKcX-JHNE Earlier and later in the piece Buckley ganged up with Hitchens against Tyrell.

Most of Buckley's opinions are really dated, stuck in a version of Cold War politics that is nearly incomprehensible today, so I'm not trying to endorse his conclusions.

But he is one of the few people I've ever seen on television that has actually waited to hear what the other person says, even rephrasing it to make sure he's clear on their exact arguments before responding. That sort of patience has become a unicorn in entertainment today.

Sometimes his conversations flew off the rails, but he pulled off good conversations from time to time with people he deeply disagreed with.

Maher desperately tries to have difficult conversations, and sometimes succeeds, but it's like he's got a 30 second shot clock above the cameras measuring how often they need to slip in a punchy zinger and change the subject.

Real disagreements are just damn hard to capture on television with the attention span of most audiences. Mostly we just ended up with people shouting over each other. After watching talking heads shows today, going back and watching Buckley argue with someone is a surreal experience, easily preferable in contrast.

Good summary. Buckley had plenty of liberals on his show. Reminds me of the time he was discussing the 1963 Democratic convention with liberal Gore Vidal, and Buckley threatened to punch him in the face after Vidal called him a crypto-Nazi: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYymnxoQnf8

Thanks. I would file that Vidal debate under examples of conversations that dove right off the rails, though it is maybe his most famous. I think there might have been some with Chomsky too.

The Hitchens discussions were better, even though they were very far apart politically.*

And he had some with sitting Democratic politicians where he would occasionally make concessions. Towards the end here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5-R2aHdul0

Though he starts by setting up an unproductive definitional trap about liberalism, a recurring theme, he basically backs off after being called on it (roughly 4:55).

It's unfortunate that that full conversation (and really, more Firing Line) isn't on YouTube so we'd have more case studies.

* Perhaps ironically, because Hitchens became a lot more sympathetic to Buckley's views on military intervention and skepticism of Communism later in his career. I think that's to Hitchens' credit though, that he was able to continue turning these issues over in his mind and apply them differently to different contexts.

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