James Rosen: Bill Buckley and the Death of Trans-Ideological Friendships

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As we survey the toxic environment in which we are soon to elect the forty-fifth president of the United States, many of us wonder: Why? Why is it this way?

 writes: As we survey the toxic environment in which we are soon to elect the forty-fifth president of the United States, many of us wonder: Why? Why is it this way?

The partisan among us will cite one of the two major-party nominees and blame him, or her, for overtaxing the system with his, or her, singularly odious baggage.

Economists and political scientists, less interested in the specific than the general, will point, perhaps more accurately, to a confluence of developments over time – the corrosion of public trust after Vietnam and Watergate, Supreme Court rulings on election laws, the twin apocalypti of globalization and the digital revolution – as the decisive factors shaping our modern political culture, with its unbearably heavy traffic of nasty primary challenges, leadership upheavals, scandals, hacks, leaks, attacks, and – gridlock.

To these explanations, I propose adding another, imparted to me by an unlikely source: Secretary of State John Kerry.

“Making conversation at one point, I asked Kerry if he had ever met one of my literary heroes. ‘Mr. Secretary, did you know William F. Buckley?’ The answer – and its forcefulness – surprised me: ‘I loved Bill Buckley.'”

We were on his first foreign trip as America’s top diplomat, in February 2013, with the traveling press corps enjoying an off-the-record wine-and-cheese event with the secretary in Cairo (to disclose this story on-the-record, I later sought and received permission from the State Department). Making conversation at one point, I 1477403983115asked Kerry if he had ever met one of my literary heroes. “Mr. Secretary, did you know William F. Buckley?”

[Order James Rosen’s book “A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century” from Amazon.com ]

The answer – and its forcefulness – surprised me: “I loved Bill Buckley.” Who knew that for the founder of National Review, the godfather of the modern conservative movement, a legendary liberal from Massachusetts harbored “love”? Why was that? I asked. Kerry resorted to Socratic Method. “Do you know who his best friend was?”

Now for those well versed in the Buckley canon, in whose ranks Kerry seemed to count himself, this amounts to a trick question.

The Buckley family and some outside observers – including this one – would cite Evan (“Van”) Galbraith, Buckley’s Yale classmate, sailing crewmate, and longest-standing friend.

[Read the full text here, at Fox News]

A graduate, also, of Harvard Law School, Galbraith would go on to serve as a Wall Street banker, chairman of the National Review board of trustees, President Reagan’s ambassador to France, and president of Moët & Chandon.

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“Buckley’s maintenance of “trans-ideological friendships” in his life reflected what some have called a genius for friendship.”

The last eulogy ever published by WFB, a supremely talented eulogist, was for Van, his friend of sixty years. Indeed, when WFB marked his eighty-second, and final, birthday, Van was one of two friends on hand, having just completed his thirtieth radiation treatment for cancer, with only months left for both men to live.

[Read the full story here, at Fox News]

In the public imagination, however, the distinction is usually reserved for John Kenneth Galbraith (no relation), the Keynesian Harvard economist who served as President Kennedy’s ambassador to India, and who coined some enduring terms in the American political lexicon (e.g., “the affluent society,” “conventional wisdom”).

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“WFB and Galbraith had met on an elevator ride in New York’s Plaza Hotel, escorting their wives to Truman Capote’s famous masked ball, the ‘Party of the Century,’ in November 1966. Buckley confronted Galbraith, right there in the elevator, about why he had tried to discourage a Harvard colleague from writing for National Review. ‘I regret that’ said Galbraith.”

This Galbraith, a skiing buddy of Buckley’s during annual retreats with their wives to winter homes in Gstaad, Switzerland, conducted the more public friendship with the era’s leading conservative. With unmatched wit and erudition, and equal instinct for the rhetorical jugular, they debated on college campuses, on the set of NBC’s “Today Show,” and of course on Buckley’s own show “Firing Line,” where Galbraith made eleven lively appearances.

In a July 1972 episode, Buckley welcomed JKG and two of his sons, both distinguished academics, by lamenting: “I regret to report that there is no generation gap between father and sons.”

In answering Secretary Kerry’s question on the fly – Do you know who Bill Buckley’s best friend was? – I imagined he meant J.K. Galbraith and so volunteered that name. “That’s right!” Kerry said, a touch of astonishment in his voice. “And do you know how they knew each other?”

eulogies

Here again, I swiftly calculated that Kerry would not know the obscure truth: that WFB and Galbraith had met on an elevator ride in New York’s Plaza Hotel, escorting their wives to Truman Capote’s famous masked ball, the “Party of the Century,” in November 1966. Buckley confronted Galbraith, right there in the elevator, about why he had tried to discourage a Harvard colleague from writing for National Review. “I regret that,” said Galbraith, his first words to a friend he would hold dear for the next forty years.

So again I opted for the answer I suspected Kerry had in mind….(read more)

James Rosen joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999. He currently serves as the chief Washington correspondent and hosts the online show “The Foxhole.” His latest book is  A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century (Crown Forum, October 4, 2016). 

Source: Fox News


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