28 February 2008

The Passing of a Father

I don't remember how I got hooked on National Review. I know it happened while I was a freshman in college. Little did I know that it would become perhaps the most influential literature in shaping my worldview.

National Review, of course, was Bill Buckley's baby. He was the man who masterminded the conservative revolution out of the ashes of Goldwater's defeat in 1964. Without him, there would've been no Reagan, no Republican takeover of Congress, no reclamation of the Supreme Court. Mr. Buckley began a movement that left its stamp on every branch of our government, as well as society.

His passing will be mourned. By me, and thousands like me, for our political and philosophical education didn't come from school, but from the pages of National Review.

I never had the privilege or pleasure of meeting Mr. Buckley. But as a loyal subscriber of NR, I felt there was this kinship -- he was like a philosophical father to me. His words, and the words in the magazine, were readily and eagerly digested by a young soul hungry for intellectual nourishment. It was truly a moveable feast.

In many ways, I am fortunate that my introduction to the conservative movement was through the erudite prose of NR, not the angry words from the world of talk radio or Ann Coulter's books. I learned the art of making an argument without resorting to putdowns and ad hominen. It was an education just about unavailable now in the halls of any American university.

It prepared me for life.

Bismarck once remarked that "if you're not a socialist at 19, you have no heart; if you're still a socialist at 30, you have no brain." Well, call me tin man, but I'll settle for not being an idiot. What I learned from the pages of NR was a sense of individual responsibility and that government is not the elixir to what ails us. I grew up never viewing myself as a victim and it has served me well.

Demographically, I'm far from a typical NR reader. I am an immigrant; came to the U.S. at the age of 15. My family members are staunch Democrats. My friends, most of whom I met in college and from the world of journalism, are your standard issue left-liberal progressives.

In other words, I just rent space in a village of "There is nothing to fear but America itself;" "Ask not what your country can do for you, but demand it;" "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and pay for every grievance, real or imagined." I respectfully dissent. What gets me going is an absolute belief in myself and that I live in a land of opportunity. I'll get what I deserve.

Over time, my core values clashed with that of many of my colleagues, even bosses. But I thrived because I didn't shout people down when we had a disagreement -- I reasoned with people, with good cheer and good humor, straight out of Mr. Buckley's study halls. With it, I sometimes got my adversaries to least consider the merits of my views.

Sometimes I end up getting them a gift subscription to NR. And sometimes the mere presence of NR cost me money!

Every so often, I get a letter from NR asking for contribution. In its over half century of existence, NR never made money. In fact, Mr. Buckley himself said the magazine lost about $25 million over its life span. It's not easy being the scourge of the liberal elite.

National Review will live on. It will carry on because of its importance and its intellectual heft, honesty and old-fashioned civility. But the absence of its father will be palpable. Bill Buckley didn't just write a few passages in the penultimate pages of the magazine. He was the co-author of a great morality play that gave us the end of the Cold War and, for millions, their freedom.

Mr. Buckley. R.I.P.

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