Sunday, August 23, 2009


A few days ago, I wrote about the patriarch of a Roman Catholic family who, early in the 20th century, sired nine children, many of whom had a major impact on American politics.

But there was another such patriarch who, at roughly the same time, sired ten children. That one was William Frank Buckley. His brood also had a major effect on our political life.

The ten Buckleys are/were:

Aloise Heath (1919-1967)
John Buckley (1920-1985)
Priscilla Buckley (1921- )
James Buckley (1923- )
Patricia Bozell (1924- )
William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925-2008)
Jane Smith (1928-2007)
Reid Buckley (1930- )
Maureen O'Reilly (1933-1964)
Carol Charlton (1939- )

In sharp contrast to the Kennedys, only one of the Buckleys was elected to public office. That was James, who, in 1970, won a three-way race for New York's U.S. Senate seat that had been held by Robert Kennedy until his assassination two years earlier. James Buckley ran on the Conservative Party line in that election. Six years later, running as the Republican nominee, he lost to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Buckley later served as a federal appeals court judge.

James's brother Bill ran as the Conservative candidate for mayor of New York City in 1965. He famously said he would demand a recount if he won; in the event, he had no such problem. He finished third, behind victorious Republican John Lindsay, and the runner-up Democrat, the future Mayor Abraham Beame.

But it was Bill who had the biggest political impact. He founded the magazine National Review, which action on his part is said to have begun the modern conservative movement. Buckley also hosted the TV show Firing Line, on which he debated with people from across the political spectrum. Add to that a seemingly infinite number of books and newspaper columns, and Bill Buckley definitely established his credentials as one of the intellectual stalwarts of the right.

Now, about a year and a half after Bill Buckley's death, multiple books are appearing about him and his family.

I just finished reading one of those: Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir, by Christopher Buckley, the only son of Bill and his wife Pat, who predeceased her husband by less than a year. (Apparently he really did call them "Mum" and "Pup". This writer, with his midwestern working-class roots, is destined never to understand why the eastern prep-school crowd talks that way, but he has decided to accept it.)

Christopher Buckley (I wish I knew him, and well enough that I could call him by his family nickname of "Christo"; for some reason, I always thought that was so cool) intersperses remembrances of things past with not-so-glamorous anecdotes about the last days of his oh-so-glamorous parents. Those remembrances are remarkably frank, showing that the seemingly larger-than-life Bill and Pat were human too.

Fans of the Buckley father and son will probably greatly enjoy, as I did, these insights into that fascinating family. Those of you who are further to the left on the spectrum might have an instinctive reaction against such a book. But then you would miss Christopher's descriptions of his father's close friendships with the likes of Ken Galbraith and George McGovern. Having said that, however, there may be a bit too much Henry Kissinger for your tastes.

And, to bring it all full circle, Christopher Buckley describes the friendship between his daughter Caitlin and Kate Kennedy (yes, of those Kennedys). Buckley apologizes for name-dropping (identifying her really is vital to one of his anecdotes). One can't help but think that he enjoys both the name-dropping and the apologizing about it.

No comments: