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Editorial: Keeper of the flame

Keeper of the flameTributes to William F. Buckley Jr., who died this week at age 82, have generally hailed him as the primary architect and most passionate defender of modern conservatism.
Buckley did indeed lead conservatism out of its long exile in the ideological wilderness. Through scores of books, thousands of columns and essays and television appearances, his was one of the most eloquent and influential voices in modern American politics. But while acknowledging his devotion to the pursuit of intellectual conservatism, let’s also acknowledge that he was equally dedicated to the art of civilized discourse. Whether going after his liberal prey in print or, with a reptilian glint in his eye, on his televised “Firing Line,” Buckley relied on a rapier wit and prodigious intelligence to make his argument or eviserate an opposing one. And he usually flashed that famous piranha grin while doing so.
Compare that with the sledgehammer hosts of today’s right-wing talk radio programs. Buckley knew that the mark of effective debate wasn’t who could shout the loudest, summon the windiest bluster, unleash the harshest rhetoric or stoop to the basest appeal to human instinct. He was a man of ideas who strove to carry the flame, not burn down the house.

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