Wednesday, February 27, 2008

When I met William F. Buckley Jr.

"What scruples about human beings did Stalin have that Hitler didn't? Anything?"
-- a quote by William F. Buckley, Jr., that I scribbled down while he was being interviewed on CSPAN2, April 2, 2000

I met Buckley after a Firing Line debate over economic sanctions against Cuba. It was taped in a college theater in Hartsville, S.C., ten or eleven years ago if memory serves. Michael Kinsley was the moderator.

In his opening remarks for the debate, Buckley raised his opponents' position -- they argued that economic sanctions against Cuba would work -- and answered it with a sonorous, "When?" He believed the sanctions hadn't worked, and never would, so we should let the free market roll.

Afterward, Kinsley disappeared but Buckley came out into the theater's lobby. Starstruck, I introduced myself as "Colin Burch" and then asked him to sign my copies of Happy Days Were Here Again: Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist and Nearer, My God.

He opened a book, leaned over with a pen, and said, "OK, Colin Burch?"

"Yessir," I said. Then forgetting that I just told him my full name not thirty seconds ago, and hopeful that he had seen some of my own political journalism, I asked him, "How'd you know my last name?"

He replied calmly, generously, and matter-of-factly: "Because you just told me."

Duh! I thought while he signed both books.

Later he posed for a photo with Kristi and me. I tried to put my arm around his shoulders, but he kept his arm firmly at his side, not accepting my casual affection, and instead chose to gently put his arm behind Kristi's back. I figured it out. Buckley was not about to share affections with a strange male, or any male, for that matter.

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