Thu, Feb 28, 2008. WOID XVIII-43. The Croaker King of Krokylegmus.

What I remember most from the advanced seminar I once took at an Ivy League college was a grad student who sat next to me and who spent each class delicately flicking lint off his Brooks Brothers jacket in my direction.

William F. Buckley wasn't even a graduate student, let alone a professor, but he played one on TV: a model for the crowds of privileged, arrogant, wealthy white boys whose lovely ambition was that their lips still touched with fire might speak power to truth. Buckley was such a seminal case of Graduate Student Syndrome that my first reaction, when I heard he'd died, was to look him up in DMS-IV next to the Wolfman and Dora the Hysteric. You meet many of this type around Yale and Columbia, the only difference between the pompous professors and the pompous students being that the professors have tenure. The only difference between Buckley and all the others is he had a face to match the arrogance: the man was to the mind what a TV newscaster is to the news.

In those days when even a conservative could have some style and brains, the conservative French President Giscard d'Estaing answered a left-wing opponent: "I have never believed that men can be kept apart only by the conclusions they reach." That's lovely, and it's what I've read today in all the eulogies: Buckley might have reached the wrong conclusions, but gad, sir! He could think. The arrogant, privileged liberals who praise Buckley want to believe they, too, are bright and knowledgeable behind their privilege. See how these names are feted in the wavering press.

Buckley in fact was relatively smart, ignorant as only an American pundit can be, and arrogant enough to think he could get by on smarts and a smattering of knowledge. Like the squid that he resembled, he triumphed to himself through clouds of ink.

I'm told that in his later, sodden days Buckley regretted his racism, his jingoism and much else. He must have felt it wasn't his fault that he'd been cast, way back in 1951, in the role he lived. Some are born kitsch, some attain kitsch, and some have kitschiness cast upon them by time, but only the third seems to have troubled him. Born middlebrow, he traveled middlebrow, and left the vivid airwaves signed with his horror.

- Paul Werner