Open to Debate: How William F. Buckley Put Liberal America on the Firing Line
Bargain Book Copy
On his pioneering TV program Firing Line, William F. Buckley debated his opponents with insight, openness, and respect - a far cry from the shouting matches of today - and set the stage for the triumphant return and ultimate victory of the conservative movement.
When Firing Line premiered in 1966, just two years after Barry Goldwater’s devastating defeat, American liberalism was ascendant. Though the left seemed to have decisively won the hearts and minds of the electorate, the show’s creator and host, William F. Buckley - relishing his role as a public contrarian - made the case for conservative ideas, believing that his side would ultimately win because its arguments were better. As the founder of the right’s flagship journal, National Review, Buckley spoke to like-minded readers. With Firing Line, he reached beyond conservative enclaves, engaging millions of Americans across the political spectrum.
With his magazine, syndicated column, radio appearances, and television show, Buckley pioneered the role of the pundit in the modern media age. Yet unlike so many of today’s talking heads, he refused to pander to his audience’s basest prejudices or to hype hot-button cultural issues.
Each week on Firing Line, Buckley and his guests - the cream of America’s intellectual class, such as Tom Wolfe, Noam Chomsky, Norman Mailer, Henry Kissinger, and Milton Friedman - debated the urgent issues of the day, bringing politics, culture, and economics into American living rooms as never before. Buckley himself was an exemplary host: he never appealed to emotion and prejudice; he engaged his guests with a unique and entertaining combination of principle, wit, fact, and a truly fearsome vocabulary; and he displayed genuine affection for many of his adversaries. If Buckley were alive today, he would be appalled at the decline in insight, respectability, and cogency in conservative discourse - and in political discourse generally.
Drawing on archival material, interviews, and transcripts, Open to Debate provides a richly detailed portrait of this widely respected ideological warrior, showing him in action as never before. Telling much more than just the story of a television show, Heather Hendershot crafts a history of American political and intellectual life from the 1960s through the 1980s - one of the most contentious eras in our history - and shows how Buckley emerged as the vanguard voice of modern conservatism.
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