When William F. Buckley Succumbed to Marxism


Yesterday evening, while clicking on the new videos available to stream for free on the Amazon Prime page on the Roku box, I noticed there was an episode of William F. Buckley’s old PBS series Firing Line — then another, and another, and — :


The episodes of Firing Line available for sale on DVD and streaming through Amazon.com have been added to Amazon Prime video, meaning that  those with a Prime membership can now view Firing Line episodes free of charge.  Currently 172 episodes are available through Amazon.com on DVD, instant video, and now Prime. Click here to view the available episodes.

Among the episodes included is a 1967 episode titled, “Is the World Funny?” Safe to say, Buckley’s guest was eminently qualified to debate the issue, as the above clip highlights:

The exchanges are frustrating at times, Mr. Marx being so relentlessly, well, Groucho. But it’s fun and sometimes illuminating to see this mythic figure on someone else’s turf. (The answer to the title question, by the way is: No, it’s damned sad.) GM: “I have said the things that no one else has dared to say.” WFB: “Why? Why?” GM: “Because the audience loves it.” WFB: “All right.” GM: “If you have a general, like I had General Bradley on the quiz show–nice man, very nice man; might even conceivably be a good general–well, I kidded him all through the show and the audience loves that because they don’t get a chance to do that to mayors or politicians or bank presidents…” WFB: “But it’s very healthy, isn’t it?” GM: “Yes, it is. There’s not enough of it.”


I’m enjoying the archives of Firing Line immensely; they’re wonderful time capsules of the issues the nation struggled with during the three decades the show aired, and for what they tell us of the aesthetics and the state of television production at various times. (The episode with Groucho, early in the show’s history, looks like it was shot on a Wayne’s World-esque set; Groucho makes occasional cracks about the sparseness of the studio audience.)

Just in case someone thinks I was soaking all this in as a teenager Alex P. Keaton-style, I found Buckley’s on-air style more than a little off-putting; it was only hearing Rush Limbaugh’s show with its rock music soundtrack (Rush, in his heart of hearts, is the greatest AM DJ who ever lived), and reading PJ O’Rourke (and later on the Internet Jonah Goldberg and James Lileks) that I realized one could be somewhere on the right and not have to discard his sense of humor, and love of pop culture. Which may explain why Buckley rarely seemed to receive from the left the full nelson treatment that Rush endures. Buckley’s erudition made him acceptable to New York’s liberal intellectual culture in the 1960s; it also ensured that until it received a populist spokesman, it was possible for Old Media to keep conservatism safely in the corner on PBS an hour a week.


But at least, as Cal Thomas once said, “Bill Buckley held the ground until reinforcements arrived.” With Rush, Fox News, the Weekly Standard, Drudge, Breitbart.com, Ricochet, GBTV, PJM, etc., there are now plenty of reinforcements. But for those who want a crash course on what it was like during the Bad Old Days (as we ride out the Bad New Days — and the topics debated on Firing Line quite often rhymes with the present. For example the Buckley-meets-Saul Alinsky episode is included in the Amazon Prime group), there’s an immersion experience available for anyone with an Amazon Prime account.


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