In the Arena: William F. Buckley and Civil Discourse

In the Arena:  William F. Buckley and Civil Discourse

In the late 1960s as a teenager I lived in the small city of Olean, New York, located in Cattaraugus County.  Olean was in the western tier of New York and located on the Allegheny River just north of the Pennsylvania border.

Olean, when I lived there, had a population of 19,000.  Currently the population is below 14,000.  The main road north and south is named Union and the main east west road is called State.

I attended Archbishop Walsh High School.  My high school graduating class was around fifty, maybe sixty.  My stated goal as a senior in the yearbook was to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

At the time New York had a Republican Governor, Nelson Rockefeller.  We also had a Republican United States Senator named Jacob Javits.  Olean had a Republican Mayor named Smith whose campaign slogan was a “Common Man with a Common Name and Common Sense”. 

My Member of Congress, James Hastings, was a Republican.  He nominated me to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point.  The physical exam at Rome Air Force Base stopped me from going.  I lost every appeal, spanning two years, to be allowed in.

I mention this as my father served in Italy with the 10th Mountain Division, all my uncles served in World War Two, one died during the Korean War, my older brother made Colonel in the Air Force, my younger brother joined the Army, and, my daughter joined the Marines.  A number of my ancestors from New York and Ohio served in the Union army.  My family has a history with the armed services.

My family along with millions of others has fought to preserve the American way of life which includes allowing Americans to pursue happiness in the way they want as long as it does not physically harm another.

 There was, in New York, during my youth, a member of the Conservative Party named William F. Buckley.  Buckley was the founder of the National Review back in 1955.

Buckley was an ace debater, a polite gentleman, a person who can listen, and, to the best of my recollection, a person who never lowered himself into the vulgar pit of name calling.

To say he was cerebral would be an understatement.  Having been a fan of Firing Line, a television show where he hosted guests from all political persuasions and talked with them about the issues, I recently re-watched one of his shows.

In 1978 Buckley hosted a Firing Line on the topic of Illegal Immigration with Leonel Castillo who then was the Commissioner of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The discussion, I will not call it a debate, was informative.  Forty years have passed but some of the main points are still relevant today.

Buckley and Castillo discussed the Texas proviso where you cannot aid or abet bringing in an illegal Mexican immigrant but you could hire the illegal immigrant because hiring was not considered aiding and abetting.

There was discussion of the tacit agreement between the Mexico and the United States where Mexico would provide workers and the United States would understaff the border patrol and not build a wall.  The twelve miles of fence built around El Paso in the 1970s created a Mexican press uproar.

At that time, in 1978, some 80% of Americans were opposed to legal immigration.  Nearly 95% were against illegal immigration.

The discussion included questions from others besides Castillo and Buckley.  At no time did anyone question another’s patriotism, their character, or, disparage their political party.

I liked Buckley’s style very much.  I enjoy the citation of facts, the review of different approaches and their actual results, and discussing concrete ideas on how to better ourselves in a civil manner.

During my political career I supported and helped elect many liberals, moderates, and conservatives.  Most important to me was whether the candidate I helped had a “code” to which they consistently adhered.  Once you knew their code – regardless of their political philosophy – you could understand their priorities, negotiate with them in good humor, and seek common ground where many benefited.

Here is one of my codes, before I move on to the home front: I never worked for any of those I elected and I never took a government contract from any level of government to which I elected someone.  The reason for not doing so was to maintain my independence rather than to be beholden to someone in order to pay the rent.  Buckley eschewed both major political parties by being a member of the Conservative Party.  He also preserved his independence.

I mention the above because I have a pretty sharp opinion about people who make comments about me which I would describe as ignorant since they never shared a meal, had a conversation with me, or, shared a community building experience with me.  If Buckley was still alive I would very much enjoy a meal and a dialogue with him.


Jon M. Ausman is the longest serving member of the Democratic National Committee in Florida’s history (December 1992 to January 2017).  He can be reached at or at 850-321-7799.

11 Responses to "In the Arena: William F. Buckley and Civil Discourse"

  1. Writing about a great mind like Buckley doesn’t make you his equal any more than writing about civil discourse makes you civil.

  2. How dare you compare yourself to William Buckley? He was everything you have never been, learned, tolerant of opposing opinions, and possessive of professional scruples. Your scorched earth political history makes your attempts at becoming an elder statesman ludicrous.

  3. Which totally defeats the point you are trying to make. An example of why the Democratic Party is where it is that today.

  4. I pointed out a fact and asked you a question regarding your deplorable behavior and your lack of doing nothing when you are participating in unfairly chastising someone.

    You refuse to answer the question and you attack the messenger. You clearly are unable to hold yourself or your party accountable for misdeeds and lack of integrity.

    Your pompous arrogant response was predictable. And if you are trying to make a point regarding not attacking then you clearly missed your own point.

  5. Perhaps, Hope, you will reconsider the life, behavior, and, character of William F. Buckley. He led many a helpful discussion with wit and insight. His conversations were enlightening and informative. He did neither made crass conclusions nor attacked those he held discussions with on his show. You comments today reflect neither wit nor insight. They are not enlightening.

  6. What did you do when your party attacked and esteemed military background candidate and supported a candidate with no military background?

    From my vantage point Jon you sat there and did nothing… Shame on you! Your party would go a long way in extending an apology to Ron DeSantis as he is doing an extremely good job as governor of Florida.

    1. > What did you do when your party attacked and esteemed military background candidate and supported a candidate with no military background?

      Wait? What? Do you mean when John Kerry got swiftboated? Or do you mean when Trump said that he preferred people who didn’t get captured? Or maybe you meant that time Bush ran ads in South Carolina about McCain’s (non-existent) mixed race child?

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