What happened
William F. Buckley Jr., who was widely seen as the intellectual father of post–World War II conservatism, died at his Connecticut home on Wednesday. He was 82. The erudite Buckley founded National Review in 1955, saying the magazine’s mission was to “stand athwart history, yelling, ‘Stop!’” He also hosted Firing Line, one of TV’s longest-running shows. President Bush said Buckley “brought conservative thought into the political mainstream, and helped lay the intellectual foundation for America’s victory in the Cold War.” (The New York Times, free registration)

What the commentators said
“Buckley has had more of an impact on the political life of this country—and a better one—than some of our presidents,” said National Review in an editorial. “He created modern conservatism as an intellectual and then a political movement. He kept it from drifting into the fever swamps. And he gave it a wit, style, and intelligence that earned the respect and friendship even of his adversaries.”

“A man of coruscating wit (he'd approve of that word), he was also, by universal acclamation, the most gracious man on the planet,” said Mona Charen in The Washington Post (free registration). “It was he who set out to cleanse the conservative movement of some of its extremist elements—a responsibility he shouldered, sometimes at considerable personal pain, throughout his long career. It is difficult to think of a comparable figure on the left.”

Buckley “pulled together the disparate strands of the conservative movement to endow it with panache, self-confidence and a sense of being on the cutting edge,” said Jacob Heilbrunn in the Los Angeles Times (free registration). But he never “became a hater” as louder conservatives “denounced traitorous liberal elites,” and his “judicious temperament” made him “something of a heretic” in the end, which explains how he became “one of the Bush administration's most trenchant critics.” Conservatism has been “marooned by his death. Perhaps his memory can serve as a beacon” to guide it back to “the solid shores of his—dare one say it?—liberal conception of conservatism.”