The last time I saw Buckley père, at a party at Tina Brown’s, he was clearly ailing. He was leaning on the bar, as then-tabloid gossip columnist Lloyd Grove regaled him with boasts of having banned Paris Hilton from his column. Buckley clearly did not know who Paris Hilton was, and did not really want to know, but did not want to appear rude. It was simultaneously sad and somewhat comical. When I said hello, he appeared glad to be interrupted and said, “Ah yes, the lefty Mr. Alterman. How goes the revolution?”

“Charming,” you might say, and I’d be forced to agree. I walked away and let Grove get on with it. So there you have it. That was that. William Buckley repeatedly made a monkey of me whenever he felt the urge, and I let him. Not because it was the “right” thing to do, but because it served my purposes in my personal and professional ecosystem. Why was Buckley so celebrated by the journalistic and political establishment, despite the ugly politics he promoted? Because the man had style. Because being in his orbit looked like lots of fun. Because he knew how to live. Whether the content of his character justified any of this, well, that barely enters into the equation. Just ask the lefty Mr. Alterman . . .

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Eric Alterman is distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College and the CUNY School of Journalism. He is also a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a columnist for The Nation and the Forward. His most recent book is The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama.