Christopher Buckley

On this date in 1952, political satirist Christopher Buckley was born in New York City to conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. and Canadian socialite Patricia (Taylor) Buckley, both Catholics. Buckley attended Catholic grammar schools and then a secondary school run by Benedictine monks. After high school, Buckley worked briefly on a Norwegian freighter and then graduated with an English degree from Yale University in 1975. Buckley began his career at Esquire magazine, in various editorial positions, which led to his appointment as managing editor at the age of 25. He left the magazine in 1979 to once again work at sea, this time as a merchant marine on a tramp freighter. This experience, which included being suspected by some fellow marines as an undercover police officer and a member of the CIA, inspired his first book, Steaming to Bamboola: The World of a Tramp Freighter (1982), which Detroit News called "thoroughly enjoyable" and the Washington Post lauded as "a funny, high-spirited and immensely enjoyable book." Buckley served as chief speechwriter to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush from 1981-1983. Buckley's well-received first novel, White House Mess (1986), satirized both politics and the writing of memoirs. Buckley continued to write successful satirical books such as Wet Work (1991), Thank You For Smoking (1994), which was also made into a popular film, God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7-1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth (1998) and No Way to Treat a First Lady (2002).

Buckley has also written on more serious subjects, such as his sometimes contentious relationship with his parents (Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir, 2009), and especially about his father, who founded the conservative National Review, and was considered to be the father of the modern conservative movement. The younger Buckley ditched his own conservativism during the 2008 election by publicly supporting Barack Obama, which lost him his unpaid gig writing for his father's magazine. He defended his reasoning in an online article titled, "Sorry, Dad, I'm Voting for Obama" (Daily Beast, Oct. 2008). He wrote, "having a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect, President Obama will (I pray, secularly) surely understand that traditional left-politics aren't going to get us out of this pit we've dug ourselves." Buckley wrote: "Our choice, last fall, was between an angry 73-year-old with a legislative record far from consistently conservative [John McCain], who nominated as his running mate [Sarah Palin] a know-nothing religious extremist. On the other side was an appealing, thoughtful man who — for a brief shining moment — seemed to be more than the sum of his ideological parts.” (Forbes, March 2009).

In a Time magazine interview with Joel Stein, Buckley said, "I was raising (my kids) agnostic, then the Hale-Bopp thing happened, and I thought, 'What if in their 20s, they decide they need some spiritual connection and they turn to some idiot like that cult leader?' " (April 5, 1999). Buckley says he grew tired of fighting with his Roman Catholic father over religion, and that his "agnosticism, once defiant, had gone underground. I no longer had the desire to nail my theses to his church door. By now I knew we didn’t have much time left, and I didn’t want to spend it locking theological horns," ("Growing Up Buckley," The New York Times Magazine, April 26, 2009, p. 23). The young Buckley recalled in Losing Mum and Pup, that as a defiant agnostic, father and son "waged their 'own Hundred Years' War over the matter of faith' and exchanged, by Christopher's count, over 3,000 contentious letters and e-mails" on the subject (James Rosen, "The Final Buckley Bon Mot," Washington Post, May 2009). "I'm no longer a believer, but I haven't quite reached the point of reading aloud from Christopher Hitchens' 'God Is Not Great' at deathbeds of loved ones" (Christopher Buckley, "Growing Up Buckley," The New York Times Magazine, April 26, 2009).

As an only child, did you find one of your parents easier to talk to than the other? My mother. She got it. He often didn’t get it.

What didn’t he get? Religion.

He was a practicing Catholic. What are you? I am post-Catholic.

As opposed to a lapsed Catholic? I am probably more of a collapsed Catholic.

Do you believe in the afterlife? Alas, no.”

—-Christopher Buckley, in The New York Times Magazine interview by Deborah Solomon, "Questions for Christopher Buckley: The Right Stuff," October 23, 2008

Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch

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