Thirty years ago I had occasion to hear a televised debate between William F. Buckley and Phil Donahue that has continued to have a profound affect on my life. I would like to share the substance of that exchange so my readers will understand one of the reasons I decided to create this blog.
As you may or may not know, the late William F. Buckley, the founder and editor of National Review, was a well known advocate of conservatism. Phil Donahue was (at the time of this particular exchange) a fairly well known television personality and advocate of liberalism. (Please take note that I purposely avoided labeling Mr. Buckley a conservative or Mr. Donahue a liberal. There is a reason for that which I will explain in due course.)
On the day in question, Buckley had been invited to Donahue’s show to discuss some volatile subject. I don’t recall what the topic was but it was clear that toward the end of the interview the two had reached an intellectual impasse and it was the exchange that took place once that point was reached that ultimately resulted in an “ah ha” moment that to this day continues to have a profound effect on just about every aspect of my life.
Donahue, standing in an aisle in the midst of his audience, microphone in hand, hand on forehead, staring at the floor and thinking out loud, tried his best to bring the conversation to a favorable conclusion – that is to say favorable in the sense that his open mindedness would ultimately carry the day.
In an attempt to bring closure, Donahue predicated his closing remarks with the statement that reasonable men respect the opinions of others. To my surprise Mr. Buckley immediately took issue with what most would have taken as a perfectly civil assertion.
While expressing the highest regard for Phil and his God given right to think for himself, this [Buckley said] did not carry with it an obligation to respect let alone embrace the legitimacy of the opinion Phil had expressed on the issue at hand. He concluded with the assertion that it is insane to think that one can grant respect to diametrically opposed ideas. “If I agreed to respect the opinion you have expressed on this matter, I would be giving up the right to think.”