A Small Memory of A Conservative Giant

William F. Buckley Jr., the conservative pioneer and television "Firing Line" host, smiles during an interview at his home in New York on July 20, 2004. Buckley died Wednesday morning, Feb. 27, 2008.(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
Weekly commentary by CBS Evening News chief Washington correspondent and Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer.

The passing last week of William F. Buckley, the founder of the modern American Conservative movement, brought many tributes. For the best, check out David Brooks of The New York Times or George Will in The Washington Post.

For me, it brought back a fond memory of the one time I met Buckley and what I learned from him that day.

We were not much alike. He was New York's Upper East Side. I am Forth Worth's lower North Side.

By college, he knew he was a conservative. I still can't figure out what I am. As I have grown older, "confused" is one word that has been suggested.

Once, long ago, we were on a seminar panel assembled by broadcasting legend Fred Friendly. I was a young reporter and he was, well, William F. Buckley.

He said something. I took immediate and sharp exception. Suddenly I realized I had picked a fight with one of America's keenest intellects - maybe the best debater in America. In a word, I was terrified. I was certain he would shred my argument to pieces, and me along with it.

But he let me down gently. He made his point but with that twinkle in the eye that was so much a part of him, he actually left the impression my point may have been worth making.

He was interested in ideas, not in tearing down those who didn't see it his way on some particular point. He delighted in taking on people his own size, but he saw no need that day to embarrass some kid who was just starting out.

I'm sure he never gave the moment another thought, but I never forgot it.

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By Bob Schieffer
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    Bob Schieffer is a CBS News political contributor and former anchor of "Face The Nation," which he moderated for 24 years before retiring in 2015.