Then he said to me: That’s what’s missing from politics today. With those six words, the secretary – a senator, let us not forget, for three decades, and a former Democratic nominee for president – diagnosed expertly what most ails the American political culture: the death, or at least the dearth, among today’s political classes of what Buckley liked to call “trans-ideological friendships.”
There are exceptions, of course, such as the deep affection that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late Justice Antonin Scalia maintained, extended to spouses, the four of them annually enjoying holidays together; but outside the cloistered confines of the “Marble Temple,” where nine isolated intellectuals interpret the laws with supreme authority, and usually with some measure of scholarly gentility, such friendships in the political arena, such as once existed between President Reagan, a California conservative, and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Massachusetts liberal, now seem rare.
Buckley’s maintenance of “trans-ideological friendships” in his life reflected what some have called a genius for friendship.
“My friend Buckley,” wrote the late Richard M. Clurman, a longtime editor at Time (and former aide to liberal Republican New York City Mayor John Lindsay, the very man Buckley had challenged in his symbolic 1965 run), “is a real lover of his friends, not just his sailing friends, but his writing, painting, piano-playing, economizing, computerizing, lawyering, banking – all his real friends. Not that he’s profligate with friendship nor does he debase the coinage. He’s just intense about it.”