In the course of offering a tribute to William F. Buckley, Jr. on this afternoon's Hardball, Chris Matthews made a surprising revelation: that he came to political consciousness as a WFB conservative.
You'll find the transcript of the Hardball host's remarks below, but I'd encourage you to view the video, here. See if, like me, you're struck by the heartfelt nature of his comments.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: If you want to influence someone, get to him or her in high school. It's my experience that people at that age are the most impressionable, the most searching for guidance, for example, for purposes. It was in high school that I came under the charm and the influence of William F. Buckley, Jr., the dashing, charismatic young conservative who wrote God and Man at Yale, McCarthy and His Enemies, and founded the wistful, precocious, companionable monthly, National Review. As a high schooler, I could tell you which drugstore got National Review first. I went to hear Bill Buckley at a meeting of the Montgomery County Young Republicans. It was from National Review that I gained my early affection and appetite for political philosophy and argument.
To start out as a young conservative is not--let's look at the facts--to end up there. But you have to start somewhere. You have to care before you can think, think before you can change your mind, and in my case, not stop changing your mind. I owe that start to the man who died today at his desk, the great author, writer, sailor of the ocean sea, alpine skier, Renaissance man, and in mine, as in so many millions of cases, teacher, and political guidance counselor.
I offer two last thoughts on Bill Buckley. In the 1950s, when it needed to be done, he exorcised old conservatism from its pre-WW II isolationism, and its redolent anti-Semitism.
There's something else that needs to be said for William F. Buckley, Jr. that concerns his own religious faith. He wrote once of a young man who stood alone in an empty church, juggling balls in the air: it was something he could do--throw balls into the air and catch them without dropping, in a swirly feat of personal mastery. As I said, it's something he could do. It was the one thing he could offer up to God when they were, as best as he could arrange it, alone together. And all the books and columns he wrote, and all the editions of National Review he published, our great William F. Buckley, Jr. was offering up his prayer. This is what he could do. This is what he was doing, his work, at his desk, when he was taken home. To work is to pray. Laborare est orare.
We'll have our future differences with Matthews here, but I might not see him in quite the same light again.