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After Buckley, no one figure dominates conservative thought

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 Click on photo to enlarge or download: Lee Edwards, left, who wrote a biography of William F. Buckley Jr., joins Alvin Felzenberg, presidential historian, and Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, at CPAC on Friday to discuss Buckley’s legacy. SHFWire photo by Frank BumbClick on photo to enlarge or download: Lee Edwards, left, who wrote a biography of William F. Buckley Jr., joins Alvin Felzenberg, presidential historian, and Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, at CPAC on Friday to discuss Buckley’s legacy. SHFWire photo by Frank BumbWASHINGTON - William F. Buckley Jr. may no longer be a physical presence at the Conservative Political Action Conference, but his legacy remains for many conservatives.

Buckley, called the patron saint of the conservative movement, was a singular, luminary figure of American conservatism for decades before his death in 2008. Now the American conservative movement points to a much broader apparatus of thought than the  founder of National Review and host of Firing Line.

“His greatest tribute is that there isn’t a single figure we can point to like him, because we don’t need one like we did then,” said Lee Edwards, author of “William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement,” and part of a panel discussion about Buckley’s legacy.

Richard Lowry, Buckley’s successor as editor of National Review editor, said Buckley was the leading figure in all aspects of conservative thought and opinion that has now been spread over several different figures.

Click on photo to enlarge or download: Jay Glover, 19, Thomas Muldoon, 18, and Emily Evans, 21, all students at Hope College in Michigan, say they get most of their news online and try be their own opinion makers. SHFWire Photo by Frank BumbClick on photo to enlarge or download: Jay Glover, 19, Thomas Muldoon, 18, and Emily Evans, 21, all students at Hope College in Michigan, say they get most of their news online and try be their own opinion makers. SHFWire Photo by Frank BumbClick on photo to enlarge or download: High above the lobby at CPAC this week, images of three of its guiding figures looked over convention goers: William F. Buckley Jr., (partially obscured by the reflection of a chandelier), Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. SHFWire Photo by Frank BumbClick on photo to enlarge or download: High above the lobby at CPAC this week, images of three of its guiding figures looked over convention goers: William F. Buckley Jr., (partially obscured by the reflection of a chandelier), Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. SHFWire Photo by Frank Bumb“It’s impossible to exaggerate his footprint,” Lowry said. “He was the George Will of his time, the impressive, intelligent writer. The Rush Limbaugh, the most important populist figure, of spreading conservative ideas. And the late Tim Russert; people forget he was one of the sharpest interviewers of his age.”

And because of that diffusion, there are few specific guiding lights of conservative thought that average conservatives point to as opinion leaders.

“I can’t think of any specific authors or writers that I really seek out,” Thomas Muldoon, 18, a business management student at Hope College in Michigan, said.

Emily Evans, 21, economics major at Hope, echoed that thought. She said that she primarily goes to Politico for news.

“I really try to get the objective news as it comes and then form my opinions from there,” Evans said.

And while the information age allows for greater consumption of news and opinion, it has also given rise to a much wider infrastructure of conservative thought.

“If you look at the think tanks, the policy groups and the sheer number of people involved in the conservative movement, it’s an extraordinary wide ranging and deep movement, so we wouldn’t have to have a Bill Buckley to advance our ideas,” Lowry said.

Reach reporter Frank Bumb at bumbf@shns.com or 202-326-9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.

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