Conservative patriarch William F. Buckley Jr. and satirical son-of-a-patriarch Christopher Buckley aggregated their respective talents Thursday to bestow upon a Phoenix audience a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition of erudition, perspicacity and not least, mirth.
Which all means that the founder of the National Review and his son, a best-selling author, teamed up on stage for the very first, and they say last, time to give more than 500 people at a Goldwater Institute luncheon a heckuva good show, as well as a few serious things to think about.
Alternately transporting their fans from rollicking laughter (usually evoked by the son, who is widely regarded as one of America's premier humorists) to befuddlement over sentences so complex they need to be diagrammed for understanding (a trademark of eloquence on the part of the father), the Buckleys put on a mock revival of the elder's Firing Line television talk show, which aired for 33 years until 1999.
Their appearance was more theater than news, and C-SPAN videotaped it to air at a time not yet determined.
William, firm of voice and intellect at age 79, honored his 52-year-old guest with a lengthy introduction extolling his accomplishments, capped this year with the Thurber Award for American Humor.
Christopher thanked the host for the introduction and deadpanned, "I'd like to say how pleased I am to be here on Firing Line only five years after Firing Line ended."
The father's retort: "Why did it take you so long to qualify?"
And so it went, interrupted occasionally by serious consideration of conservative ideology, American foreign policy and speculation over how the late Sen. Barry Goldwater would regard today's deficit spending and Supreme Court predominance over the nation's social agenda.
The father effected his customary chair-born posture, which admirers would describe as "intellectual repose" and detractors might consider an "arrogant slouch." For a man whose first language was Spanish he handled English reasonably well.
On stage, the son sat up straight and didn't do too many things to embarrass his dad, with the possible exception of pretending to suck on a marijuana joint while contemplating what a secretary of Wellness, once proposed by Sen. John Kerry, would do.
Christopher suggested a secretary of History instead, a Cabinet member who, when the president says, "Let's invade Iraq," could cough under his breath and observe that the British tried that around 1920, stayed there until 1953 and lost 18,000 men.
Having served at different stages as a CIA officer and U.N. diplomat, William was asked how he views the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive warfare.
"It's a form of diplomacy, the pre-emptive strike," he said.
That means he supports the idea. He said he voted for President Bush without hesitation.
Christopher, voting in Washington, D.C. said he also voted for a Bush.
"I wrote in George H.W. Bush," he said. A man of many careers, from Merchant Marine to living as a monk for four years, the younger Buckley served as a speechwriter for the elder Bush during his vice presidency under Ronald Reagan.
The Buckleys said they agreed to appear together out of reverence for Goldwater and respect for the conservative think tank in Phoenix that bears his name.
Christopher poked fun at every opportunity. Even a serious behind-the-scenes question about possible retribution for his latest satire, Florence of Arabia, a send up of Muslim women's plight, left him unrepentant.
"There have been no fatwas (religious edicts, including orders for assassination) issued yet, but I'm still hopeful," he said.
"I think it would be good for sales."