This week, National Review’s former publisher William A. Rusher wrote his final syndicated column. National Review Online’s editor, Kathryn Jean Lopez, marks the occasion by talking to him about writing and the Right.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why quit your column now? Can you really resist writing about politics?
WILLIAM A. RUSHER: Thirty-six years of writing columns about politics is a lot. If, in the future, something inspires me to take a swing at some subject, I will do so, and send the result off to National Review. But I doubt it will happen very often.
LOPEZ: What do you make of Barack Obama?
RUSHER: Obama is a serious leftist — the first, I think, ever to reach the presidency — and thwarting him will keep conservatives busy indeed. However, the country as a whole doesn’t share Obama’s serious leftism (nor do most of the Congressional Democrats), and he will have a hard time imposing it.
LOPEZ: Reading a lot from both the Left and Right today, one gets the impression that during the early days of NR, the magazine and WFB were just loved by the Left. That Goldwater was a libertarian and social issues weren’t high on his agenda. That arguments weren’t as heated and “uncivil” as they sometimes seem or are characterized today. Is any of that true?
RUSHER: I wouldn’t say the early NR was “loved” by the Left. But it was welcomed, at first, simply because it kept the political pot boiling. I think you are absolutely right about Goldwater. He was an instinctive conservative, especially on the issue of Big Government, but he certainly wasn’t a “movement conservative” (more’s the pity!). I think the level of incivility hasn’t changed much between Left and Right. In the early days, it may have sounded meaner, because conservatism was just establishing itself as a force. But you seem to think it’s meaner today.
LOPEZ: What did you enjoy most about regular column writing?
RUSHER: I enjoyed writing a column because I was obsessed by politics. (Je n’aime pas beaucoup les femmes, ni le jeux, enfin rien, Napoleon said. Mais je suis tout à fait un homme politique.)
LOPEZ: What do you miss most about Bill Buckley?
RUSHER: What I miss most about Bill Buckley is his tremendous verve. He was truly a vital force.
LOPEZ: Ronald Reagan: Did the man make the moment or did the moment make the man?
RUSHER: Reagan personally made the conservative movement a far more influential force than I think it could ever have become without him. He personified its idealism, and clothed it in a sweet reasonableness that people found irresistible. I can’t identify a particular incident, but his general aura was tremendously attractive.
LOPEZ: What should everyone know about Whittaker Chambers?
RUSHER: What people often didn’t realize about Whittaker Chambers was how deeply pessimistic he was. He told his wife, when they left Communism, that they were “leaving the winning for the losing side.”
LOPEZ: Who were the most influential but unknown people in the second half of the 20th century?
RUSHER: Among influential conservative unknowns, I would put high on the list some of the movement’s anonymous financiers — Lloyd Smith, Henry Regnery, Henry Salvatori, etc. — who quietly supported the movement’s stars, like Buckley.
LOPEZ: Do you see conservative stars in the political wilderness right now? How do they come to be?
RUSHER: I don’t know who the movement’s coming stars will be, but they’re out there, and so are its financiers. The conservative movement is far too big, now, to be put out of business.
LOPEZ: You explored third-party territory in the Seventies. Should conservatives consider that today?
RUSHER: My own history makes it clear that I have no overriding affection for the Republican party. If it serves conservatism’s purpose, fine. If it ceases to do so, the hell with it. Something else will. But my own experience taught me the tenacity of an established party, and the GOP has that going for it.
In general, I am an optimist. Conservatism is here to stay, and its analyses of political problems will continue to be our guiding light — and our winning strategy.