LOPEZ: Why did WFB have “reservations” about Reagan running in 1980? What were they and when did he get over them?
LOPEZ: In the book, you talk about editing a special issue on nuclear power in 1979, one month before the Three Mile Island accident. You write: “The work National Review did was true and important, but futile.” That happens. What do you do? How do you not lose heart?
BROOKHISER: Clarkson and Wilberforce in Britain, and John Jay and Alexander Hamilton in this country, began lobbying against slavery in the eighteenth century. But the slave trade was not abolished until 1807–8, slavery in the West Indies not until the 1830s and 40s, slavery in this country not until the Civil War, and in Brazil and East Africa not until the 1880s. And, of course, it is reviving around the world today. We work and work, and if we win we will have to work at something else.
BROOKHISER: In 1980 Bill was worried that Reagan was too old. He had lost two previous runs for the nomination, and he would be the oldest president ever if he did win. Plus, Bill liked George H. W. Bush. Reagan’s victory in the New Hampshire primary made these reservations moot.
LOPEZ: You write that “Working for Bill was an endless process of catching up with old acquaintances, who were legion.” Which among them would wind up having the most influence on you?
BROOKHISER: Harry Jaffa’s central point, about the centrality of the ideology of the Declaration to the Revolution, and to this country, is correct. Terry Teachout was not an old friend of Bill’s, but I met him because he was drawn to Bill and to NR. He is a dear friend, always there when you need him, and I dedicated Right Time, Right Place to him. Keith Mano is my hero of writing. I don’t write like him, but I try to write as well.
LOPEZ: Who was your favorite politician in Bill’s orbit? His?
BROOKHISER: I loved Reagan, and always liked Jack Kemp. I think Bill’s favorite was probably Barry Goldwater, whom I never met. There was a no-BS quality to him which Bill found enormously attractive, and which he evoked in Flying High. It limited Goldwater as a politician, though (Bill had a similar quality, which also limited him as a politician).
LOPEZ: “His first priority was fighting communism. He knew it was serious, and he knew it was wrong.” Was that always the case? What about when Communism was defeated?
BROOKHISER: Communism was the big deal. If Communists came to dominate the world, all other bets were off. Now we have the jihad, which as Bill said at his last NR director’s dinner, is the next thing. I think Barack Obama knows this; does he know how to fight it?
LOPEZ: What do you mean when you say that Bill “worshipped language”?
BROOKHISER: The line is Auden’s: Time “Worships language and forgives / Everyone by whom it lives.” Auden wrote it in his elegy for Yeats, who had crackpot fascist views (Auden, for his part, was passing from Communism to pacifism when he wrote the line). But Auden is saying that poetry bridges all gaps. That is not entirely true. Mayakovsky, say, or Céline are beyond the pale, but even they could write worthily in the cracks of their wickedness. For Bill, the right words overcame a lot.