Ed FeulnerJack Fowler
Bill Rusher was much more than “Bill Buckley’s Publisher.” Yes, he was that, and yes, he did bring business sense, circulation growth, national attention, and management continuity to the conservative movement’s leading publication for 31 and a half years.
But, in addition, Bill Rusher was an independent voice for solid, grass-roots conservatism. Most of us don’t identify the grassroots with either Yale (Buckley) or Princeton (Rusher), but Bill Rusher talked the language of the common man. Buckley elevated our intellectual level and had us constantly referring to our Webster’s (for this generation, that’s a printed book called a “dictionary”). Rusher, on the other hand, gave voice to our frustrations with the overweening liberal welfare state, whether it was being pushed by a Democrat (LBJ) or a Republican (Nixon). His column was the forerunner for many solid conservative writers who flourish today.
Bill Rusher’s active television leadership on the PBS (yes, they did a few good things!) debate series The Advocates was important to modern conservatism for two reasons: 1) It gave equal consideration to our side of the argument at a time when the American people were limited to the mainstream media, which was dominated by Cronkite et al.; and 2) he introduced a number of up-and-coming conservative spokesmen to this national audience. To watch a young congressman such as John Ashbrook, Phil Crane, or Steve Symms argue for the conservative viewpoint against such liberal icons of the day as Michael Harrington, Robert Drinan, and Ron Dellums gave us all confidence and a feeling of being a part of something bigger than a handful of recalcitrant naysayers.
In my opinion, it’s not a stretch to say that Rusher’s “credentialing” of conservative ideas in a head-to-head matchup with the best the liberals could put up was a real foundation for today’s efforts to get the message out through talk radio, Fox News, and other outlets.
Bill Buckley, a dear friend whom we all admired in an awe-struck way, and Bill Rusher, a feisty down-to-earth conservative spokesman, were the yin and the yang of the modern conservative movement from the 1950s to the turn of the century.
How we all miss both of them. And now, with Bill Rusher gone, how they must be enjoying each other’s company again in that Better Place where they are reunited.
— Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.
Bill Rusher was never “Bill.” Whether by phone, mail, or e-mail, it was always “Mr. Rusher.” And rightly so. It fit with his persona. With an air of seriousness and gravitas ever about him, he reminded one of a judge or a principal. The only thing missing was a robe. No, William A. Rusher wasn’t the kind of person you’d backslap or treat with familiarity. Not me anyway. Heck, I imagined that even in kindergarten some classmates called him “Mr. Rusher.”
And he deserved the respect he got. A weak reason: In an age of lax personal relations, it was refreshing to find at least one man who stood athwart the casualization of America, yelling “Stop.” A strong reason: Because of his wisdom, determination, and drive, Mr. Rusher played a central role in the creation of the modern conservative movement. This one man had a profound impact on our history, and helped gain and enhance liberty for millions across the globe.
Note to the next Republican president: William A. Rusher deserves, posthumously, a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
I remember watching him, on an NR cruise, do a great impression of Ronald Reagan telling jokes. He had the crowd in stitches. Yes, underneath all the Rusher precision and manners and stuffiness was a man who could very easily get a laugh. He had a beautiful smile and wit and twinkle, and he knew how to measure his speech. When he turned them all on, it was a joy to be with him.
My NR colleagues and I have our particular problems when it comes to keeping this operation alive and expanding. But it is here to worry over, now in its 55th year, because it defied the odds and predictions of an early demise, that defiance due to a handful of men and women, particularly Bill Rusher. Because of him, we have NR. And on the side, he helped turn the GOP into a conservative party.
Not bad. God bless you, Mr. Rusher. Rest in Peace.
— Jack Fowler is publisher of National Review.