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Remembering William A. Rusher
Memories of a friend who made history


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GEORGE H. NASH
I first met William A. Rusher on Oct. 30, 1971, in Boston. He had come there to record an episode of The Advocates, a 60-minute public-affairs debate series that appeared regularly on national public television in the early Seventies. Rusher, a successful attorney prior to joining National Review, was the formidable conservative advocate on the show, which pitted him against a lawyer of the liberal persuasion. Each side brought in expert witnesses who were examined and then cross examined by the two “advocates” on the topic at hand: In this instance, as I recall, the question of bias in the media.

While preparing for his program in Boston, Rusher graciously gave me an interview for the doctoral dissertation I was then writing on the conservative intellectual movement in America since 1945. He told me about his own intellectual development and regaled me with witty observations and amusing anecdotes.

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Bill Rusher was a man of precise thinking, astute observations, and methodical habits, including the habit of dining out in style. As with Winston Churchill, it could be said of him: His tastes were simple; he liked the best. Once, in New York, he took me to lunch at a restaurant so upscale that it did not print the prices of the entrees on its menu. (The theory of this, apparently, was that if you had to know the price, you should not be there.) On another occasion, after he moved to San Francisco, he took me to dinner at superb French restaurant near the base of Nob Hill. Afterward we slowly ascended that steep hill as he happily pointed out the impressive buildings in his neighborhood.

Our last visit together was a harder one, for the signs of his advancing age and ill health were unmistakable. I had come to the nearby Hoover Institution, at Stanford University, on a business trip, and phoned him. Bill asked me to lunch in the dining room of the elegant retirement community in downtown San Francisco to which he had recently moved. Although he walked very slowly now, and his energy level was sadly failing, his mental acuity and tastes were undiminished. After lunch, in what I gathered was his daily ritual, we retreated to an out-of-the-way patio where he contentedly puffed a fine cigar.

Bill Rusher will no doubt be most remembered as National Review’s highly efficient and no-nonsense publisher — the kind of person every successful journalistic venture requires — and, at least as important, as a man who helped to engineer the conservatives’ capture of the Republican party in the 1960s. We should also take note of his polished and influential performances on The Advocates (and how often I wish this show could be revived, with someone like Bill to represent the conservative side). But let us not overlook the quiet support he gave over many years to scholars and up-and-coming conservative activists, who will cherish the memory of a good and generous friend.

— George H. Nash is the author of The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 and Reappraising the Right: The Past and Future of American Conservatism, both published by ISI Books.

 

DANIEL OLIVER
I first laid eyes on Bill Rusher when he debated Norman Thomas in Boston in about 1963. I had been reading Bill in the pages of National Review, and elsewhere I guess, and had expected Thomas to be on his knees begging for mercy at the end of the show. He wasn’t. So I wrote Bill to tell him I thought he had not been sufficiently combative with the old socialist. He wrote back and said that I was the first person who had ever said he was not argumentative enough.

Years passed, and I finally got to know Bill well when I joined National Review as executive editor in 1973. There were some people on the staff then who I think were a bit afraid of Bill. He could be very combative. But he was never combative with me: Perhaps he remembered that I had thought he was a pussycat when he debated Norman Thomas. And he knew I too was a lawyer.

Bill was everywhere in those early days, plotting and scheming, doing everything to save the republic. I sometimes wondered how he had time to be the publisher of National Review — but then how did Bill Buckley have time to be the editor?

The stories about Bill are legion — and I will let others tell them. He was a trifle misogynistic in the ’70s (he went through secretaries like Kleenex), but maybe it was just his bachelor ways. He got over it as he got older.

Bill was a wonderful raconteur and connoisseur of food and wine. He introduced me to Lillet (blond) — still a favorite drink of mine (I had a glass last evening in his memory). And he taught us all his theory of restaurants: When you get a good thing going, run it into the ground. Now, after years of old age, Bill is gone, gone to discuss with Norman Thomas the thrashing he deserved in 1963. Gone to a place where the good thing he’ll have going can never be run into the ground. R.I.P.

— Daniel Oliver is a senior director of the White House Writers Group. He served as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under Pres. Ronald Reagan.



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