Also to my surprise, he said that he rarely read fiction. “Why would you?” he asked me in what seemed like mild astonishment.
“Sometimes,” I answered, “I like to escape.”
“I don’t like to escape,” Rusher said. “I like to engage.”
William A. Rusher was an only child whose parents stayed together until they dropped him off at Princeton University. They declared Mission Accomplished, and went their separate ways.
While at Princeton, Rusher enrolled in the ROTC. He did not qualify for field artillery, due to his poor eyesight. So, as he graduated and World War II roared on, he chose from several options and agreed to serve in the U.S. Army Air Forces administration in Miami Beach in 1943. He then volunteered to go overseas and was shipped off to Bombay and then Calcutta.
“I was a supply officer in the Air Forces’ headquarters for the India-Burma Theater in Calcutta,” Rusher remembered during a 2008 conversation at the San Francisco Towers, a combination retirement community, medical gerontology center, and virtual Four Seasons Hotel, where he spent his last six years. “I was a very influential man. I had everything that everybody wanted: pianos to shrimp.”
Did he see any combat?
“Heavens, no!” he said, although he was decorated for his service.
“I got the Bronze Star for arranging for shrimp cocktail once a week in the officer’s mess. I later found out the name of the man who had flown that shrimp into Calcutta: Barry Goldwater. He was with the Air Transport Command.”
After nearly a year on the subcontinent, Rusher was sent back to the U.S. for training “on my promise to return to India,” he said. “But the war ended when I was in training school and interrupted the promise, and I didn’t have to go back. I served several more months and was discharged.”
What was the biggest surprise in his career?
“I guess that I wound up being a publisher,” he said after some thought. “I started out as a lawyer, and I was looking for a law job when Buckley offered me the job as publisher. And I’ve lived happily ever after.”
When he retired, Bill Rusher first moved to San Francisco’s beautiful Nob Hill district, which secured for him cobalt-blue skies, clear vistas of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge, and searing sunshine almost every day, even as other neighborhoods were as socked in as London in January. Rusher often met friends in what he called “my living room,” the ornate lobby of the Fairmont Hotel, opened in 1907. From there, Rusher would take visitors to The Big Four, a splendid restaurant named after Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and C. P. Huntington. These tycoons injected their capital into the Central Pacific Railroad. They famously laid its tracks eastward from California, whereupon they met the westward-bound tracks of the Union Pacific at Promontory Summit, Utah. Thus began the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869.
Just down the hill from the Fairmont stands the University Club of San Francisco, of which Rusher was a long-time member. He dined there frequently and particularly savored a cigar for dessert along with the fourth-floor balcony’s majestic panorama of steeply plunging California Street, the skyline, and the East Bay.
“I came here first in ’56,” Rusher remembered. Republicans that summer re-nominated President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon at their convention at the Cow Palace. “That was my first experience of San Francisco. I loved the place, and I always wanted to move here after that, but I never got around to it until 1989. And as soon as I retired from National Review, it was a beeline.”
He spoke fondly of San Francisco’s first-rate restaurants, perhaps its greatest pleasure. “They support me in the style I like.” He also loved the city’s climate. “There’s no need for air conditioning,” he said. “If you feel warm, just open a window.”
How did Rusher like being a conservative icon in what may be America’s most left-wing metropolis?
“I dismiss the liberals,” he chuckled. “They’ve got to live somewhere. If they have the good judgment to live in San Francisco, good for them.”
Would he have done anything differently?
“Oh, undoubtedly, little things,” Rusher said. “But the basic thrust of the conservative movement — I never have regretted that for a moment. Talk about surprises — I guess there’s one. I didn’t really think the conservative movement would become the howling success that it eventually became. I sensed in the 1950s that conservatism had a lot of kinetic energy. And I wanted to get involved. I thought it was going somewhere. But I didn’t join in any spirit of opportunism. I really wanted it to work. And it did work, better than I really expected it would.”
William A. Rusher added that the Right’s philosophy “will continue to be a big force because conservatism is a way of looking at the world — a world view. And I think a rather accurate world view, unlike socialism, or something like that. So, I think it has a good future.”
— Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.