Ladies and gentlemen. I join with you all on this day, so unhappy in the sense that we are losing a beloved professional colleague, so happy in the sense that we have an opportunity to express our gratitude to him.
Clif White and Jack Casey and Tom Farmer have known him much longer than I have, although I dare say not so intimately. To know anyone intimately it requires that he have the authority to question your disposition to spend money. In this respect I am certain you will all be glad to know that the guest of honor is the quintessential Republican; at least, that could have been said of him before we reached the era of high-deficit Republicanism. I don’t mean to say that he is tiresome about it, merely that he is thorough. And unrelenting. Even on Sundays. I remember the legend of Congressman Robert Rich of Pennsylvania, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1930, and served there approximately twenty years. During the first 19 of those years he uttered only a single declamation — the same declamation — on a dozen or more occasions, each year. The debate on a spending measure would take place and, after it became obvious that it would be approved, Congressman Rich would raise his hand and, recognized, would say, “Where are we going to get the money, gentlemen?” And sit down. It is recorded that in his declining years, following a debate that had gone on for three weeks and had kept his colleagues at their desks night after night, the moment finally came for a vote on the controversial measure, at which point, nearing midnight, Congressman Rich raised his hand. The entire chamber groaned. But under the rules the Speaker was powerless, and, grumpily, he recognized the member from Pennsylvania, who, struggling against his great age, rose to his feet, looked around at his colleagues, and said, “April Fool!”
Bill Rusher is not that versatile. But as publisher of a journal that, unless Wick Allison performs miracles, holds out great promise of being the longest, most consistent money-loser in American publishing history, he is at once badly cast, and well cast. Badly cast in that it strikes anyone who for thirty years has viewed him coming jauntily to his office every morning not sooner than three minutes to ten, not later than two minutes to ten, that he could not be other than the president or vice president of a prosperous house of usury; well cast in that his serene and self-confident mien easily belies the probability that the first person he will encounter on entering his office is an irate creditor; the second, his secretary giving notice.
Our guest of honor is a man of most meticulous habits, and it is a miracle, of the kind that Providence less and less frequently vouchsafes us, that he should have endured for so long the disorderly habits of his colleagues. When so many years ago, in 1957, I asked him timidly whether he would consent to accept the responsibilities of publisher, he reached instinctively into his pocket and pulled out his notebook, presumably to see whether his notebook had any objections. Having passed that hurdle, National Review was subjected to a methodical probing over a period of three or four weeks. A few very close friends were directly consulted, among them our toastmaster, Clif White, and in due course the decision was reached. Our old friend Providence cooperated with us in keeping him away from the offices of National Review which, had he examined them, he would no doubt have returned without faltering to the relative tranquility of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. But be was trapped; and began to impose order on our affairs.
To this end be began his famous graphs. We have graphs, at National Review, charting every quiver in the organization’s metabolism. We have graphs that show us how we are doing in circulation, in promotion expenses, in political influence. We have graphs that chart the fidelity to conservative principles of most major, and all minor, public figures in America. We have a graph that will tell you at a glance whether Lauren Bacall is more or less conservative than Humphrey Bogart. Our late friend and colleague, Professor Willmoore Kendall, once dumbfounded Bill Rusher by telling him — and Bill enjoys hearing this one again about as much as I enjoy hearing that I once said that if elected I would demand a recount — Kendall said: “Bill, there is no proposition so simple that it cannot be rendered unintelligible to me by putting it on a graph.” But the graphs go on: and, for those who have the stomach for it, they will give you a synoptic understanding of the financial record of National Review over the last 31 years.
Bill’s fastidious habits gave him an enormous advantage over the rest of us. There was never, for instance, any such phenomenon as an unanswered memorandum from William A. Rusher, and if his future associates in California think it works to say absent-mindedly, “I never got that memorandum, Bill” — forget it, as I did, after trying it once thirty years ago, only to be reminded that I had received it in the presence of 14 editors and three photographers. So much is our publisher the creature of habit that, he once confessed to me, on entering the washroom he reaches up to pull down the light-cord; and if it should happen that by mistake the previous patron of the washroom left the light on, why Mr. Rusher turns it off before he can control his reflex action, thus finding himself, as he does several times a year, in total darkness, and without practical recourse to his secretary. Occasionally his admirers show their envy of him, as when, while he was away on a lecture tour, we tiptoed into his office and exactly reversed every reversible physical accoutrement. Thus the picture of Lincoln now hung where the picture of Washington had hung for time immemorial; and the picture of Washington hung where the picture of Lincoln had hung. Thus when he depressed Button One, instead of the bookkeeper, his secretary answered; and when he depressed Button Two, the bookkeeper, not his secretary, answered. And when he turned over the leaves of his calendar, he found himself moving not toward the end of the month but toward the beginning of the month; and when he opened the drawer where his graphs were kept he found not his graphs but his pills; and so on. At which point, rising above it all, he got up to leave the room. We had tried hard to substitute the door leading out of his office for the door leading into his bathroom, but found the problem was metaphysically insoluble. So he left, returned to his apartment, telephoned his secretary on the outside line, issued a few crisp instructions, and retired to his club for the rest of the day, pending the restoration of order.
Such have been his tribulations at National Review. Yet it should not surprise that his colleagues rallied so enthusiastically to the idea of coming together to celebrate his achievements and his person on the eve of his retirement from National Review. The most exasperating people in the world are so often the most beloved, and he is no exception. Sometimes, at the fortnightly editorial conference, to which he descends with his notebook and his clippings, to pour vitriol on the ideologically feeble — sometimes he looks about him and, no doubt, feels as Congressman Rich felt surveying the expressions of those whom he would now summon to fiscal rectitude. But his performance at those meetings is one of the great running performances on the ideological stage. His scorn is not alone for those in public life whose activities during the week he finds contemptible, but also for those who lag a bit behind in exhibiting similar scorn. For them — especially if they are his colleagues — his scorn is especially withering. “I notice,” he wrote me once after enduring an editorial conference during my absence and running hard into the opposition of some of our younger colleagues, “I notice the difficulty in planting my views against the opposition of Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith sitting at the opposite end of the table. I find that Merrill seldom disagrees with Lynch, who seldom disagrees with Pierce, who always disagrees with me. Perhaps you will find an opportunity to suggest a good basic reading list to our younger members.” But all is not lost; all is never lost; though there is in front of us the quite unendurable thought of next week’s editorial conference without Bill Rusher, next month’s financial crisis without Bill Rusher, 1990’s election without Bill Rusher. But although it will be elsewhere, Bill will be marching on, gyroscopically certain, ever in command of himself, whether communicating his pleasure, or registering his doubts, or metronomically tut-tutting his disapproval. Always a presence, always a performance; and always — I speak for myself and for those who know him best — a friend to whom we are all grateful. I give you Bill Rusher.