National Review’s former publisher — author of books including The Rise of the Right and How to Win Arguments — died this weekend. NR friends and family remember him.
History, I believe, will remember William A. Rusher as a major figure in, to borrow the title of one of his books, the rise of the Right. First for his role in making National Review a going concern (once WFB realized that he himself was no businessman and asked WAR to take over as publisher), but, almost as important, for his own work as debater, writer, and, not least, keeper of the tablets: He had a sharp eye for deviationism on the part of colleagues, candidates, and commentators, and he had the memory of an elephant.
His colleagues are more likely to remember him as a personality, bringing a touch of theatricality to the nuts and bolts of an editorial conference. In his trademark clenched-jaw drawl, he would announce, “If Red China is admitted to the United Nations, I’ll commit ceremonial hara-kiri on the U.N. steps.” Or, in explaining why he wouldn’t accompany the rest of the staff on a week’s trip to Russia at the height of the Brezhnev period: “I will not visit the Soviet Union until I can ride over the radioactive ruins in a Sherman tank.” A young friend once said to him, after he had recited (this off duty, not at an editorial conference) a Shakespeare soliloquy, “You missed your calling. You should have been an actor.” Bill’s reply: “I’m a lawyer, and I didn’t miss my calling.”
His colleagues will remember too his loyalty — to his embattled foreign friends, such as those in the Republic of China; and even to an embattled former adversary like Richard Nixon. Once the media turned against Nixon, he could count on Bill Rusher to defend him to the end. But most importantly for us — though noticeable more in retrospect, and by what he didn’t do more than by what he did — to Bill Buckley. If Rusher and James Burnham, let us say, disagreed on some point — foreign or domestic, policy or personnel — WFB was likely to take Burnham’s side. After a few years of this, one can imagine a man of strong opinions saying, Fine — if you have no regard for my advice, you can find another publisher. But Rusher believed in the cause, believed in what Buckley was doing to further it, and — unlike several early members of the senior staff — never forced Buckley to choose between them. And that deserves the gratitude of everyone who loves and values this enterprise.
— Linda Bridges is co-editor of Athwart History: Half a Century of Polemics, Animadversions, and Illuminations: A William F. Buckley Jr. Omnibus.
It was in National Review’s antediluvian youth, even before we had moved into our Dickensian quarters at 150 East 35th Street and were in what was essentially one large bullpen on 36th, hard by the Midtown tunnel, that the young and active and efficient and effective William A. Rusher appeared on the scene.
National Review had been a shambles, on the business end, in those first hectic months in 1955 and 1956. We had a business manager who, Willmoore Kendall decided after two weeks, thought we were selling footwear. Our bookkeeper, who could also have come to us directly from Charles Dickens, was a Miss Fairclough, who didn’t think it necessary to fill in the stubs in her check book. Not to worry, she would tell us, “Mr. Buckley will find the money.”
Miss Fairclough had to go, Mr. Driscoll had to go, and Bill Buckley, having learned a great deal in those six early months, replaced them with Rose Flynn (DeMaio), who retired just last week, and Bill Rusher, fresh from the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee’s investigation of Communists in the government.
In no time at all, Bill Rusher had cleaned up our act. He moved us to 35th Street, renegotiated the printer’s contract, improved our standing with the local banks, and, if truth be known, reined in some of Bill Buckley’s more extravagant ideas. And he brought to the enterprise a political savvy — an insight into how things worked in Washington — that gave a new sophistication to our editorials.
In short, he was a godsend. God bless his soul.
— Priscilla Buckley, longtime managing editor of National Review, is author of a number of books, including Living It Up with National Review.
During my long tenure at NR I had the pleasure of meeting many interesting people — none more engaging than Bill Rusher. The first publisher of NR, he was a brilliant attorney, a skilled debater, an accomplished author, and a fascinating raconteur. Always the gentleman, he was fastidious in his appearance, and you could tell the change in the seasons by the hat he was wearing.
The memory of him that sticks with me, though, was one of our last encounters. When Bill retired he moved to San Francisco, a city he always loved. On occasion, I would travel to the west coast on business. One trip took me to San Francisco. Before leaving New York, I contacted Bill and told him about the upcoming trip and asked if we could get together. He suggested dinner on the day I was leaving (on the red-eye) at one of his favorite restaurants with drinks beforehand at the Top of the Mark. We had a delightful dinner talking about the “good old” days, the current political environment, and the latest gossip at NR. It started to get late and I had to get to the airport. As we left the restaurant, I collected my bag and headed for the taxi stand. Bill grabbed my arm and said, “Not so fast,” pointing to a limo waiting at the curb. He had hired the car to take me to the airport in style. A typical Bill Rusher gesture and evidence of a kindness that I will long remember.
— Ed Capano retired as publisher and CEO of National Review in 2006.
He was the “Other Bill” behind Bill Buckley. He was NR’s first publisher, who insisted that National Review was not only a revolutionary journal but a commercial enterprise, startling his colleagues but eventually winning their approval. He was a shrewd political strategist consulted by President Reagan and other public figures. He was an ever available mentor to young conservatives who learned, often the hard way, to act on his advice. He was a fearsome debater and co-host of the award-winning television program The Advocates.
He was the catalyst for the National Draft Goldwater Committee, without which Barry Goldwater would not have been nominated for president in 1964 and Ronald Reagan would not have given his historic TV address, “A Time for Choosing,” which made him a national political star overnight and led to his running for governor of California two years later.
He guided Young Americans for Freedom through its turbulent early years, instructing its officers in the finer points of Robert’s Rules of Order and helping to fend off attempted takeovers by Birchers and Rockefellerites.
Always impeccable in Brooks Brothers and Chesterfield, Bill Rusher taught me and many others the best wines, the best restaurants, and the best quotations.
We’ll miss his wit, his wisdom, and his friendship.
— Lee Edwards is the distinguished fellow in conservative thought at the Heritage Foundation and author of William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement. He first met Bill Rusher in 1960.
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.
Neal B. Freeman
William A. Rusher, the indomitable spirit of the American Right, died on Saturday morning. It was most unlike him. From the early days in the shabby offices of National Review through the glittering days at the Reagan White House, Bill Rusher was the most impassioned and forceful presence in the modern conservative movement.
A few recollections:
I met him when Bill and Pat Buckley invited me to dinner at their old townhouse on 69th Street, just across the street from an aromatic Chinese restaurant. A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, Rusher had been a litigator with a top Wall Street firm and later, as a professional Communist-hunter, served as counsel to the Senate’s famous (or infamous) Internal Security Subcommittee. He was prodigiously well-informed and sharply articulate — a man of hard commitments. My first impression of him was that, if you happened to be a Communist, you would be well advised not to let your scent find its way to his nostrils.
When I got to NR in the early Sixties, Willi Schlamm had been expelled, Whittaker Chambers had died, and Russell Kirk’s voice had become disembodied. The force fields were Buckley and Rusher, Burnham and Meyer, Bozell and Rickenbacker. The editorial meetings were occasions of high intensity. At that early stage, there was no operating manual for the conservative movement. (Admit it. The first time you heard the outlines of the fusionist approach, you thought it was preposterous, right?) We were making it up as we went along, issue by issue. At one pole was James Burnham, the “first neoconservative,” a former Trotskyist, brilliant and intellectually playful. At the other was the voice of the emerging conservative orthodoxy, Bill Rusher, the grandson of a West Virginia socialist. These discussions, carefully moderated by Buckley, sometimes turned into debates and, somewhat less frequently, into ideological brawls. The moment that burns in memory occurred in the spring of 1964. Burnham had spun out an elaborate notion that, with Goldwater falling in the polls, NR, for exotic tactical reasons, should transfer its support to Nelson Rockefeller if he managed to beat Goldwater in the upcoming California primary. Burnham’s bizarre pitch — NR wasn’t just covering the Goldwater campaign; it was the Goldwater campaign — had its usual mesmerizing effect on Buckley, who seemed to be leaning toward Burnham’s position. The meeting did not end well. Rusher stormed back to his office to draft his letter of resignation. (Rickenbacker and I, and perhaps others, did so as well.) In the event, Goldwater won the primary and the letters were dropped in the round file. A loss to history, I suspect. Rusher’s letter, written in magnificent fury, would have singed eyebrows for miles around. Day in, day out, for 31 and a half years as publisher of NR, Bill Rusher was indispensable in hammering out what became the basic doctrine of conservative politics.
Bill Rusher was the first conservative talk-radio star — not as a host, but as a guest. After a full day at the office and a fine meal — always a fine meal — Rusher would appear as the conservative token on late-night radio in New York City. Programs hosted by Long John Nebel and Barry Gray were regular stops: a liberal host and two or three liberal guests made the odds “just about right” for the scrappy, self-confident Rusher. Token, indeed. Well-prepared and bulldog-tenacious, he won a legion of new fans for his dog-bites-man politics. I later got him a gig on a PBS debate show called The Advocates, where each week he faced down a liberal opponent, a liberal audience, and, in the moderator’s chair, an even-handed fellow by the name of Michael Dukakis. The debates were judged by viewers voting by postcard. Rusher became PBS’s worst nightmare. He won week after week.
Bill Rusher was a tireless recruiter and mentor for his cause and country. Thousands of us got letters of encouragement, hundreds a reference or an opened door, a few of us, the charmed inner circle, got the Rusher World Tour. No, not Paris and Rome. Taipei, Jo-burg, and other islands stretched out along the anti-Commie archipelago. How large did Bill Rusher bulk in these beleaguered capitals of political disfavor? True story: In the early Seventies, I was in Tokyo on business and received an invitation to join Rusher for an official visit to Taiwan. I arrived early in the morning, rushed through a series of events, and then repaired to a government office for a briefing on the following day’s schedule. The evening news was playing a series of clips on a television monitor — me at the airport, me disembarking from a limo, me at the Foreign Office, me at a reception at Madame Chiang’s Grand Hotel. I became transfixed. This was not the sort of coverage that would have attended my arrival in, say, Cincinnati. I asked my government handler what the gist of the story was. He paused, pondered, and then said with a sweep of his hand, “Friend of Rusher arrives in Taipei.”
— Neal B. Freeman has established the William A. Rusher ’44 Debate Prize at Princeton University.
For a time in his pre–National Review years, William Rusher served with John Lindsay on the board of the New York Young Republican Club. Decades later, he recalled a political suggestion from the future congressman and disappointing mayor. “Kick ’em in the ass. Kick ’em in the ass,” Lindsay said of conservatives. “And he did,” Rusher noted. “And I didn’t.”
Following uneventful service in the war, the Princeton alumnus made himself Mr. Republican at Harvard Law School. After graduating from law school in 1948, Rusher was hired by the blue-chip Wall Street firm of Shearman & Sterling & Wright. He then made a lasting alliance with a rising political operative named F. Clifton White in the New York State and the national Young Republicans.
Rusher could easily have joined the centrist establishment that controlled the national party — a network centered at the time on almost-president Tom Dewey, New York’s tough and capable governor. But for three reasons, he chose conservatism before it was a movement.
He had become a zealous anti-Communist, an anti-anti-McCarthyite. He didn’t like the way liberalism seemingly ran the country and commanded a deteriorating culture; he thus opposed establishmentarian compromises with it despite his more accommodating attitude toward FDR’s welfare state.
And not least, Rusher was at heart a debater, even a dissenter — a good friend to many by choice, but a friend of the truth by necessity. He felt a compulsion to oppose smugness, and this compulsion did much to make for an instructive and inspiring political life. Anti-smugness was among his trademarks in the movement and at NR for the next 20 years (after which, with the election of President Reagan, he relaxed without in any way retiring).
After joining a struggling NR in the summer of 1957, the lawyerly and detail-oriented Rusher “so effectively relieved me of a mountain of troubles,” a grateful editor Bill Buckley, two and a half years younger than Rusher, told colleagues. Continuing to supervise NR’s business side, he spent the next three decades helping to organize the conservative movement — especially the Draft Goldwater drive (run by Clif White), Young Americans for Freedom (founded in 1960), and the American Conservative Union (founded in 1964–65). When Goldwater said in 1963 that he wouldn’t permit a draft, Rusher respectfully acknowledged it as “your present viewpoint” and sought to buy time. Then, and frequently thereafter, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. In the mid-1970s, Rusher tried unsuccessfully to get his friend Reagan to lead a new conservative party he envisioned as a replacement for what he considered the moribund GOP.
Rusher was also a leading voice in NR’s internal debates, especially in its first decade and a half, eagerly jousting with one senior editor, James Burnham, with the support of another, his movement hero Frank Meyer. He prodded and advised Buckley in many ways. He encouraged young activists and writers and candidates, usually after getting to know them, and he kept in touch with them. He also spent enormous amounts of time traveling around the country speaking to college and other audiences.
In 1970, Rusher became nationally known as the conservative side of The Advocates. He found the time to write five books over a quarter-century, most notably The Rise of the Right, a history of the conservative movement. From 1973 to 2009, Rusher wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column. A year and a half after retiring from National Review at the end of 1988, he told a friend he was actually busier than he had been. In retirement, he was a distinguished fellow of the Claremont Institute and the board chairman of the Media Research Center for many years.
From the early post-Reagan period, Rusher knew that potentially dangerous divisions had emerged on the right. A diplomat and conciliator among conservatives even as he opposed liberals at every opportunity, he had always refused to engage in factionalism or even to choose a faction. He continued to deplore intra-conservative conflict.
Rusher believed in honoring each of the main conservative worldviews because he agreed with the substance of them all. He also argued tenaciously that among the public — which was how Bill measured politics — social-conservative and small-government beliefs were natural complements to one another. It didn’t matter to him that this theme lacked novelty or excitement. What mattered was that he found it true and essential.
He worried less about compromise than about complacency, believing things had to keep moving in what was, after all, “the movement.” Bill therefore tended to take more interest in doers, even as he respected thinkers; and he always tried to identify such people. As movement author and elder Lee Edwards told me after knowing Rusher for well over 40 years, he was a “natural teacher in all things.” And in the words of the late John Kurzweil of the California Political Review, a journal Bill gladly assisted after retiring from NR, “He wasn’t one of these big-ego guys.”
—David Frisk is author of the upcoming If Not Us, Who?: William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement.
Bill Rusher was a fine man who lived a fine life. He was present at the creation of modern conservatism and for over half a century moved through it with grace, intellect, and simple patriotism. One could not meet him without believing that this was a man for whom conservatism was not merely an intellectual bent but a lifestyle, a calling, a cause.
Bill was an intellectual, to be sure, but one who understood practical politics. He was instrumental in the Goldwater campaign and as a columnist had a profound impact on America’s public discourse, most especially during the Reagan revolution. His writings were civic-minded, addressing the most important issues of the day with a principled understanding of what would be required to reign in big government.
I had the pleasure of working with Bill after his days as publisher of National Review when he became a distinguished fellow of the Claremont Institute. With then-president Larry Arnn, Bill directed a series of conferences on such diverse subjects as the Enlightenment, what would be required to recover traditional morality, and what the future of conservatism would look like. Bill could see that what Reagan had achieved was not enough. There had to be more and better arguments made. Liberalism had not been defeated, conservatism was not yet victorious.
On a personal note, I can recall fondly the many trips Bill made to the Claremont offices in southern California from his home in San Francisco. On one occasion — he must have been 79 at the time — I remarked on how well he looked and asked him the secret to his youthful appearance. I genuinely wondered, was it exercise, diet, what? Bill’s response was immediate: “Brian, I never moved a muscle I didn’t have to.” That was Bill Rusher: funny, honest, and straightforward.
William Rusher was the very definition of a civilized gentleman. May God bless him and the country he loved.
— Brian T. Kennedy is president of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy in Claremont, Calif.
He had sayings, carefully vetted and ready for use when the occasion warranted. About once a year you might hear this adage — which I suppose he invented though he never exactly said so — concerning health and aging, subjects he thought about often: “In your 30s nothing will happen, in your 40s nothing should happen, in your 50s something may happen, in your 60s something will happen, in your 70s (if you get there) you’ll be batting down one damn thing after another — and either then or in your 80s one of them will get you.”
One of them finally got Bill Rusher, aged 87, living in the elegant San Francisco retirement home into which he’d very deliberately moved a few years ago. Everything he did he seemed to do with meticulous forethought. He had come west when he stepped down as NR’s publisher, after 31 and a half years’ service, in 1989. He picked the Nob Hill building, his apartment, the books and the furnishings it would accommodate, the direction he would walk on his constitutional — all well in advance.
Granted, he didn’t plan on falling in love with San Francisco. That, I think, was spontaneous, though he’d never have decided to move there without testing the feeling over many years and many visits.
Rusher was a man of orderly habits, as the famous NR stories about him attest, but he willingly signed on for Bill Buckley’s impetuous, undercapitalized adventures, above all National Review itself. He knew he would forever be in Buckley’s shadow, yet he couldn’t imagine a better or more important place to be, unless it were electing Barry Goldwater president or starting a third party. Rusher had more to do with either of these ventures than WFB did, but both were failures, albeit seminal ones. Nonetheless, the publisher liked to think of himself as more worldly, more practical than the editor, and in many ways he was.
For one thing, he was a lawyer (and the founder of the Young Republican Club at Harvard Law School — he always preferred the more political side of law). I bet he would have been an excellent courtroom attorney, judging from his winning ways on The Advocates. This show was my introduction to Bill, and he was a master of the skeptical, scornful, devastating cross-examination. His toothy smile alone unnerved many a liberal expert witness. The action wasn’t limited to Firing Line in those days. Conservatives had a second wonderful show to watch, even though PBS didn’t plan it that way.
I got to know Bill when I interned for NR in the summer of 1978. A few summers later he invited me to Manhattan to discuss a project involving opinion surveys of college students. After lunch at his favorite French restaurant, we walked back to his apartment, where we paused for a few minutes so he could play for me “Ya Got Trouble” from the original-cast album of The Music Man. The apartment was very much like a men’s club, red-leather sofas and chairs with bookshelves full of histories, many by or about Churchill, one of his heroes. He wanted me to know there was trouble in River City, with a capital T. But the trouble wasn’t pool, it was liberalism!
When Bill retired to California, my wife Sally and I got to see him more often. His place was just down the hill from the little apartment we keep in San Francisco, so we’d have lunch or dinner with him occasionally at the Big Four or the University Club. In fact, he used to hold little conservative salons (the only size allowed in San Francisco) at the University Club on Saturday mornings, and he’d often invite Sally to speak about health-care reform. When he was preparing to move to the city, I asked him if he’d like to be affiliated with the Claremont Institute. He jumped at the chance and became a distinguished fellow, arranging such conferences as “The Permanent Limitations of Science” and editing such important books as The Ambiguous Legacy of the Enlightenment.
Retirement was a relative term in his case. He wore a suit virtually every day, well into his eighties, continued writing his syndicated column until a few years ago, and traveled extensively until his health gave out.
He liked to say he had circumnavigated the globe five times, which must have been difficult because he refused, on principle, to visit any Communist country. His travel writing, in NR’s “Delectations” feature, was some of his most charming. I still remember his paeans to the Italian Lakes region and his beloved Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio.
Bill had a kind of historical optimism that did not quite do justice to his own, his generation’s, and especially Churchill’s achievements. In this respect, at least, he was like his other political hero, Ronald Reagan. Hence this Victorian quatrain by the poet Coventry Patmore, with which Rusher ended virtually all of his formal speeches. I offer it in tribute to an old friend:
For want of me the world’s course will not fail
When all its work is done, the lie shall rot.
The Truth is great, and shall prevail
When none cares whether it prevail or not.
— Charles Kesler is professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. .
The central role Bill Rusher played at NR is underappreciated. He helped NR stick to its central mission and principles. He helped solve the numerous problems that inevitably face a young publication. He used his legal skills to keep NR out of trouble. In short, he played a vital role in keeping everything progressing smoothly for the magazine.
In latter years he was a voice for principle within the conservative movement and a constant source of encouragement for capable young conservatives.
Personally, I will remember with appreciation the way he worked with my father over the years at NR and a number of wonderful lunches we had in San Francisco after his retirement. And I will remember a number of his quips. To mention just one, Rusher’s Third Law: “When difficulties become great enough, they tend to cancel each other out.” The example he gave was the man who received a notice that he owed the IRS $500,000 in back taxes. The man was on death row at the time.
Bill had a truly critical career in the conservative movement and was a wonderful man to know. Rest in peace, Bill.
— Eugene Meyer is president of the Federalist Society.
I just lost my oldest friend.
I have known some friends longer than I knew William A. Rusher and have others with whom I am closer. But none of my other friends has spent 87 years on earth, as he did.
If memory serves, Bill Rusher and I first met at a Youth for Reagan event at the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit. Bill was the much-respected publisher of National Review, a syndicated columnist, and one of the leading lights of the American Right. I was a 16-year-old Youth for Reagan delegate from Los Angeles, thrilled to play a small part as a teenager who waved placards and screamed for a Reagan victory. While that was just a passing encounter, we got to know each other better at CPAC meetings in 1983 and 1984, and subsequently met many times over the years.
Bill Rusher was terrific about taking me to lunch and dinner to chat about politics, ideas, and — as I became better traveled — fun, interesting, and beautiful spots around the world. He told me last year that one of his greatest accomplishments was encouraging me to see Lake Como, Italy, of which he was terribly fond, and which I was lucky enough to visit in 2007.
I will miss Bill Rusher for many things — his quick wit, his stalwart commitment to conservative principles, and his constant willingness to stay in touch, from Washington, D.C., to New York City, to San Francisco, where he spent his retirement. More than anything else, I marveled at his Cary Grant–like polish and sophistication. His combination of elegance, worldliness, and old-school class are the sorts of attributes that become rarer by the day. He had those qualities in sufficient quantities to fill 100 champagne ice buckets. And I am so sorry that Bill Rusher’s other friends and I no longer will be able to enjoy them with him.
— Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist.
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.
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.
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.