William Rusher, longtime publisher of National Review and a leader of the conservative movement, passed away this weekend. 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 so many years.
But, in addition, Bill Rusher was an independent voice for solid, grassroots conservatism. Most of us don’t identify the grass roots with either Yale (Buckley) or Princeton (Rusher), yet 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 strong conservative writers who flourish today.
Bill Rusher’s active leadership on the PBS television debate series “The Advocates” was important to modern conservatism for two reasons: First, 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. Secondly, he introduced 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 the liberal icons of the day such 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 forerunner of today’s efforts to get the message out through talk radio, cable news and other outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.
Bill Buckley, a dear friend whom we all admired in an awestruck way, and Bill Rusher, a feisty, down-to-earth fellow, were the ying 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 the President of the Heritage Foundation