William A. Rusher, R.I.P.
Lee Edwards /
Although a man of many high talents—author, syndicated columnist, television host, college lecturer, political strategist, think tank fellow—William A. Rusher was invariably described as the “Other Bill” because of his decades-long association with William F. Buckley Jr.
Bill Rusher was National Review’s and Bill Buckley’s publisher for 30 years. He was a frequent guest on Buckley’s Firing Line. He was the master of ceremonies at numerous NR events. The two Bills were photographed together more than most married couples.
And yet Bill Rusher deserves full recognition as a major figure of the modern American conservative movement. 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 made 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. The calculus is simple: No candidate Goldwater in 1964, no President Reagan in 1980.
Rusher guided Young Americans for Freedom, conservatism’s most important youth group, in its early turbulent years, instructing its officers in the finer points of Robert’s Rules of Orders and helping to fend off attempted takeovers by conservative extremists and liberal Republicans. He was also a founder of the Conservative Party of New York, which in 1970 elected one of the most principled men in American politics—U.S. Senator James Buckley of New York.
Rusher’s insightful political history—The Rise of the Right—is a natural companion volume to George Nash’s magisterial work, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945. He wrote four other books, including How to Win Arguments, essential reading for those interested in the not so gentle art of disputation.
Bill Rusher loved to lecture and did so in every state of the Union and in many foreign lands. The Heritage Foundation invited him in April 1998 to deliver that year’s Russell Kirk Memorial Address. Rusher rose to the occasion in a brilliant talk titled, “Conservatism’s Third and Final Battle.”
He argued that the conservative movement’s steadfast opposition to the advance of world communism had culminated in the near total collapse of that foe. At the same time and over the past quarter of a century, it had become plain to everyone that “economic freedom deserves to rank with political democracy” as one of the fundamental preconditions of human happiness.
Conservatism’s major tactical initiative—anti-communism–and its central strategic insight—the core importance of free enterprise—had been “validated by victories that three decades earlier would have been derided as unimaginable.”
It now remained for conservatives, led by thinkers such as Russell Kirk and Richard Weaver, to engage in a philosophical battle between “post-Enlightenment modernity and the Judeo-Christian tradition” of Western civilization.
In this battle, Rusher warned, conservatives must be prepared to lose some of their allies in the struggles against communism and democratic socialism because many libertarians and some classical liberals are not ready to accept a “metaphysical dream of the world” that has a central religious component. But, he said, conservatives can expect to gain large numbers of recruits from otherwise inaccessible segments of the population—particularly blacks and Hispanics.
An adult convert to traditionalist Anglicanism, Bill Rusher had faith that over time the conservative movement would win this final battle because, he said confidently, America will acknowledge anew “its dependence upon God and His laws and reincorporate that recognition into the ongoing cultural and intellectual tradition of the West.”