Linda Bridges 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.
Priscilla Buckley 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.