By Richard Viguerie, ConservativeHQ.com
On Saturday, Bill Rusher, a friend, a mentor, and a founding father of the conservative movement, died.
In fact, Bill was the last of a relatively small group of conservatives whose intellect, energy, work, sacrifices, and passion for freedom came together in the 1940s and 1950s to launch, build, and nurture a cause that, in the 1940s, did not even have a name.
In addition to Bill Rusher, these giants on whose shoulders all who love freedom stand today included Bill Buckley, Jr., Russell Kirk, Frank Meyer, James Burnham, Ronald Reagan, Whittaker Chambers, Barry Goldwater, Henry Regnery, Cliff White, John Ashbrook, Vic Milione, Clarence Manion and a few others.
Most conservatives today would not know of even a third of these men. But without them, there would have been no conservative movement in the 1960s, certainly no Goldwater presidential campaign, and probably no Governor or President Ronald Reagan.
Just as there would have been no United States of America in the late 1700s or maybe even in the 1800s without twenty or thirty men like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Henry, there would be no conservative movement in the 1950s, 1960s, and maybe never without these first-generation conservative giants.
Almost from the beginning of Bill Buckley’s launch of National Review, Rusher served as its publisher. Bill once told me he was Bill Buckley’s contribution (one of many) to the conservative movement, serving as ambassador without portfolio to the fledgling young conservative movement.
Bill was a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School who started his political career in New York politics, was soon involved in the Young Republicans (YR’s), and in helping his friend, the future Congressman John Ashbrook, become chairman of the national YR’s in 1957.
Besides helping take the leadership of the YR’s away from the Eisenhower/Rockefeller wing of the party, Bill was a midwife and driving force in most all important conservative projects in the mid 1950s through the 1980s.
A short but incomplete list of his achievements would include helping build National Review to be the leading conservative voice in America, Young Americans for Freedom, the New York Conservative Party, the American Conservative Union, the Draft Goldwater Campaign, Reagan for President, and many others, including some I’m sure few, including I, know of his involvement.
In addition to his behind-the-scenes leadership of the conservative movement, Bill was a highly prolific author, long-time syndicated columnist, journalist, public speaker, debater extraordinaire, radio and TV commentator, and co-host with Michael Dukakis of a long-running TV show, “The Advocates.”
On a Friday evening in July 1961, I took a plane from Houston, Texas, where I was chairman of the YR’s, and flew to New York City. My friend and a cofounder of the young conservative movement, David Franke, had arranged for me to be interviewed by Rusher the following morning for the position of Executive Secretary of YAF.
As I was nervously pacing the street across from National Review’s office for my 10 am appointment, a man in a bowler hat and cane, approaching from the opposite direction stopped about 15 feet from me and said, “Mr. Viguerie, I presume?” After I got over my shock of being recognized on a New York City street (I had sent a photo with my resume), I had my first of many conversations with Bill Rusher, and that morning, he launched me on my career in the conservative movement.
Shortly before Bill Buckley’s death, on a Washington DC to New York shuttle, I told him that I, and every conservative I knew, would go to our grave never beginning to understand the debt we owe him. And today, I say the same for my friend Bill Rusher. At my last dinner with him, two and a half years ago in San Francisco, I wish I had said that to him directly.
2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
RIP, my friend.