The Quotable Bill Rusher


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The Quotable Bill Rusher Part 2: From His Books

Special Counsel (1968) “… a steady diet of political infighting tends to coarsen, and ultimately to cheapen, most participants. They approach politics as reasonably honorable citizens, and by imperceptible degrees it sucks them into its vortex. The plainly right...

Rusher at 100: Realism for the 21st Century

(June 23, 2023—revised December 21, 2023) William Rusher, a dynamic force on the American right who passed away in 2011 after decades as comrade and mentor to many conservatives, was born a full century ago on July 19, 1923. His centenary comes at a hard time for...

Book Presentation: “If Not Us, Who?” by David B. Frisk

Click to watch the presentation of "If Not Us, Who?" by David Frisk to the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC on C-SPAN. David Frisk's book, If Not Us, Who?: William Rusher, 'National Review,' and the Conservative Movement, offers a comprehensive exploration of the...

Bill’s Biography

William Rusher was an influential political strategist, commentator, and debater at the heart of the conservative movement in the second half of the twentieth century, a movement whose ascent he documented in his 1984 book The Rise of the Right -- one of many examples...

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The Quotable Bill Rusher Part 2: From His Books

Special Counsel (1968) “… a steady diet of political infighting tends to coarsen, and ultimately to cheapen, most participants. They approach politics as reasonably honorable citizens, and by imperceptible degrees it sucks them into its vortex. The plainly right...

“If Not Us, Who?”

If Not Us, Who? takes you on a journey into the life of William Rusher, a key player in shaping the modern conservative movement. Known for his long stint as the publisher of National Review, Rusher wasn't just a publisher—he was a crucial strategist and thinker in...

from If Not Us, Who? William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement

“Politicians are the grease on which society’s wheels turn. And they can’t be better, most of the time, than a sort of low competence and honor.”—from an interview for Rusher’s biography

“He was an interesting man, and a complex man—and not in any sense of the word an evil man. I think he was, however, rather devoid of any moral appreciation of politics. I think he regarded it all as a tremendously complicated game. To me it was not a game.”—reflections on Richard Nixon, from an interview late in life

“An honest politician is one who, when bought, stays bought.”—attributed to the teenaged Rusher by his high-school friend, Tom Farmer

“prosecuted the New Deal as though it were a criminal, piling up irresistible mountains of logic, lancing it with swift strokes of sarcastic humor, annihilating it with cavalry charges of oratory. Under his spell Republicans felt the thrill of the chase again—they lifted their heads high as they had not done for older and more experienced leaders in years.”—Rusher’s description, in his college thesis, of Thomas Dewey’s 1940 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination 

“General Taylor, we have all enjoyed your witty remarks on the vicissitudes of ‘our party,’ and the medal you evidently feel Senator McCarthy has earned for his recent [improved] behavior. To keep the record in balance, though, I thought it would be well to recall that the last time your party was in power the Director of the Office of Special Political Affairs of the Department of State was a Russian spy, and the Deputy Chief of the Presentation Division of the Office of Strategic Services was a secret Communist, and the secretary of the National Labor Relations Board was a secret Communist. And I was just wondering, General, what medals you are handing out for that performance, and whether you have anything witty to say about it?”—Rusher to retired Brig. Gen. Telford Taylor, who was speaking at a New York Young Republican Club luncheon in the early 1950s. Recounted in Rusher’s book How to Win Arguments (1981).

“Most politicians … are pretty adept at sensing when to stop riding an issue … When it stops paying dividends, when on straight pleasure-pain principles it ceases to yield a sufficient return in praise, all but the most exceptional politicians will quietly drop it. McCarthy wouldn’t … [It] was a strange and ultimately fatal innocence.”—reflections on Senator Joseph McCarthy, in Rusher’s book Special Counsel (1968).

“The one sin for which nature exacts the supreme penalty of national extinction is a failure on the part of the members of a society to believe [in] its inherent worth.”—from “Cult of Doubt,” a 1955 essay in the Harvard Times-Republican that brought Rusher, then a young Wall Street lawyer, to the attention of William F. Buckley Jr.

“the struggle for survival must not be led, on behalf of the American society, by some doubt-ridden egghead exquisitely poised between Yea and Nay. The world will go—and perhaps rightly—to those who want it most. If it is to go to the defenders of freedom, they must want that freedom not merely in order to doubt, but to believe.”—from Rusher’s 1955 “Cult of Doubt” essay

“I began doing and saying what I wanted to do and say, and immediately experienced a great sense of liberation.”—reflecting later on his decision, as a young man, to give up any interest in public office or popularity 

“In the great systole and diastole of events, we are about to witness … a profound surge forward and upward, deriving its impetus from ancient and powerful truths that Liberalism has forgotten. And the highest (as well as politically the soundest) function we can perform—indeed, our moral obligation—is to spend our lives bringing this to birth and giving it a healthy political expression.”—talking point for a conversation with Rusher’s close political friend Charles McWhorter in 1957

“I recently read … a little homily to the effect that, if a person makes us think we’re thinking, we love him; but if he makes us think, we hate him. Take your choice—and then make up your mind to take the consequences.”—1958 memo to Buckley at National Review, where Rusher had recently become the publisher

“I know very little about economics and dislike what little I know. Why not assign me to talk on some aspect of the Communism question?”—request to a local political club, 1957

“Both major parties, as presently constituted, are simply highly efficient vote-gathering machines. It is pointless to upbraid such a machine for failing to concern itself with principles—just as it would be pointless to reproach a pear tree for failing to bear plums.”—to Buckley, 1960

“Politicians are characteristically most polite to people whose support they hope some day to get, not to those whose support they already have.”—to Buckley in 1960, as part of Rusher’s successful argument against an endorsement of Nixon for president by National Review

“I made up my mind years ago that salvation for America, if it is to come at all, will not take place through the medium of the Republican Party. The individual form of this dictum is embodied in what has come to be known as Rusher’s Razor: ‘No one, today, can be simultaneously honest, informed, and successful in the Republican Party.’ ”—to conservative movement activist and writer L. Brent Bozell Jr., 1961

“Here’s a guy born with umpteen million dollars—and as collateral to that, all women fell over backwards at his approach. What the hell do you do to prove yourself, if you want to accomplish something, if you want to test yourself against the world? … I think it’s greatly to Rockefeller’s credit that he didn’t just spend his money and go after his women. That he really went after the governorship, and the presidency of the United States.”—reflections on Nelson Rockefeller, one of the Republican leaders he had most opposed over the years, in an interview for Rusher’s biography

“It is a rather pathetic thing to see a man of Nixon’s stature … so tangled up in the complexities of his cork-screw course toward the Presidency that he doesn’t dare risk answering a simple question for fear of spilling some of the water he is forever carrying on both shoulders.”—to a conservative activist in 1966

“ … there are certain qualities inherent in the man—in a way, almost the most appealing things about him, since they are the most authentic—which make him an unlikely winner in the long run: an idiosyncratic stubbornness, a noisy religiosity and a businessman’s contempt for politics and politicians.”—a comment on Michigan Governor George Romney, in a memo analyzing the upcoming 1968 presidential campaign for political and National Review associates

“As for Reagan, I think that you are underrating the man. Essentially, there is no really good preparation for the Presidency, save perhaps being born into a family that somehow manages to endow its children with character.”—to his friend and political comrade John Thomson in 1967

“in theory you had to ask their permission to set foot there, and I didn’t think they had the right to grant permission. So I would just wait until they were thrown out, and then I would go … I remember saying to Buckley, at one point, that I would no more go to the Soviet Union on vacation than I would, if Hitler had permitted it, have skied in the Austrian Alps during World War II.”—from an interview for his biography, explaining his refusal to visit any communist-run country even though he was a world traveler

“I’ll make a little date with you, Mr. Sorensen … we’ll come back on this program and hear where and when National Review advocated racism, and perhaps you can show it to me; and if you can’t, at that point I’ll call you a liar … You may think you’ve been in New York long enough to be a viable candidate for the United States Senate, but on the basis of your hysterical showing this evening you wouldn’t make a viable candidate for dog catcher of New York City.”—to former Kennedy speechwriter Theodore Sorensen in 1970, on the Barry Farber radio show where Rusher was a frequent guest

“Let me assure you, my friend: There is nothing in the slightest accidental about the image I project. It is precisely the image I want to project—right down to the flag lapel pin and all of the other obnoxious parts of it. The fact that these attributes or characteristics are adjudged offensive by certain members of the younger American generation not only does not bother me; it positively gratifies me.”—to prominent National Review contributor Ernest van den Haag in 1971, after van den Haag urged him to adopt a more contemporary look for his appearances on The Advocates, a PBS debate program

“The talk of politicians when they let their hair down bears very little resemblance to dinner-table chatter in a well-run vicarage, and Mr. Nixon, as revealed in the [White House] transcripts, is no worse in this respect than many of his predecessors … or than most of the members of the House and Senate, who may soon be called upon to judge him.”—from a 1974 column, where Rusher dismissed “as pious hypocrisy much of the shock … at the low moral tone of conversations in the Oval Office.”

“Certainly the motive cannot be frugality; Congress is capable of squandering ten times $222 million in a single afternoon. Nor is there even any pretense that our Cambodian allies seek anything but their freedom, and the peace in which to enjoy it. It is shells provided by the Soviet Union and Red China that are slamming into the market-places of Phnom Penh, ripping open the bodies of children whose parents made the unbelievable mistake of trusting the United States.”—from Rusher’s syndicated opinion column, “The Conservative Advocate,” in early 1975

“The masters of the Kremlin are not ten feet tall, and there is no objective reason why they must prevail. America’s resources are as vast as theirs, or vaster, our population at least as clever, our cultural tradition one of the world’s richest, our technology (for which they yearn) the finest on the planet. What we are suffering from is simply a decay of self-discipline and national will common in advanced and prosperous societies. If that decay could be reversed, the Soviet Union would cower in its Eurasian caves indefinitely.”—1976 column

“to resist the inevitable as stoutly as one can … it may not be inevitable after all—my notion of the future may be mistaken. In the second place, as an individual the really important thing for me is not what happens in my particular historical epoch, but how I personally respond to it.”—remarks in a 1975 meeting with physicist and anti-communist Edward Teller

“a moribund heap of chronic losers, serving a highly selective set of economic interests and little else … if the Republican party didn’t exist the Democrats would have to invent it: seldom have so many owed so much to so few.”—in his syndicated column, shortly before the 1976 presidential election

“Most politicians will agree with you and not mean a goddamn word of it.”—from an interview for his biography

“We labored for at least two decades to persuade the rest of the world that we are a paper tiger. We succeeded, and the world is acting accordingly.”—opinion column in 1980

“I honestly don’t know whether there is still time to turn this country around, but I do know that the man America will elect on November 4th intends to try.”—to Nancy Reagan, shortly before Election Day, 1980

“When a man is in his thirties, the idea of serving in somebody else’s presidential administration can be exciting; in one’s fifties, it merely looks like an introduction to a lot of hassling that nobody needs.”—explaining his lack of interest in serving in the incoming Reagan administration.

“the world’s foremost authority on widgets” or “the world’s foremost authority on anything”—comparing the idea of an appointment in a presidential administration unfavorably with remaining a commentator and columnist, in an interview for his biography

“I guess it is inevitable that most posts in government will be filled by the type of seaweed that drifts in and out with the tides of politics.”—to Nancy Reagan, during the transition period before the Reagan presidency

“I am a born interrupter—not, I hasten to say, because I want to be discourteous, but because my mind has raced ahead … to some crushing response that I find it unbearably difficult to delay … I have probably … lost or damaged more arguments in this way than in any other.”—from How to Win Arguments (1981)

“Conservatives had better be grateful for Ronald Reagan, for my guess is that he is unique. We shall not see his like again.”—1982 column

“How can you have a reasonable agenda for redesigning the Environmental Protection Agency, when no conservative has ever served there? Reagan has been like Columbus. He has led us ashore on a continent many of us have never seen or been on.”—from Rusher’s contribution to “What Conservatives Think of Ronald Reagan,” a symposium in Policy Review, 1984

“Soviet society is simply too incongruent with the realities of human nature and the laws of economics to survive indefinitely … As the noose of necessity draws tighter, the sounds of dissension within the Politburo will grow louder.”—1982 column.

“What’s a nice guy like you doing in a party like that? … The Democratic party you have fought and bled for is gone.”—to Jimmy Carter’s associate Bert Lance, 1984. Early in the Carter presidency, Rusher had met with Lance in the interest of opening a channel of communication with moderate Democrats.

“Like a skillful club boxer, Reagan moved into the attack, landed his punches, backed off, shifted his weight, parried, and attacked again. I came to feel that I was watching a protagonist who knew precisely what he wanted, enjoyed battling for it, and firmly intended to get it in the long run.”—from The Rise of the Right, Rusher’s history of the conservative movement (1984)

“Richard Nixon will break your heart.”—Rusher to Pat Buchanan, a Nixon aide and speechwriter, in the late 1960s

“Exercising may make your day; it would assuredly ruin mine.”—to a friend in 1986

“No doubt he ought to have been made of sterner stuff. But there is simply no denying that President Reagan is extremely sensitive to the human aspects of these grim events … Too much stress on the human element—that must count as a weakness in any president. But if Ronald Reagan has to have a weakness, I’m kind of glad it’s that one.”—an observation, in a 1987 column, on the president’s concern for American hostages in what later became the “Iran-Contra scandal”

“encourage the ailing Soviet system to (1.) sit down, (2) lie down, and (3) die, in that order. It has started to sit down. This is not the time to proclaim (or to forget) the terribly evil thing it has been.”—1988 column

“San Francisco has a dreadful reputation among conservatives, and New Yorkers are forever raising the subject … I just dismiss it. I’m not in the least interested in what the majority of people in San Francisco think. I like the weather, I like the food, I like the ambiance. It’s where I want to live. If they want to live there too—good luck.”—from an interview for Rusher’s biography

“Presidents wear out their welcome, and each president is denounced as the worst president we have ever had. I heard that about literally every president of the United States, so I don’t take it all that seriously.”—interview for the biography

“Don’t worry; there’s a yin and a yang to politics.”—a remark to his friend Frank Shepherd, in the months after the Republicans’ defeat by Barack Obama in 2008