Columnist Ann Coulter likes to remark that for liberals, history began when they woke up in the morning, but it’s also helpful for conservatives to remember that the past has a long shelf-life. “You’ll determine whether or not this America will be unified or, if I lose the election, whether Americans might be separated—black from white, Jew from Christian, North from South, rural from urban,” the president said in Chicago, while in the midst of an uphill re-election campaign.
The president who issued that warning was Jimmy Carter. David Frisk recounts the scene in his masterful biography—If Not Us, Who? William Rusher, National Review and the Conservative Movement. Rusher, the publisher of National Review from 1955 to 1988, found Carter’s “attempt to arouse hostility among various segments of the population and focus it on a political opponent” unprecedented, as, at the time, it may have been.
Rusher (1923-2010) lived long enough to see the advent of Barack Obama. “I’ve seen it all before,” he told a friend. “I’m not all that impressed with him.”
“Don’t worry,” Rusher told his friend. “There is a yin and a yang to politics.” Rusher knew whereof he spoke: He saw many yins and yangs and helped to precipitate a few key ones.
He was an architect of the Draft Goldwater movement and an early backer of Ronald Reagan who never wavered in his support of the governor in the latter’s entire political career.
Devotees of National Review might also be amused to find, or maybe not, that concerns about the conservatism of the magazine being diluted are nothing new. “‘Careful study of National Review’s editors over the years’ had shown him his colleagues’ ‘touching dependence on the New York Times,’” Frisk writes.
“No magazine condemns the Times more roundly for its liberal biases—but none receives more of its information from that rightly suspect source, or is more resistant to information that has not received the imprimatur of publication there.”
Rusher not only published the magazine, he wrote a column and several books and was an attorney by training. In the chapters on Rusher’s early years we find, somewhat surprisingly, that conservatives were once more numerous in the student body on college campuses, even in the Ivy Leagues.
“By the spring of 1948, about four hundred students had joined the Republican Club, reportedly making it larger than all other Harvard political outfits combined,” Frisk writes of the school wherein his subject obtained his law degree.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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