William A. Rusher was the publisher of National Review from 1957 through the magazine’s glory years. He died on April 16. In his honor NRO has posted a fitting set of reminiscences along with an editorial, a column by Deroy Murdock, and an old toast by William Buckley.
I met Mr. Rusher over lunch on August 6, 2005, at a Claremont Institute conference in Aspen. I want only to add my memory of our lunch to contribute a couple of details for the record.
For years Mr. Rusher held down the conservative side of the terrific PBS debate program The Advocates, where he routinely mopped the floor with the hapless liberals the program served up to him. Over lunch he told me that the Ford Foundation had quit funding the program when he regularly won the mail-in votes on the debates.
When I was an undergraduate at Dartmouth I had seen him debate the colorless Massachusetts liberal congressman Michael Harrington in 1971 or 1972. I remembered almost nothing of what was said that night but for Rusher’s stirring conclusion with the recitation of a Yeats poem he’d committed to memory. Over lunch I asked him what the poem was, and he recalled that it was Yeats’s “Leaders of the Crowd.” Written in 1918, it’s one of those poems with a political theme that Yeats raises to a level of generality sufficient to make it timeless. Here it is:
They must to keep their certainty accuse
All that are different of a base intent;
Pull down established honour; hawk for news
Whatever their loose fantasy invent
And murmur it with bated breath, as though
The abounding gutter had been Helicon
Or calumny a song. How can they know
Truth flourishes where the student’s lamp has shone,
And there alone, that have no Solitude?
So the crowd come they care not what may come.
They have loud music, hope every day renewed
And heartier loves; that lamp is from the tomb.
Yeats’s poem is annotated here. Today the poem seems not only timeless but also incredibly timely.