William A. Rusher came to our aid in a pinch. Back in 1994, the Churchill Society was striving to “balance” its political speakers, and the Churchill Conference in Banff, Alberta was the conservatives’ turn. We had welcomed the Liberal Roy Jenkins on our Scottish tour that summer, had invited Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and William Manchester to address our 1995 Boston conference. So to Banff we invited Milton Friedman, to explain why Churchill was right (yes!) to put Britain back on the gold standard when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Twenties. (It was what Churchill didn’t do to follow up, Dr. Friedman maintained, in wage and tax policy, that caused the economic crisis and General Strike of 1926.)
Alas Dr. Friedman took ill, and we scratched around for another conservative who could take his place on short notice. Milton Friedman’s own home town, San Francisco, produced Mr. Rusher, longtime publisher of National Review and friend of William F. Buckley, Jr. “After all,” I told the organizers, Randy Barber and John Plumpton, “his initials are WAR, so nobody can think him a peacenik.” WAR duly arrived and delivered a charming speech.
We held a Q&A at Banff because we wanted to ask Mr. Rusher why his friend Buckley wrote such dreadful things about Churchill when Sir Winston died in 1965. We were actually trying to get Buckley to address a Churchill conference but he was resisting. And so we cornered his colleague.
“You will have to remember,” Bill Rusher replied in his crisp staccato, “that the Buckleys were America Firsters before the war; a streak of libertarianism always ran through them. They were not fans of European entanglements. And of course, as you know, they were Irish….”
But lo, with the help of Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn, we actually did get Buckley, who gave a memorable pro-Churchill speech in Boston, though alas we couldn’t get both him and Arthur Schlesinger together on the same night!
In remembering the learned, charming man that was Bill Rusher, I can do no better than to recall his last words to us in Banff, which I can quote almost from memory:
”As long as humanity admires courage, eloquence and tenacity, Churchill will be remembered and honored—and these are virtues which will come into fashion again, ladies and gentlemen.
”I know we have a tendency to be discouraged about how things are going—although in our time, you know, they haven’t gone all that badly. The Soviet Union lies in ruins. Free market economics, which I wouldn’t have given you a plugged nickel for at the end of World War II, is now so popular that even Red China calls its policy ‘Market Socialism,’ whatever that is. These are big victories. Still there is much that is worrisome. I’m sure Churchill, if he were here, would encourage us: ‘never despair’ and ‘never give in.’ That is why I think he would enjoy a little quatrain by the 19th century British poet Coventry Patmore, with which I like to end my talks, because it is upbeat, optimistic and true.
”For want of me the world’s course will not fail.
When all its work is done the lie shall rot.
The Truth is great and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not.”