Sunday, September 27, 2009

William Safire, 1929-2009. R.I.P.

Former Nixon speechwriter turned New York Times columnist William Safire has died of pancreatic cancer. He was 79.

Safire began his association with Nixon during the 1960 Presidential campaign and would resume the association eight years later. During his time in the White House, Safire wrote speeches for both Nixon and Vice-President Spiro Agnew. Indeed, it was Safire who coined the phrase "nattering nabobs of negativism." Agnew first uttered this phrase at the 1970 California Republican Convention in San Diego in reference to the liberal media.

Ironically, Safire would join The New York Times, the epicenter of the liberal media, as a columnist in 1973 where he would remain until his retirement in 2005. Once Safire left there was really no reason to read the pages of The Gray Lady (although one could make a case for David Brooks amongst the Sarah Palin haters.) President Bush would bestow him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom the following year.

Safire wrote many books on politics and language. I have a book of his called Lend Me Your Ears. It is a collection of speeches delivered from Ancient Greece to the present day. It includes a draft of a speech he wrote in the event the Apollo 11 mission to the moon was not successful. The memo would be later put on display at the National Archives in Washington.

I think Safire's greatest contribution was to keep the liberal establishment on its toes. Conservatives might find the idea of working at The New York Times abhorrent but conservative ideas have to be expressed in unfriendly terrain. Conservatism is strengthened when it asserts itself in the lion's den of liberalism. Unafraid to stick his head in the lion's mouth, William Safire was a contrarian in the lair of American liberalism.

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