Those where the words once spoken by a man who found a passion for the defense of proper grammar and the origins of the usage of contemporary phrases. They are the words of William Safire, a conservative minded man whose words and articulation of the conservative opinions and unparallel defense of civil liberties made him quite deserving of distinction as a respected literary figure.
Since 1974, his editorials appeared in of all places, The New York Times and his conservative credentials were often challenged. Shortly after Safire started his column in the Times the paper’s publisher even received such challenges from readers of Safire’s works. One such letter decried “”Safire is not a conservative in any true sense, never has been one, and he has not come up in any way through the editorial processes. Rather, he is a paid manipulator. He is not a man of ideas or politics but rather a man of tricks…. It’s a lousy column and it’s a dishonest one. So close it. Or you end up just as shabby as Safire.” But as Safire persisted, many came around to find that he was no man of tricks. His writings proved him to be a true and level headed conservative, one whose articulation of conservative principle and thought was almost immune from being criticized as “extremist” or “radical right wing” ramblings.
Safire did not use tricks to advance the cause, he used logic and literature to advance it with a flare that always drove his point home. One time that point led former President Bill Clinton to once say that he wanted to punch Safire in the nose. That statement surfaced after a Safire column described Hillary Clinton as a congental liar
After writing over three thousand columns and 15 books through his New York Times Sunday column “on Language”, Safire intrigued many with his explanations for such things as the origins of words and everyday phrases such as “straw-man,” ”under the bus” and “the proof is in the pudding.” His column on language was well received by the public. But in 1978 his token conservative opinions in the New York Times afforded Safire critical acclaim and earned him a Pulitzer Prize.
But before his public writing career, the conservative Safire lent his talents to public service. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, Safire served President Richard Nixon as a speechwriter, a position that allowed him to shape the voice and message of the administration . It was during this time that one of Safire’s best know use of words was created to best describe the relentless and biased media of the time. The phrase “nattering nabobs of negativism” resonated well with a “silent majority” weary of media criticism. Prior to his position with President Nixon, Safire was an advertising executive. His relationship with the Republican administration developed during the now famous Nixon-Kruschev “Kitchen Debate”. That encounter took place in a model home that was built aclient of Safire and the chance happening sparked Safire’s political service.
Never one to mince words or use them improperly, Safire provided America with a rational conservative assessment of the reality of today’s politics and an appreciation for the language used in both political discourse and everyday life. At 79 years old, William Safire leaves us in body but the heart and soul he put in to his writing will remain an enduring influence of American life.