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September 27: William Safire

Lawrence Bush
September 26, 2016
William Safire (Safir), the favorite conservative of New York liberals because of his humorous, shrewd, and authoritative writing on language usage in the New York TImes, died at 79 on this date in 2009. A college dropout, Safire became a successful public relations professional who arranged the Nixon-Khrushchev “kitchen debate” at an U.S. home products exhibition in 1959. The following year he became a speechwriter for Richard Nixon (who as president would nevertheless wiretap him); later he also served Vice President Spiro (“nattering nabobs of negativism”) Agnew. In 1969, Safire wrote a speech for Nixon to be used in the eventuality that the Apollo 11 moonwalk astronauts became stranded, meaning beyond rescue, on the moon. He joined the New York Times as a political columnist in 1973 and launched his “On Language” column in the newspaper’s Sunday magazine in 1979. Describing himself as a “libertarian conservative,” Safire was a loud supporter of Bush’s war in Iraq, yet denounced the Patriot Act and other government intrusions upon individual liberty. He was the author of four novels and five books on language and usage, primarily collections of his columns, and won the Pulitzer Prize for his political writing in 1978. “If you re-read your work, you can find on re-reading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by re-reading and editing.” --William Safire

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.