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Bill Safire

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
September 27, 2009
Forbes Online

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Bill Safire, the longtime and prize-winning op-ed columnist for the New York Times, was the best in the opinion business for almost 30 years. He was also the best friend and the worst enemy to friends and foes. And I can't think of a better accolade. There was little he would deny to a friend, and there was little respite he would give to a foe.

Bill was my kind of conservative. He was a real conservative in his wariness over government overreach and in his steadfast defense of free speech (even where it involved national security), and had a real appreciation of the role power plays in international affairs. He was always hard-headed and true to his beliefs. But unlike every true believer I have ever met, he was always ready and willing to argue and to do so without any rancor. He was willing to make points and to concede points if his opponent's facts and arguments were sound. There was no pretense or hatred in his give and take. He was a model to us all--a model too little followed.

Nor was he simply a political man. He loved politics, but he also loved words. He made language his other love in life, after politics. Or perhaps he put it before politics. I don't know. His language columns and books were a model of civility and learning. I don't think anyone else can step into his shoes.

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