Recent Comments

Elaine Lui of
Kristina Busse

This column reminds me of Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show in the 90s. Whereas initially, her appeal seemed to be that she was "just like us," that her getting to meet celebs was similar to us "normal folks" getting closer to our favorite famous folks, she soon moved from being one of us to being one of them. So I think the question for Laney may indeed become how to remain identifiable and emotionally close, how to remain a stand-in for fans rather than just another (albeit D?-list) celebrity in the making?

[And clearly from my comment, it is apparent that I do think there’s a line that can be crossed, that it’s mostly impossible to be fan and celeb at the same time…]

Heather Hendershot

This is so crazy!  It’s amazing to think that in 1964 Phyllis Schlafly did not have to hide that she was smart, but that over 40 years later a right-wing commentator would claim to have to look up "ignoramus"—and not even in a dictionary (books are for elitists, as Colbert would say!) but via Google.

Check out Schlafly’s bio from the back cover of A Choice Not an Echo, her book promoting Goldwater: "Phyllis Schlafly is the President of the Illinois Federation of Republican Women, an office she has held since 1960.  She is a Phi Beta Kappa with a Master’s Degree in Political Science.  She was an elected Delegate to three Reoublican National Conventions, and many of the events described in this book are from first-hand experience."  That same year, the back cover adds, Schlafly was selected as a "Woman of Achievement in Public Affairs" by the St. Louis Globe!  This renowned anti-feminist was (is) one smart cookie, and not afraid to let it show.

Allison Perlman

A number of years ago, Ann Coulter spoke in Austin at the invitation of the Young Conservatives of Texas.  One very sincere young woman, who was a member of YCT, asked Coulter what advice she had for young conservative women.  Coulter — whose public persona could not be more different that that which the family values set ascribes as the proper role for women — stammered out a tepid answer that basically suggested that beautiful and intelligent young women could help the movement by (though she did not use these terms) "civilizing" their men and enabling them to be prominent leaders.  It was a comment that seemed so disingenuous coming from Coulter, though one that spoke to contradictions between the performance of prominent conservative women like Coulter and the traditional values  espoused by many in the movement.  I have been thinking about the relationship between feminism and conservatism since, so thanks for raising such important questions here.

Mary Brennan recently published a book on anti-Communist women in the 1950s and early 1960s which, in step with a strong strain in women’s history, argues that they used the "private identities" ascribed to women to enter the public sphere, drawing authority from their roles as wives and mothers to speak out against communism. Such strategies were nothing new (progressive era groups like the WCTU perhaps best exemplify this approach), and one of Brennan’s goals was to highlight the role of women in the popularization and framing of the right after World War II.  

The case of Gretchen Carlson, and of Sarah Palin, though raises the question of the degree to which a similar performance is still expected of female conservatives.  So much of Palin’s book suggests that her experiences as a mother provide her with the credentials and expertise needed to govern well.  Coulter is a fascinating counter-example of a prominent conservative woman, and it will be interesting to see how she fares if the Carlson/Palin/Bachmann image of female conservatives becomes increasingly hegemonic. 

Heather Hendershot

Amazingly, the JBS has been showing up at some Tea Party events.  It’s hard to tell if its the sign of renewal, or just their last gasp.  Their board of directors is dominated by octogenarians! 

One thing I think the JBS and Tea Partiers have in common is a struggle with image, specifically in regard to class.  There are a lot of folks at Tea Party events who are inarticulate and poorly educated (we’ve all seen egregious spelling errors on protest signs, like "Abortion—American Hollow Caust"), and the Party leadership is trying to weed them out and keep them away from the Fox cameras.  The Birchers insisted they were upstanding businessmen and housewives, but they did draw quite a few KKKers and other extremists who made them look bad, so spin was a constant issue.

Jeffrey P. Jones

The Birchers have been on my mind a lot over the last year as the Tea Party "Movement" has gotten off the ground. So thanks for this clip. Like with Glenn Beck, it’s good to be reminded of the media forms and rhetors that participated in that movement. I guess in what you write, the name that seems missing is Rand Paul. When I hear Smoot talk, my mind keeps coming to interviews with Paul these days—his dispassionate delivery, his meticulously thought out (though twisted) logic, his belief in a grand ideological vision of how government shouldn’t work, etc. As you note, Beck is a clown/entertainer. Paul, while being a politician, is also a foot soldier in the larger ideological battle that he and his father and other libertarians are trying to opportunistically wage at the moment. But again, this clip also reminds me of how closely related such libertarian Tea Partiers are to the JBS

Allison Perlman

It’s true that Buckley is not a stellar interviewer.  He and Bozell became friends as debating partners at Yale and he brought this style with him to The Firing Line.  The goal for him was less to engage and more to win, though as Jeff points out he gave his guests time to speak, without interruption, before he posed questions to them.  He later wrote about this interview with Newton as one of the more frustrating he’d done, complaining that Newton was largely unintelligible.  Heather’s comment is so germane here, because essentially what Buckley was saying was that he could not on the spot respond to, and cleverly refute, Newton’s points.

Heather Hendershot

Thanks for your note, Allison.  Smoot and his extremist compatriots (JBS and others—my favorite organization name is "The National Indignation Convention"!) were hardcore isolationists.  They wanted to stop communism, but thought others should defend themselves against it without any foreign aid from the U.S.  Spending money on other countries was simply seen as a constitutional violation.  "Internal subversion" was a different matter, of course, and all thought McCarthy to be a great American hero.

The observation about educational/instructional TV is an interesting one.  I’ve always seen Smoot’s style as closer to public service programs and the old-style low budget newscasts—both 15 minute formats for many years, and without visual aids.  I think much educational TV was imitating this "just the facts, ma’am" format.

Allison Perlman

 Wow, "arid" and "bizarre" are generous descriptors, and I’m still wrapping my head around the overall coherence of this clip.  Is the implication that the logical extension of a larger and more powerful federal government is of one that destroys buildings and kill citizens to legitimate an expansion of its foreign policy?  And wouldn’t someone like Smoot approve of a vigorous use of state power to fight communism (and, presently, terrorism)?  Buckley and his team at the National Review often fought internally about US foreign policy, but they tended to agree that containment was basically capitulation, a more vigorous attack on communism was needed and, despite their calls for a repeal of New Deal-era enlargements of the federal government, advocated an expansion of the military and defense.

I wonder about whether Smoot’s mode of address was intended to echo the educational television programming that was airing in the 1950s and 1960s.  The books and the globe that share the frame position him as scholarly, his disquisition on constitutionalism more of a lesson than an ideological intervention.  Though I haven’t been able to get my hands  on the instructional programming of this period, much of it by many accounts it was incredibly boring,  tediously replicated the lectern, and did not take advantage of aesthetic possibilities that the television medium had to offer.

The transition from the old to the new right seems to be both about broadening the appeal and salience of conservatism and of transforming how conservatives position themselves; that is, if Smoot and Buckley talk to audiences, Beck and Limbaugh speak for them, identifying themselves as spokesmen for the common person’s concerns.  This is stance that Buckley would not have adopted; he was deeply indebted to Alfred Jay Nock’s idea of the "remnant" — the enlightened few, set apart from the masses.  



Jeffrey P. Jones

 I guess I should have said, at least Buckley is willing to "engage" the other in a public space—to at least let the other person have his or her say.  That is certainly something that is very hard to find with the conservative stars today.

Jeffrey P. Jones

Actually, Heather is correct.  Buckley really never was interested in "conversation" as much as making the guests he disagreed with look bad. He had his strategy mapped out, for sure. Perhaps what this clip reminds me of is the pace of television at the time, and programs like this, but also others—Dick Cavett also jumps to mind—where they featured a variety of guests and often let them talk for more than 10 seconds!