I’m slowly recovering from a bad bout of terror when it looked as though my bank account was going to self-destruct, thanks to the non-appearance of expected money, and I’m having trouble typing as Tiberius, my grandnephew’s adopted feral cat, bit me earlier today when I gently suggested that he should not sharpen his claws on my grandmother’s heirloom quilt, but that’s par for the course. Nothing to write home about. As I get older these things just take a lot more out of me, I guess.I could not be wearierLife could not be drearierIf I lived in SiberiaEartha Kitt (from New Faces of 1952)
I’ve been chasing shadows trying to run down enough information to put together a brief biographical sketch of Dean Clarence Manion, one of the shapers of the modern conservative movement, whose Manion Forum first introduced the likes of Barry Goldwater to a nation-wide audience. This guy was important, damn it—not that I’m an admirer, mind you. But he was a major figure in 1950s America, spoken of as a possible Supreme Court justice even, a best-selling author—and as far as Internet resources are concerned, he might as well never have lived.
I remember these guys, the old right-wing radio crowd. I used to hear them a lot, especially if my father was driving us somewhere. Dear old dad was a radio engineer, you see, and we always had to have his station on, no matter what garbage was being aired at the moment, so he could monitor the signal quality, and respond instantly if something went wrong. Sometimes we’d abruptly pull off to the side of the road to a pay phone so he could call in to the station over some oddity in the transmission; in the meantime I’d be stuck listening to some crazed evangelist or right-wing commentator hawking his social or political nostrums. Dan Smoot, Billy Graham, Ronald Reagan—I used to listen (unwillingly) to them all, fascinated by them in the way you feel passing some grisly car wreck. You don’t want to look at the carnage, but somehow your eyes refuse to cooperate.
Oddly I find that I have a certain nostalgic fondness for them today, remnants of a shattered dream, political heretics to mainstream American politics. Their cause rooted in denial of reality, denial of rights to those perceived as different, denial of a fair deal to the hard-working men and women who supported them, unjust and unjustified, they nonetheless tirelessly worked on behalf of the wealthy and the powerful to carry out their designs. How well they succeeded in written in the nerves and sinews of the last quarter of the twentieth century. If free America finally goes down, they will have had much to do with its corruption. And their story should be told; it is a part of the great tapestry of our history.