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Hannity Before There Was Hannity

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As with all people who spent their living years steeped in politics who pass away, it appears that Phyllis Schlafly is getting an upgrade.

As best I can tell from my Twitter feed, Schlafly’s writing has become the type of touchstone for younger conservatives that An Inconvenient Truth has long been for younger liberals. Which is to say: a thing that you’ve never read, will never read, and honestly have zero interest in reading, but that you are still pretty sure you need to talk about as if you have. Indeed, I know of very few if any conservatives of any age that have ever read much or any of Schlafly’s “major” works. When her name has come up (rare these days, but more common in years long past), she has always been one of those people whose work everyone had an opinion about. But that opinion would almost always be based on something someone else had written about her, not on something they had read that was written by her. In all my years of taking about her to conservatives (and for that matter with liberals), I’ve never come across someone other than myself that has actually read A Choice Not an Echo, The Betrayers, or Power of the Positive Woman, the three works widely touted to be her legacy back when I met her in 1984.

Today, after her death, it seems that Schlafly’s memory is being put into one of two rather predictable buckets: There is the Woman Who Hated Gays and Feminism bucket, and there is the Towering Intellect Who Made Her Mark bucket. And while she certainly did hate gays and feminism, and while she certainly did make her mark, each of these buckets seems to miss the point of Schlafly and they ignore what I believe her true legacy to be. And so I am going to share the anecdote of my meeting Schlafly with you, dear reader, because I believe there is a third post-mortem bucket that ought to be considered.

I met Schlafly when she came to my campus to give a speech to my university’s chapter of Young Republicans. At the time, Schlafly had attached her name to the Reagan Revolution and was enjoying a brief resurgence in chattering-class notability. Thus was she picked to give a talk and then endure some glad-handing at a student/faculty meet and greet afterwards at my alma mater.

The hitch for those putting on the event was that this was Oregon, which one of the most liberal universities in the country at the time. There just weren’t that many Young Republicans on campus. Worse, Schlafly wasn’t taken seriously enough by the rest of the student body to them to bother organizing a protest. A champion of the Women Should Be Barefoot, Pregnant & In the Kitchen point of view, she was largely seen by students at the time as a sad and ridiculous relic from a war long-since won. Thus did some of the event organizers actively go out and “recruit” people to show up at both the speech and the meet-and-greet.

As best I can tell, my poli-sci professor approached me for a small handful of reasons despite my being pretty far to the left back then. He was inexplicably fond of me, he knew I’d been raised to be polite regardless of what I thought of the speech, and he (correctly) believed me to be one those students who just phoned it in, and needed some kind of nudge to get excited about learning. He offered both extra-credit and being handed an illicit beer at the meet and greet (I was only 19), and that was enough to get me to say yes.

Here is all I remember about Schlafly’s speech, some three decades later: It was the part in the speech about the proper role of women in society, and what they should do in order to become the best citizens they (being women) were able to be. Schlafly encouraged the few women in the audience to leave college and concentrate on doing whatever was needed to learn to become good wives. Higher education, she said, was not for women. Neither was politics, nor financial independence, nor fame — save whatever of those things they might glean from their husbands. There was a lot more in that speech then just the ‘role of women’ thing, but that was the bit that hit me at the time and what has lasted in my mind all these years.  In the age of internet, afternoon talk shows, and cable news, we’ve become used to seeing people say any fool thing to get clicks and push ratings. But in 1984, seeing someone stand up and publicly pitch the idea that higher education wasn’t for girls — at a college campus no less — was nothing short of shocking. And not “shocking” in the way it’s used to click bait these day, but actual stunned-to-silence-with-mouths-hanging-open shocking.

It was pretty far into the meet and greet, afterwards, that my professor introduced me to her.

After a few pleasantries, Schlafly asked me what I thought of the speech. Rather than giving an opinion, I found myself asking her if she really believed any of what she’d said. She looked at me with a queer expression, like she was prepared for either confirmation or condemnation, but that my wondering if she really meant what she said was jus the strangest thing she could imagine a student asking. Then she said that of course she did.

I spent the next several minutes that I had her attention trying to get her to square her self-made circle so that I could understand. How could a woman so clearly proud of her professional and intellectual accomplishments argue that she and others like her had no place in the public arena? She answered each of my questions with a response that seemed rehearsed, like a catchphrase or a political slogan, but nothing she said actually addressed what I was trying to ask her. Eventually, she began to look bored and my professor ushered me away for the promised beer. (A Moosehead Lager, if you’re curious.)

That short conversation baffled and tasked me, to the point that over the next two quarters I sat down and read her three “major” works, trying to understand in her writing what she seemed incapable of putting into spoken dialogue. It was a frustrating, quixotic undertaking, and no matter how hard I tried to understand Schlafly’s no-women-allowed comments from her own works, she eluded me. It would be more than decade later before the penny would finally drop and I would “get” Phyllis Schlafly. But in defense of my denseness, I will grant myself this: In 1984, I did not yet have the frame of reference with which to understand her, because Sean Hannity did not yet exist.

It seems so obvious, now, as I look over her bibliography in the years since I met her. Every title a hot and controversial take on some culture-war issue that was big right before the wrote  about it; every thesis designed to stick it to liberals even as it tried to use outrage to fan book sales. Now, when I look back, the answer I was looking for 30 years ago is crystal clear.

Q: How could someone who believed that all women should be shunned from intellectual kudos, politics, money, and fame spend her entire life chasing exactly those things?

A: Because that person never really believed any such thing.

This is not to say that Phyllis Schlafly wasn’t really a conservative. She was — just like Sean Hannity is. And like Hannity and all his ilk, she was happy to twist conservatism into any argument — believed by her or not — that kept her the topic of conversation, allowed her to be invited to galas in her honor, and got publishers to promote books that the right kind of people continued to buy without, it would seem, the intention of ever reading them. Those young conservative frat boys circa 1984 that actually came to listen to Schlafly talk about women’s roles on their own volition? Schlafly was telling them exactly what they wanted to hear, and in their gratitude of being told they were Always Right About Everything they forgave Schlafly her being a woman on that podium. It is with no small amount of irony that I see that her later books would feature forwards by folks like Anne Coulter. Schlafly wasn’t simply of Coulter and Hannity’s ilk; she was their predecessor, their river source, their roadmap. She was the “advance man” for the carnival, the person who rides into town and quietly prepares the rubes for what is to come.

Now, in the days after her death, I refuse to dance upon the grave of Phyllis Schlafly. As my poli-sci professor could have told you thirty years ago, that’s just not who I was raised to be. But neither will I grant her status into the great conservative intellectual echelon. William F. Buckley she was not.

Besides, the great irony is that she doesn’t need to be Buckley’s equal, not now. Her last book, after all, was a celebration of a talk-radio audience forcing the GOP to abandon Reaganism and nominate a Sean Hannity-like carnival barker to be the nation’s new conservative standard bearer. When I met her, Schlafly was the outsider trying to break though the noise. Now, it is her intellectual progeny who man the very gates of conservatism.

What use does Phyllis Schlafly have to be William F. Buckley’s equal, when she’s already proven herself to be his conquerer?

Photo by Gage Skidmore Hannity Before There Was Hannity


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Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular contributor for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter. ...more →

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106 thoughts on “Hannity Before There Was Hannity

  1. Excellent post, Tod. Is it weird that I have a better idea who Schlafly is than I do of who Hannity is? I’ve heard of Hannity, but know (or think I know) a lot more about Schlafly. Not that I know much about her, as unlike you I’ve never read her writings.

    ETA: I should’ve put a question mark in there somewhere.

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    • I think Hannity’s particular brand of shittyness is the mealymouthed veil of deniability he constantly weaves into his comments.

      He’ll often bring a guest on. If they are way out there, he takes this route:
      “Obama was born in Kenya!”
      “So you’re saying there’s possible truth to these rumors!”
      “He was born there and I know it!”
      “Wow… Well… You heard it folks. Real power to the idea that Obama was born in Kenya. We’ll be right back!”

      If the persob isn’t out there, he’ll go this route.
      “Earlier we heard that Obama may have been born in Kenya. Do you think we’re right to doubt the legitimacy of his candidacy?”
      “Well, I haven’t seen anything so I really just don’t know.”
      “So we really have NO idea where this guy is from?”
      “Well…”
      “We’ll be right back.”

      Then he’ll come back with this…
      “Now, I’ve never endorsed this birther movement but real questions are being asked about where Obama was born. People wanna know. People don’t believe the story the mainstream media is peddling. People are confused and angry that they simply haven’t been shown evidence of his birth. Was he born here? Or in Kenya? We’ll be right back.”

      He never says it… Even makes hand-wavey gestures as disavowing it. But all he does is peddle the BS to his listeners while pretending to be some objective peddler of truth and hard hitting questions.

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    • Hannity’s persona was made crystal clear when multiple women at FOX started accusing Ailes sexual harassment. Some FOX people kept silent, others argued that Ailes was good to them and the the accusations were out of character, but only Hannity directly attacked the victims (his former co-workers) and accused them of lying to boost their career. In other words, he’s constantly looking to throw his full commitment behind the most powerful person in the room, but he’s also too stupid to figure out who that actually is.

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  2. I had no idea who Schlafly was until I saw the Good Doc post about her death. This was an informative post.

    Two responses:
    1. Your 19-year-old response was exactly what I was thinking as I began the essay: “How can a woman who is not only educated but leveraging that education to achieve wealth and fame justify telling other women that just such a path is wrong for them?” So, if nothing else, 33-year-old Kazzy in 2016 is at least as wise as 19-year-old Tod in 1984. Huzzah!
    2. “Schlafly was telling them exactly what they wanted to hear, and in their gratitude of being told they were Always Right About Everything they forgave Schlafly her being a woman on that podium.”
    Do you think they really had to forgive her that? Or do you think they welcomed a woman saying everything they thought and wanted because it confirmed their position and dealt a blow to claims of sexism. My hunch is their response was less, “Ya know she’s right but if only she had a penis,” and more, “See? We told you! And a WOMAN is saying it so you can’t call it sexism!” [high fives]

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  3. Maybe this is just showing my age, but it’s truly mind-boggling that, even in the 80’s, an anti-feminist would go out and say that women shouldn’t go to college. It’s the kind of thing that, even in the age of Trump, I have difficulty believing that anyone anywhere actually thinks. Ugh.

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      • I have heard a few commentators already making that point, that either women are “stupid” with their votes or only their husband’s vote should count.

        I didn’t know the thing about Schalfly discouraging women from going to college. That’s kind of sad because you DO need to be able to take care of yourself in this life. My mother – who only worked outside the home after my brother and I had grown – once commented, “There are a lot of good men out there like your dad, but you don’t want to have to DEPEND on one” (meaning: get an education, learn a career). She had seen two sisters bury “good men” who died too young, one of those sisters wound up working as a cocktail waitress because she couldn’t get any other job.

        (My mother has a Ph.D. in botany, she taught college before I was born and after I was grown)

        Also, I wound up single. Where would I be if I hadn’t gone to college?

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      • It’s a common enough belief over in redpill/”manosphere” space. So whatever. Given the degree these chucklefucks drive much of the energy in the alt-right, I expect we’ll be hearing it more.

        It unlikely to be a position that will win elections.

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  4. I appreciate this personal story. I’m going to dissent mildly and assert, albeit without much evidence, that Schlafly really did believe what she said she believed, she was just a hypocrite engaged in special pleading for her peronal case. (See also, for example, Bill “Hi Low Yo Book of Virtues” Bennett)

    I’m mostly basing it on having a passing familiarity with her acolytes on DACOWITs in the waning days of Bush Sr’s administration and the early days of Bill’s.

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  5. The thing that struck me in the better written obits is how she seems to be exactly the opposite of what she says women should do. She not only went to university when few women did, she received a Masters degree when fewer women did. She also received a law degree in the 1970s. Now she always said she did this with her husband’s backing and permission but…

    She also ran for Congress in 1952 and won the primary but lost the general. Talk about chutzpah

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  6. I first heard of Schlafly as a kid in the late 70s/early 80s as the last, and ultimately unsuccessful, push to get the Equal Rights Amendment ratified was under way. All I really knew was that she got my Mom as close to swearing in front of her kids as anyone. She knew how to rankle “liberals” and she did not seem at all interested in dialog so much as repeating her opinions over and over. So your connecting the dots to Hannity is apt.

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  7. Schafly always struck me as something of an American version of Mary Whitehouse, the British woman who ran a long hard battle against changing social mores that she did not like.

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    • What’s interesting is that the parade of horribles that were used to defeat the ERA happened anyway. Women can enlist in the military. They can fight in combat.

      Social change can be slowed down but it can never really be stopped.

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          • So, here is the weird thing. Conservatives at some earlier point in time warn that the slope you are going down is slippery. Progressives of the time deny that it is (and not just merely deny it but call it absolutely ridiculous). Conservatives are vindicated on the factual matter, though progressives today acknowledge this but are thankful that the progressives of the past were wrong about the facts. Yet, when conservatives again claim that a given slope is slippery progressive poo-pooing of said slipperiness is supposed to be taken seriously? So, what I think is going on is that social conservatives are more attuned to the extent to which attitudes vis a vis sexual morality are governed by the disgust reaction. Social progressives (at least most mainstream ones) on the other hand are in denial about this because they are philosophically committed to denying that the disgust reaction should be allowed to justify social mores and legal rules but at the same time, still feel disgust towards certain sex acts. (Mainstream progressives in the past had disgust reactions towards gay sex among other things, now they don’t have the reaction to that but still have disgust reactions towards incestuous relationships and plural marriages). So, they rationalise their objections to these things by coming up with fairly weak reasons (genetic diseases, logistically impossible) which wouldn’t be strong enough to justify squat without the disgust reaction. Thus progressives think that slopes are less slippery than they are because they underestimate the extent to which their current attitudes towards sex are driven by disgust and so fail to appreciate the consequences of reducing the role of disgust in social and legal orders*.

            Note that I’m not saying that the social conservatives are right in their value judgements. But if conservatives are right about the causal story, mainstream progressives who genuinely think that society would have done something seriously wrong by legalising incest or plural marriage should be a lot more worried about the future.

            *Even if progressives are right that disgust shouldn’t drive social and legal mores.

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            • Here’s an essay that the Claremont Institute recently ran.

              Here are the paragraphs that should get you to start making insinuations about the types of people who would notice such a thing:

              But let us back up. One of the paradoxes—there are so many—of conservative thought over the last decade at least is the unwillingness even to entertain the possibility that America and the West are on a trajectory toward something very bad. On the one hand, conservatives routinely present a litany of ills plaguing the body politic. Illegitimacy. Crime. Massive, expensive, intrusive, out-of-control government. Politically correct McCarthyism. Ever-higher taxes and ever-deteriorating services and infrastructure. Inability to win wars against tribal, sub-Third-World foes. A disastrously awful educational system that churns out kids who don’t know anything and, at the primary and secondary levels, can’t (or won’t) discipline disruptive punks, and at the higher levels saddles students with six figure debts for the privilege. And so on and drearily on. Like that portion of the mass where the priest asks for your private intentions, fill in any dismal fact about American decline that you want and I’ll stipulate it.

              Conservatives spend at least several hundred million dollars a year on think-tanks, magazines, conferences, fellowships, and such, complaining about this, that, the other, and everything. And yet these same conservatives are, at root, keepers of the status quo. Oh, sure, they want some things to change. They want their pet ideas adopted—tax deductions for having more babies and the like. Many of them are even good ideas. But are any of them truly fundamental? Do they get to the heart of our problems?

              Of course, the entire essay is about the importance of voting Trump and that part can be dismissed as being fundamentally silly and unserious.

              But the paradox of conservative thought? Interesting.

              (I have a take on how he can be wrong on this… it involves not change but the rate of change and some rates are sustainable and some are not… but that’s less interesting than this essay ended up being.)

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              • Who would have thought a political movement that claims the name “conservative” for itself might actually have an interest in preserving the status quo?

                I mean, I actually don’t think the author is completely wrong about what he identifies as the “paradox of conservative thought”, but he’s so convinced that any conservative arguments pointing towards American decline might not only be correct but understated [1, 2] that he doesn’t consider for a second that maybe a lot of conservatives don’t believe our problems are as fundamental as he does.

                Also, that aside, he’d really deserve all the insinuations I could make and then some.

                [1] Despite all the glaring incentives, including the think-tank dollars he derides, that conservative activists might have to overstate them.

                [2] “Oh, sure, violent crime dropped by a factor of two over the course of a generation, but it’s maybe ticking back up and we’re doomed anyway!” is, perhaps, not so persuasive.

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                  • I’ve seen a lot of people I take seriously suggest that they have a lot of interesting and useful tools for analysis, but if that’s the case, it seems that they should produce a lot more analyses that aren’t ridiculous.

                    This ties into the basic fairness of the insinuations–their tools don’t prevent them from routinely falling into old and despicable errors. This guy’s long detour through Know-Nothingism didn’t actually do him any good. It seems something like that comes up every time I read something produced by neoreactionaries.

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                    • Here’s a set of questions that I recently saw that I found to be interesting:

                      1. If you are someone who considers yourself fairly high-information when it comes to politics, did you foresee Donald Trump winning the nomination, or even coming close to winning the nomination?

                      2. If the answer is “no”, did you retool your world view and your understanding of politics?

                      3. If the answer is “no”, can you explain why you consider yourself high-information?

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                      • I don’t think that’s fair actually. Of everyone I know, including people I know virtually at this site and others, I think I was open to the possibility of a Trump nom. win at least as much as anyone else I read or communicated with. Which isn’t to say that I predicted that he’d win. Quite the opposite: I refrained from making a GOP prediction because of the obvious and absolutely crazy unpredictability of GOP primaries/party politics over the last few cycles while also refraining from ruling out the possibility of him winning. You were, as far as I can tell, in exactly the same place. Point being, no one that I know or read whose views derive from being “highly informed” thought Trump would win. No one (at least in the early stages of the primary which is what we’re talking about). So the “contest” was effectively between informed people who thought he might win or absolutely wouldn’t, and uniformed people who “knew” he would.

                        IOW: that set of questions points to something important but as stated they’re Captain Hindsight-level useless.

                        Adding: Of course, I’m open to being corrected on those points. I just don’t recall reading or hearing anyone say, in the early stages of the primary, that Trump would win.

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                        • Believe it or not, I actually have an original document from 2015 that has a bunch of predictions.

                          I have a sad folder on the desktop of my computer with two pictures in it (pictures I made myself!). One picture is of Hillary, and the other is of Jeb. Both have the meme text of “smoke weed” at the top and “every day” at the bottom.

                          I considered myself high information (no pun intended) and I thought that Trump would be gone by Halloween.

                          He’s a punchline. A clown. A tool. There’s no way he’ll come *CLOSE*.

                          Anyway, I’m always interested in seeing how stuff looks in hindsight. What ages well, what doesn’t, and whether the stuff that ages well has anything in common with other stuff that ages well (beyond aging well, of course).

                          The only person that I encountered that said that Trump would win was Scott Adams, the Dilbert guy. He’s also saying that Trump will win come November. He’s used the term “landslide”.

                          We’ll see whether I’ll need to retool how I think about my understanding of the world in November, I guess.

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                            • As far as I am aware, the most accurate GOP primary predictions were by a fake pundit who evaluated each state based solely on the strain of racism the locals were into (seriously, this guy called 89% of races, compared to 56% using the 538 model). Putting a positive spin on it, the lesson is – you can never be cynical enough.

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                          • For what is worth, I thought that Nate Silver was wrong when he discounted and discounted and discounted the polls that kept showing Trump at 25-30% and all the others below 5%.

                            I really thought there was something there, and that Trump was tapping something real. But I also have a very low opinion of most Republicans, both pro or anti Trump, so I’m ready to believe bad things about them, like that they agreed with what Trump says (I’m not saying it is what Trump believes, I actually think he really doesn’t believe in what he espouses)

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                      • 1. If you are someone who considers yourself fairly high-information when it comes to politics, did you foresee Donald Trump winning the nomination, or even coming close to winning the nomination?

                        Well, my answer to the first question is, “Yes,” to the extent that I thought that Trump had a decent shot at winning the nomination (ISTR putting the odds at 2-1 against in, like, August 2015), and following Iowa I alternated between thinking he’d win or come in a close second.

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                      • I thought somebody with Trump’s policy positions (pro-welfare state for white people, anti-immigration, anti-trade, etc.) could win a nomination. I just thought that one of the _SIXTEEN_ other Republican candidates could take him out. Past South Carolina, I assumed he at worst, would lose in a one-on-one match up with Cruz.

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                      • , Just because a person possesses a large amount of facts doesn’t mean their conclusion will coincide with reality. The only thing that having an extremely high iq proves is that you do well on iq tests. In all probability, both Nietzsche and Saint Thomas Aquinas had high iqs, but one of them is wrong about that god thing.
                        I will confess that I was, and am, surprised by Trump’s ability to do so well with some Americans. I live in the south and I missed the overt racism that permeates his followers. But, my in-laws, a well educated batch of republicans hate Trump, so there is hope for that party even if David Duke feels this is a good time to come out of his bigoted hideaway and run for senator again.

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                          • Well, predictions about these type of things are sorta hard to … predict. Too many moving parts and relevant variables and so on. But I will say that in 2008 there was lots of chatter about the future of the GOP defined as a function something like ((Palinism x conservative-base-resentment-at-the-GOP)/(GOP-establishment-powah) + anti-liberalism)) = GOP primary winner!

                            Trump is really just Palin 2.0, with perhaps even worse grammar (but the same reading habits). I think the surprise for most “high information” folks was learning that the electorate tilted so far away from established convention a person expressing states of affairs the way Trump does could capture their vote.

                            I mean, for better or worse, this guy is dismantling heaps of institutional structures, policy presuppositions and norms that we’ve all taken for granted over the years.

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            • So, here is the weird thing. Conservatives at some earlier point in time warn that the slope you are going down is slippery. Progressives of the time deny that it is (and not just merely deny it but call it absolutely ridiculous). Conservatives are vindicated on the factual matter… But if conservatives are right about the causal story, mainstream progressives who genuinely think that society would have done something seriously wrong by legalising incest or plural marriage should be a lot more worried about the future.

              OFFS.

              I’m sorry, but I’m seeing some version of this argument so often these days in so many quarters about so many things. Seriously, it has to be the the least-self aware argument that I regularly hear about anything in politics these days.

              Here, in essence, is what this argument is advocating:

              When people in the enlightenment argued that we should give property owners who weren’t born of divine right a say in issues of governance , the Royalists at the time noted if we went down this road then eventually women, Jews, black people, and people without wealth would want to have a say in how they were governed as well. It turns out they were right, so that proves that giving people of non-royal birth any power was a bad idea were right all along.

              JFC.

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              • Baselines are created by children who use their own experience as well as stories from their elders of how it used to be. After some amount of time passes, these children become elders telling stories to children about how it used to be to children who are in the process of creating new baselines.

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              • not saying that it was a bad idea all along, just saying that they were right about the consequences. Look, there is a certain dialectic where when conservatives point to a slippery slope (and they’ve been right about the existence of the slope in the past, even if they’re wrong about its badness) progressives deny that it doesn’t exist. Either say that there’s nothing wrong with the consequences or take their argument more seriously. Because at this point, it should be pretty damn obvious that progressive denials about the existence of a slippery slope have a shitty track record.

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                • Other areas where we’ve gone down slippery slopes described by social conservatives:

                  Legalization and normalization of abortion lead to widespread acceptance of infanticide and euthanasia.

                  Banning of “assault weapons” progressed seamlessly to banning of handguns, shotguns and bolt-action rifles, and massive confiscation efforts aimed at them.

                  Acceptance of homosexuality brought with it acceptance of pedophilia.

                  I’m sure I can think of others.

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                  • pedophilia? no, ephebophilia? I’ll wait and see about that. Miss teen USA seems like a worrying trend. And if people are reaching puberty earlier (which is a recent reversal of earlier trends) we might see that change as well. Also, if sex is just this fun thing that people do, what’s so magical about the age of 18 or 16 that makes it wrong for 15 year olds to do it with 50 year olds if both are so inclined to do so? At the end of the day, consent or the lack of it will be the only restriction. I don’t think we’re entirely that far away from letting teens vote. If democracy survives the next hundred years, we or our progeny will probably see a lowering of voting age. And then it will seem absurd that people old enough to vote aren’t old enough to consent to sex.

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                    • At the end of the day, consent or the lack of it will be the only restriction.

                      At the end of the day, lack of consent has, to my knowledge, always been the underlying rationale for statutory rape laws, and the general trend in the US in recent years has been raising the age of consent, not lowering it. This goes alongside a push towards treating sexual consent more seriously and more consistently in the legal system.

                      Also, if sex is just this fun thing that people do, what’s so magical about the age of 18 or 16 that makes it wrong for 15 year olds to do it with 50 year olds if both are so inclined to do so?

                      This argument’s just as circular as it was when the subject was incest, and the public policy case for a fixed age of consent is much stronger than the public policy case for barring incestuous marriage.

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                      • At the end of the day, lack of consent has, to my knowledge, always been the underlying rationale for statutory rape laws,

                        Slight disagreement here. Seems to me (and I could be wrong) that while you’re correct about the role consent plays in undergirding statutory rape laws, the direction of justification goes in a different direction than (I think) you’re suggesting, namely, the law views women under a certain age as not being capable of consenting because they lack the emotional maturity to qualify as full moral agents and in particular, sex with “adults” who presumably possess the full agency.

                        On the other hand, the more general category of rape-related statutes include provisions that often over-ride the role consent plays. Eg, for quite a while (and this may still be true in certain states for all I know) it was legally impossible for a husband to rape his wife (ie., her lack of consent didn’t constitute the commission of a crime); standard rape cases often turn on whether the victim gave signals of desiring sex even if she explicitly stated that she didn’t; etc.

                        It’s obviously a complicated issue and certainly the ages delimiting what constitutes adulthood are to some extent arbitrary, but only when evaluated from a principle-oriented, pragmatics-rejecting position, seems to me.

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                    • But just because A happened and B happened and someone yelled “Slippery slope!” once upon a time doesn’t necessarily mean that A happening allowed B to happen or that any such slope even existed.

                      So, first we need to see if any of this even happens and then we need to somehow determine if it wouldn’t have happened if we had never accepted homosexuality.

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            • Doesn’t this just mean that conservativism is about nothing more than the keeping of privilege? All the royalists were doing was trying to play to the popular prejudices of their era in order to maintain their privileges and status quo.

              To this I say, so fucking what?

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              • Read the last bit of my comment: I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have made the changes. I’m saying that there is something dishonest about denying that the slope is that slippery.

                There are things that you don’t like that conservatives have warned you about. You’ve got two options: 1. Concede that yes, we really should allow incestuous and plural marriages and there are no good reasons not to. or 2. Be very worried that in the future your children or grandchildren will have abhorrent views about sexual morality.

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                • Sorry, I’m not buying. Even with your last paragraph, you’re still running cover for a rather terrible argument.

                  Your argument, in essence, is the very inherent problem with the slippery slope.

                  Because here’s the thing: We did not give rights to blacks just because there was this crazy momentum caused by eschewing monarchies that forced us to make bad, reckless decisions. We did not decide to recognize gay marriages because we gave women the right to vote, and then we simply couldn’t control ourselves because we went mad with “liberal power,” or whatever.

                  From the opposite perch, we have stopped executing people for a variety of crimes that we used to regularly execute people for — and we’ve made it much harder to execute people for those crimes for which we still actually execute. And yet, we still haven’t really come anywhere close to making murder and rape a socially acceptable thing to do. Similarly, we’ve increased penalties for the rape of children, wives, and people we work with, but we have somehow managed not to make all sex illegal.

                  Bottom line: It only looks like a slippery slope if you have an inherent issue with the particular progress at hand. Otherwise, it’s all just taking issues one at a time, learning about them, and making decisions based on evolving evidence and data.

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                  • It only looks like a slippery slope if you have an inherent issue with the particular progress at hand.

                    Oh c’mon you’re a fishin mind reader now? How many times do I have to say that I don’t object to the progress so far. In fact you know damn well that I have argued that we should in fact legalise incestuous and plural marriages. I’m pretty sure the last time I discussed this people suddenly became eugenicists about the one and vaguely conservative about the latter.

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                  • Tod,

                    I think you’re being unfair to Murali. I take him at his word that he believes the ultimate outcomes on a lot these things are good or at least not necessarily bad.

                    After reading some of the comments about slippery slope arguments, I’m probably less convinced about what I take to be Murali’s main point that socons’ had reason to worry the slippery slop would slip as it did. But right or wrong, that’s a descriptive argument. One doesn’t need to endorse the badness of what the socons say is bad in order to say that they were right.

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                    • I think Murali gives opponents of changes, who argue slippery slopes, too much credit for really being worried about worst possible outcomes and I think RTod has it just right when he writes

                      “It only looks like a slippery slope if you have an inherent issue with the particular progress at hand.”

                      I cannot fathom the amount of mental acrobatics one goes through to truly fear that a man marries his dog if two consenting, same-sex adults are accorded the legal designation and benefits of marriage. Dare I say they’re grasping at anything to justify why the thing they’re opposing right now should not happen.

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                      • I agree that the statement you quoted from Tod is correct, or at least defensible. I was thinking more of hat I took to be Tod’s imputation that Murali actually thought these reductiones were bad in the way socons thought they were bad. Now that I reread his two comments, I see them as a little less punchy and judgmental than I had thought they were. Perhaps Tod was just suggesting that Murali’s argument in practice can lead to justifying some socon positions or other weak positions.

                        I don’t know what I think about that argument or Murali’s point about the slippery slope. But if Murali says he doesn’t intend to provide cover for socon views, then I’m inclined to take him at his word as to his intention.

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            • Why? The idea that the slope is slippery–because we ended up getting gay marriage–misses the fact that, between the failure of the ERA and the widespread adoption of gay marriage, a ton of advocacy, political organizing, and very persuasive argumentation in favor of it. It’s not like we all went to sleep one day and woke up the next and discovered that gay marriage were legal.

              I’m not saying that we won’t, some day, have plural marriage or legalization of incestuous marriage. What I am saying is we aren’t going to slip and slide there haplessly: instead, people who really want it are going to have to spend a generation making the case for it with a high–and historically unusual–degree of success.

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              • All its going to take is for people to feel sufficiently casual about sex. The thing about marriage being about kids? that ship has more or less sailed. Once sex is just this pleasurable thing people can sometimes (or perhaps very often) do, then why not do it with your family members?

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                • Because implementing changes are hard and, contra social conservatives, people don’t just let go of their sexual disgust reactions without good reasons. Gay rights advocates spent a lot of time and effort figuring out ways to provide those reasons.

                  The problem with your argument is that, as you say, progressives aren’t actually impeccably consistent about ignoring or rejecting our disgust impulses when it comes to framing policy, and that makes the slope a lot stickier than social conservatives suggest. We aren’t going further down it absent a push. We certainly aren’t going to fight a major political battle just to serve some debatable form of internal consistency.

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                  • People (liberals or otherwise) are bad about ignoring or rejecting their own disgust impulses, but that doesn’t mean that people’s kids or grandkids will have the same impulses. SSM was in a way unprecedented because people’s minds changed as in people who previously thought it was wrong now are okay with it. Normally how things work is that each generation is slightly more progressive than the previous generation. Jaybird’s point about baselines is important. Tomorrow’s and day after tomorrow’s baseline is going to be significantly to the left of where it currently is at least regarding sex. Kids that are born now? By the time they grow up, they probably won’t ever go near a church that doesn’t conduct SSM. Same way that kids of my generation won’t go near a church that refuses to perform interacial marriages.

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            • Murali writes: “Conservatives at some earlier point in time warn that the slope you are going down is slippery. Progressives of the time deny that it is (and not just merely deny it but call it absolutely ridiculous). Conservatives are vindicated on the factual matter.”

              No, they are not. The slope was not slippery. It was, in fact, steeply uphill and really rocky. You can’t simply connect two utterly unrelated events and say that we slipped from one to the other.

              Did we slip from the end of couverture laws? the expansion of the franchise? the availability of the Pill? women’s suffrage? Civil rights laws? the expansion of public accommodation laws? Supreme Court interpretations of the 14th Amendment? or was the slip-sliding caused by the demise of social Christianity? or the end of agriculture, mining and manufacturing as large-scale employers?

              Conservatives such as Rod Dreher, whose blog is on the blogroll are persuaded that we are this time truly facing End Times. At best, what he means is that he has lost relative position to women and racial and gender minorities. Who, it must be recognized, have fought tooth and nail for every scrap of respect that they now receive.

              To be blunt, assertions of slippery slopes deserve no respect whatsoever. They exist solely to deprive agency and responsibility to both the proponents and opponents of social change.

              Such assertions also signal that the opponents of a particular argument have no credible opposition. “There’s nothing wrong with this policy” they imply, “But this policy will inevitably lead us to that policy, and that policy is bad”.

              To which the only appropriate response is: Nothing is inevitable. We haven’t slipped; we’ve chosen.

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              • No, they are not. The slope was not slippery. It was, in fact, steeply uphill and really rocky.

                Good point. Really good point.

                But in SS-invokers’ defense you gotta admit that “permitting X is a rocky uphill slope to accepting Y!!” has no rhetorical sting.

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                • I’m not sure what I did, but it probably was a bad idea.

                  One problem with nostalgia is that we tend to forget that the good bits of the past were inexorably tied to the bad bits. The ante-bellum plantation lifestyle may have been beautiful (I wasn’t there, but some of those old houses are just incredible), but based on slave labor.

                  That’s obviously an extreme example. But I’ll bet that most instances of mourned lost civilization can be matched to improved circumstances for someone else. (Obvious counter-examples include loss of civilization due to war, terrorism etc.)

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      • Schafly did manage to delay these changes for decades though. They would have come a lot sooner if the ERA was made part of the Constitution. This could have saved us many years of culture war politics but I also might be optimistic on that point.

        I also disagree with the idea that you can’t stop or reverse social change. You can but you need to use the full power of the state to do so like what is or has happened in many Muslim majority countries. A combination of leftist authoritarianism immediately after the Second World War combined with rightist theocratic politics kept many Muslim countries off the modernity track.

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        • Schafly did manage to delay these changes for decades though.

          I think this makes the dovetailed mistakes of giving Schlafly and the country more credit than either deserves.

          The truth is that, revisionist eulogizing aside, Schlafly never had the juice to start or stop anything — even within the conservative movement. Even in what was her heyday, she was simply someone who was trotted out to be the “Person Who Bashes Feminism Yet Is A Woman!”role. She was never taken that seriously by the players she surrounded herself with.

          The simple truth is that the ERA did not pass because the majority of the country never really wanted it to.

          No master-mind villains needed for this one.

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        • I also disagree with the idea that you can’t stop or reverse social change. You can but you need to use the full power of the state to do so like what is or has happened in many Muslim majority countries.

          As the 1930’s approached, Berlin had a thriving gay community that was becoming increasingly accepted. Likewise, transgender people were beginning to find real treatment from medical professions. Something was certainly blooming.

          Then the 1930’s happened. Then the 1940’s happened. Anyway.

          The history of transgender politics has many moments where we thought, indeed, real acceptance is just around this corner. We’re in such a place now. This could all disappear in a flash.

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          • Berlin wasn’t all of Germany though and Germany was a big country. I don’t think change in one city in a big country and a reversal really defeats Saul’s argument. I think he is wrong but Weimar Berlin is not a good example because of limited geography. Most of Germany outside of Berlin remained relatively steadfastly socially traditional during the Weimar Republic. Its why the Nazis were strongest politically in provinces and was able to use Berlin as a rhetorical threat to great effect.

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  8. I, too, will not dance on her grave; she has a family who no doubt mourns her death and whatever we may say of her politics, that’s something I respect and honor.

    As for her message and oeuvre, she argued that men and women are fundamentally different and that gender roles evolved in society to account for their differences. She opposed the Equal Rights Amendment because she believed women needed special protections for their appropriate place in our culture: the government ought to adopt policies encouraging women to marry and bear children and raise children. A woman’s role, to Schlafly, was that of nurturer, perhaps that of educator. (I believe she saw herself as an educator more than anything else.) Similarly, the government ought to adopt policies encouraging men to enter families and economically provide for them, because this was their appointed role in the world: providers and protectors.

    That meant making the draft gender-specific, and much of her opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment was predicated upon the idea that drafting women into military service was inappropriate. That meant prohibiting (where possible) and discouraging (everywhere else) abortions, and encouraging adoptions. That meant a host of other social conservative policy agendas — restrictions on welfare because men should be made to work rather than take entitlements, lest they teach their sons to shirk their manly duties and their daughters to abandon or devalue motherhood.

    Lots of conservative women were inspired by her to enter politics and molded their own visions of what good policy ought to be following her lead. I can assure you that they did not feel like they were being demeaned or disparaged or insulted. They believed, rather, that what more liberal feminists were advocating would ultimately be harmful to women because it would deny and destroy femininity. These women saw Schlafly as a bulwark against that happening, a guardian of that which made them special and valued and important.

    Now, you needn’t agree with Schlafly, and I certainly don’t now and even in my more conservative youth I was pretty skeptical of the intellectual goods she brought to the political marketplace. But it’s not fair to dismiss her as a mere “anti-feminist” and a hypocrite. She was an advocate of a particular vision of a good society, and bent her political energies to persuade others of the goodness of that view and to reject policies that would interfere with it. She was (in my estimation) wrong about that being the best iteration of our society and the way to realize of our collective aspirations, but she wasn’t evil.

    So I won’t be dancing on her grave at all.

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    • Even if Schlafly is not a hypocrite, because she was acting out of some form of perceived necessity, and, say, viewed her role in public life one that involved a sacrifice of the essentially feminine life she would prefer…

      …isn’t that even more of crushing refutation of her position than simply observing that she was a hypocrite that sought to deny other women the opportunities and success that she herself enjoyed? The only way society can preserve the shelter that she, as a woman, desired in order to be able to nurturer and educate her children[1] is for women like her to assume a highly visible role is if they enter the public realm to defend it.

      If men could have done this on their own, there would never have been a need for Phyllis Schlaffly, nor the generations of conservative women activists she inspired.

      [1] Which is a corollary of assuming that she is not a hypocrite.

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  9. This article doesn’t make the case that she didn’t believe the things she said. It simply states its conclusion. The fact that it took the author 32 years to come to the “conclusion” of agreeing with his first reaction makes it an even harder sell. Perhaps if Tod could recall some of her answers to this very question it’d help make his case.

    Schlafly was a maverick. She may well have pleased the segment of the population who agreed with her, but who doesn’t? She certainly could have gone a different route if she were looking for accolades. The fact that she succeeded in stopping a Constitutional amendment is remarkable – not an easy thing to do, and not exactly evidence that she was half-hearted or insincere.

    The thing I remember most about the ERA was her side saying that it could lead to unisex bathrooms, and her opposition saying that it was ridiculous, no one would ever support getting rid of men’s and women’s rooms.

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    • I think there’s a lot of merit to that point, . I deferred to Tod because he has actually read some of Schlafly works and I haven’t, but you’re right, he doesn’t seem to have proved, at least not in the OP, that Schlafly didn’t really believe what she was saying. And my sense of her (again, without having read her) is that she demonstrated an underlying consistency in the manner that Burt above described.

      I’d also point out that most of us, maybe all of us, act inconsistently with what we claim to believe. We’re living, breathing paradoxes, though without the notoriety of Schlafly or other news grabbers. Does that mean we don’t really believe what we say we do? Actually, I think it might on some level mean that. It’s a question for self-reflection. But life can get complicated very fast.

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        • I understood Tod’s not remembering to be more along the lines of “I don’t remember what exactly we said, but it was unconvincing and seemed insincere.” And while I’d like him to elaborate if he’s going to make the “she doesn’t really believe it argument,” I’m willing to take his word for it, at least as that particular encounter is concerned.

          I’d like to, however, see a stronger argument for that. I don’t particularly fault Tod for not offering it, just that I believe the case needs to be further demonstrated before I’ll sign on. I’m also wary of the relevance of “it’s insincere” or “they don’t really believe it” types of arguments. Depending on what those arguments trying to prove, I usually find them irrelevant. And I get annoyed by the “you don’t really believe that” approach to certain issues, even though it might really be true that I’m more on the fence about said issue than my position suggests.

          In this case, Tod’s main point seems to be trying to prove that Schlafly was insincere like Hannity is. And although I find his presentation of the case wanting, I don’t doubt the sincerity for that particular argument.

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  10. Ironically, if little girls looked at Schafly and said “she’s awesome, I want to be like her”, they wouldn’t listen to her message but instead get themselves educated and get engaged in the political process.

    The medium is the message and Schafly communicated eloquently, planting the very seeds that the words that happened to be coming out of her mouth argued against planting.

    It’s enough to make you wonder what speeches are being given today that change into their opposites the very second you turn the sound (but not the picture) off.

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  11. The first time I actually heard Schlafly speak was during a program responding to a TV movie called The Day After, which was about a nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union. This was where she first made her famous observation that “The atomic bomb is a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God.”

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