The book reviewers were absolutely hostile, enraged at what they read.
"The book is one which has the glow and appeal of a fiery cross on a hillside at night. There will undoubtedly be robed figures who gather to it, but the hoods will not be academic. They will cover the face," snarled one, ominously comparing it to a work of the Ku Klux Klan. "This fascist thesis," angrily spluttered another, "...This...pure fascism....What more could Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin ask for...?" Still others piled on. The book was dismissed as a series of "fanatically emotional attacks" that "succeeded in turning the stomachs of its readers." The author drew howls of outrage, the lesser of which focused on adjectives like "rude" and "obnoxious" before descending into cries of "fascist."
The name of the book was not Godless. And the author was not Ann Coulter. The book that drew such ferocious attention was God and Man at Yale. The author, a recent Yale graduate, was a precocious William F. Buckley, Jr.
God and Man at Yale, published in 1951, was a then-startling protest about the liberal bias of a major university, in this case Buckley's alma mater. What was equally startling was the reaction to it described above. But if this type of savage response was news in 1951, the lesson from the reaction to Ann Coulter's Godless and her criticisms of four politically liberal 9/11 widows is that, sadly, absolutely nothing has changed when it comes to liberal reactions to a challenge of their worldview. In fact, Ms. Coulter is only the latest in a long line of prominent conservative writers, thinkers, activists and leaders to be similarly assailed.
From Buckley to Goldwater, from Reagan to Gingrich, from Rush Limbaugh to Clarence Thomas and Ann Coulter, conservatives of different styles and mediums have been treated precisely the same. No matter the topic, no matter the personality, whether the year is 1951 or 2006 they are angrily assailed for their views.
Buckley was the first target of this fury with his tome on the liberal goings-on at Yale. For Goldwater and Reagan it was their warnings about too much government and the human yearning for freedom. For Gingrich it was the calling to account of forty years of failed policies on everything from welfare to taxes to the arrogance of congressional power. Limbaugh captured an audience of millions by laughingly spinning out the results of the latest liberal idea run amok, while Thomas propounded a conservative legal doctrine from the bench.
As with Coulter (and many others -- think of talkers/writers Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, culture maven David Horowitz, and more), in every single instance their words and actions are met with some firestorm of name-calling, verbal abuse, attempts at censorship and worse. While these furies take different forms, they have exactly the same end goal: to so discredit both message and messenger that they will never again be allowed to exist in polite society again.
FOR BUCKLEY IT WAS SCATHING book reviews. He was lucky. For Goldwater, the first modern conservative to win a presidential nomination, the unending torrent of abuse verged on the apoplectic. CBS News solemnly reported the week of his nomination that Goldwater's first act after the convention would be to travel to Germany for a visit to "Berchtesgaden, once Hitler's stamping ground." And what will the conservative Goldwater do once there? "There are signs," CBS reporter Daniel Schorr said ominously, "that the American and German right wings are joining up..." Got that? Barry Goldwater, said CBS in so many words, was really a Nazi. With a presidential nomination in hand, he was literally heading to Hitler's home to get the international Nazi movement rolling. The story, from the trip to Germany to the visit to Hitler's estate was, of course, false from beginning to end.
Equally hysterical was a liberal magazine that published a 64-page "psychological study" of the candidate which began: "Do you think Barry Goldwater is psychologically fit to serve as President of the United States?" You guessed it -- after claiming to poll over 12,000 psychiatrists across the country, the answer was no. New York Times columnist C.L. Sulzberger answered the question this way: "The possibility exists that, should he (Goldwater) enter the White House, there might not be a day after tomorrow." In case voters didn't get the message, Democratic strategist and LBJ aide Bill Moyers designed the so-called "daisy commercial" that saw a child counting the petals of a flower disappear in the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion.
"It is extremely interesting how people react to the telling of the truth," Buckley wrote in an introduction to a 1970s edition of his classic. Indeed. What seemingly frightens liberals is the penetrating questions and different policy proscriptions that challenge their once secure worldview. As time has moved on and liberal solutions have been tried and found drastically wanting, the American public quite naturally has looked elsewhere for answers.
For the liberals of 1951 the truly frightening aspect of Buckley's book was not just what it said but how it sold. It became something new in America -- a conservative bestseller. In the words of its publisher, God and Man at Yale was "a sensation." The same phenomenon happened again in 1960 when Goldwater wrote a 123-page book entitled The Conscience of a Conservative. Ignored by the mainstream media, with a first printing of a mere 10,000 copies, it sold more than four million in hardback and paperback. By now this pattern is familiar. Coulter's latest book is number one on Amazon and -- teeth-gratingly for liberals -- zooming up the New York Times bestseller list. Fox News is so popular that Kofi Annan's deputy accuses both Fox (and Limbaugh) with undermining the United Nations simply by being on the air.
MAKE NO MISTAKE. The furious reaction to Coulter in this latest episode is not about her manners but her willingness to, as liberals love to say, "speak truth to power" -- the power of the once mighty liberal establishment. From the moment Buckley's book first hit the stands, this is what these furious reactions to conservatives have been all about. And from the liberal perspective there is a true terror at what is yet to come. Buckley began by taking on the world of academia in book form, then established a conservative magazine. Now conservative books, authors and magazines abound. Goldwater paved the way in politics with a move on the presidency, something finally -- and spectacularly --accomplished by Reagan. Gingrich retook the Congress. David Horowitz zeroes in on the culture. Limbaugh spawned talk radio. Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, and now Alito sit on the Supreme Court, with enough conservative lawyers to fill Yankee Stadium waiting for seats on the once sacrosanct liberal precincts of the federal bench. Rupert Murdoch has had the gall to invent Fox News, a conservative TV channel, and, most humiliatingly, take over a Hollywood studio. Even the once safely liberal mainline Protestant churches -- the Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and United Church of Christ -- are alarmed to find conservatives in their pews not only speaking up but seeking power within church hierarchies traditionally filled by liberals. What's next? Conservative Spielbergs and Norman Lears? Ben Stein as Ben Bernanke? Statements from the National Council of Churches praising the liberation of Iraq?
Piece by piece, trench by trench, the empire that was once American liberalism is under assault by men and women of all ages, incomes, faiths, races and professions. From academia to politics to religion, the media and the law, the liberal Humpty Dumpty has fallen from its once dominant perch. No matter how hard they try, liberals will never be able to put it back together again. The venom spewed at Ann Coulter's demand to liberals to stop hiding behind grief or war records or illness in a debate is not really about Ann Coulter at all. It is one very influential section of American society realizing that their world, the world they created and ran for most of the twentieth century, is dying in front of their eyes.
To put two female faces of 2006 on what began with Mr. Buckley's 1951 "sensation," Katie may be moving from morning to night, but it's Ann everybody is reading.
No wonder they're terrified.
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