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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"Sex education classes are like in-home sales parties for abortions."

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Who makes the fog surrounding the Golden Gate simply disappear?
Phyllis; Phyllis.

Who makes the warning bells on the cable cars play "The Gang's All Here"?
Phyllis; Phyllis.

Who charms the crabs of Fisherman's Wharf right out of their shells?

Who lights the lamps of Chinatown just by walking in view?

Who?

Phyllis; Phyllis; Phyllis....


(Opening theme to Cloris Leachman’s sitcom, Phyllis, 1975-1977)


She was frail and wheelchair-bound in Cleveland. It was Phyllis McAlpin Stewart Schlafly's seventeenth Republican National Convention, and she was there to support Donald Trump, who shared virtually none of the nineteenth-century views Schlafly spent seventy years promoting. It seemed like she would live forever: the half-life of spite is long indeed.


Yet Phyllis Schlafly is dead. She died last night, of cancer, at the age of 92.


It is hard to think of much Phyllis Schlafly was for in her long career. She was about a past long passed, and wanted to drag America back further still into it, and beyond.


She spent decades on the road, speaking, hectoring, canvassing to defeat candidates and ideas, proving that travel does not broaden the mind an inch. She wrote twenty-five books on everything from childcare to pornography (she was against it) to phonics. In 1965 she published a scifi screed called Strike from Space: A Megadeath Mystery.


She was a very smart woman who never learned a new thing, earning her college degree by day during World War II, and working in a machine gun factory at night. She won a master’s degree in government from Harvard and, at fifty, earned her law degree.

Phyllis Schlafly had a churning, volcano-like store of superheated bile in her gut, and turned it into hand-forged hate in decades of network commentaries, a political newsletter, a radio show that was aired on 460 stations, a 100-paper syndicated column, and all those endless books against things.


Her most famous was a scorching indictment of Republican Establishment values, A Choice, Not An Echo, published in 1964. It sold three million copies and galvanized the Goldwater for President movement.


It also positioned Schlafly as the right wing’s matronly, perfectly-coiffed, snarling attack dog against feminism in the 1970s. When she launched her campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment, it had been passed in 28 states, with ten to go. By turning it into a referendum on gender roles and the legitimization of homosexuality- advanced, she claimed, by a flying wedge of militant lesbians- she slowed, then stopped its once-inevitable march so thoroughly forty years have passed and no one has made an effective effort to revive it.


The ERA was three states short when it was declared dead, and Schlafly used the victory to play queenmaker again, this time helping Ronald Reagan win the GOP nomination in 1980.


She was, by then, cemented into the core of the new, right-wing Establishment of the Republican Party, yet continued her crusade to drag it, and its nominees, further and further rightward, ending up backing Trump against what she considered a squishy, accommodationist Establishment in her dying days.


She gloated over the death of her old nemesis, Richard Nixon, in 1994; she’d opposed his 1960 nomination for president because he opposed “segregation and discrimination” in public life, and made deals with the Communists in China and Russia. Schlafly was a longtime Bircher who left when she couldn't convince them the real Communist threat was not under their beds but at the borders.


Never wrong and never sorry: that was Phyllis Schlafly. Facts with which she disagreed, she simply declared nonexistent. The tribune of stay at home moms, she had the luxury of a full-time career because she married well and had household help to mind her six children while she was on the road. Her Harvard degree hanging on her office wall, a one-person publishing house, she could dismiss fellow alum Barack Obama as “an elitist who works with words” with no sense of irony whatever.


In 1972, Phyllis Schlafly founded Eagle Forum, an ideological stronghold that never made much of a dent in public life- after 44 years, at her death, it claimed only 80,000 members- but that she could mold and sculpt to her most exacting needs. Her last year she spent in a family feud over its control, after she- and, for all practical purposes, Phyllis Schlafly was the Eagle Forum- announced that she and her handpicked successor, Ed Martin, had determined Donald Trump a worthy heir to the retrograde traditions of her heroes: Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater and Robert Taft.


For once, her supine board- which included at least two of her children- rebelled, ousting Martin. Several board members resigned, and others were locked out by EF’s treasurer, Schlafly’s son John. “This could be my Dobson moment,” she lamented, flying to the phone to give interviews like SOS signals across the conservative world, recalling how her fellow social warrior, James Dobson, was retired from Focus on the Family after a stroke left him, all too briefly, unable to spew in public.


She was also busy fighting a nephew, a St. Louis microbrewer, over his trademarking a beer as Schlafly's. She made the name world-famous, she declared, and it did not comport with conservative values for it to appear on beer bottles guzzled by hipsters.


She lost, as she often did. Phyllis Schlafly ran for Congress in 1952, backed by billionaire reactionaries H.L. Hunt and John M. Olin, but not even all that money could buy enough voters. She tried again in 1970 and lost again. She lost nearly all the social issue fights she picked; only the core values of her soul- racism, abortion and the subjugation of women, and cramming the queers back in the closet, remain alive and well, if still mostly being fought from the back foot.


As The Advocate noted, Schlafly despised the gays harder, and longer, than any other group in her very long list of those wouldn’t be missed. They were, she maintained, at the heart of everything bad:


Ahead of the Supreme Court ruling favorably on marriage equality, she called on governors to ignore the justices, who she said “think they’re God or something.” And after the ruling, she kept right on insisting “we don’t have to obey it just because a few judges said so.”

In her syndicated column, she called on Congress to pass a resolution that affirmed the “dignity of opposite-sex married couples,” once again using it to idealize couples where “a provider-husband is the principal breadwinner and his wife is dedicated to the job of homemaker.”

Schlafly said the true purpose of same-sex marriage was to "wipe out the Christian religion."

“The use of same-sex marriage to attack Christian businesses but not businesses run by members of other religions,” she said, “demonstrates what is really driving the demand for the new constitutional right to same-sex marriage.”

It wasn’t the first time she’d suggested gays and lesbians were faking their support for marriage equality.

“I do think that the main goal of the homosexuals is to silence any criticism,” she said in 2013. “Most of them aren’t interested in getting married.”

Her other theory was that LGBT activists actually wanted to get rid of marriage for straight people.

“Knowing how at odds same-sex marriage is with our legal and cultural traditions, we should not be surprised that some homosexual activists are trying to get rid of marriage all together,” she said in 2014. “Same-sex marriage isn’t about granting equality of human rights. Gays are not denied any human rights. Same-sex marriage is about getting rid of the traditional values and institutions that have guided the Western world, including America.”

As marriage equality reached more and more states, Schlafly said she knew of Christians who were leaving those states, “dissenting with their feet.”

Schlafly was by no means focused exclusively on same-sex marriage, though. She ranted about sodomy — “a central feature of same-sex marriage” — and longed for the days when it was criminalized. Then when Caitlyn Jenner transitioned under the public spotlight, Schlafly lamented, “I don’t know what the world’s coming to, I think it’s just plain nuts.”

And even in her last years, Schlafly could create headlines with outrageous things she said about women. In 2014, she suggested women could avoid sexual assault by getting married.

“Marriage settles men down,” she said. “So what’s the answer for women who worry about male violence? It’s not to fear all men. It’s to reject the lifestyle of frequent 'hookups,' which is so much promoted on college campuses today, while the women pursue a career and avoid marriage.”


Which made it all the more awkward, when, in 1992, a gay magazine outed Schlafly's oldest son, John.

Well, it seemed awkward to everyone else in America. Same-sex marriage had reared its head; Pat Buchanan poured boiling oil on LGBT Americans from the pulpit at that year’s GOP convention.


But the Schlaflys rallied behind mom, who said the outing was aimed at her, and she was right. She made a good living vilifying one of her own.


While acknowledging his homosexuality, John Schlafly refused to repudiate his mother and other Republicans who publicly mocked gays. Instead, he attacked “a band of screechy gay activists and Washington-based pressure groups who get all the attention. The truth is, family values people... are not out to bash gay people.''

“I was proud of him,'' Phyllis Schlafly said. Whenever the subject came up over the next quarter century, she did all the talking for her son, as in this early interview:

She hasn't a clue why her firstborn child is gay, unlike his three brothers
and two sisters.
“I don't know and he doesn't know,'' Schlafly said. ``He thinks he's always
been. But about this thing of being born gay, he doesn't know that. I don't
know if anybody knows that.''

She knows of nothing she might have done to start her son down the road to
gayness. The presence of a strong mother and weak father, long used to explain homosexuality, especially doesn't fit: ``He had a very strong father,'' Schlafly says. The late Fred Schlafly, 15 years her senior, was a well-to-do lawyer who took an active role in anti-Communist issues.


John, who was 41 in 1992 and still living with his parents, was one of his mother’s biggest fans until the day she died.


Human nature and religious faith direct us to find the best in people and to feel for their mourning survivors when they die. Some people, however, make it really hard.


A columnist at Patheos put the best spin one can, I believe, on Phyllis Schlafly’s life yesterday:


I’m reminded of what Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps‘ estranged son said after his death:


I will mourn his passing, not for the man he was, but for the man he could have been… I ask this of everyone- let his death mean something. Let every mention of his name and of his church be a constant reminder of the tremendous good we are all capable of doing in our communities.

To paraphrase a famous saying, live your life so that Phyllis Schlafly would have called you a threat to our country.

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