Much of the right-wing radio and TV of the cold war years was simply designed to be boring. The right-winger shown here, Dan Smoot, seemed willfully predisposed not to entertain his audience. The reason was simple: the purpose of The Dan Smoot Report radio and TV show was to spread facts that would, by the power of their own truthfulness, destroy the liberal-communist establishment. Even the most modest visual aid would distract from the veracity of Smoot’s spoken word. Look at him seated at his desk in a suit, with globe, books, and houseplant tastefully placed behind him. Note the penetrating, deep modulation of his voice (sadly out of sync in this slipshod clip). This is designed to be a class act. Were Smoot alive today, he might agree with Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck about some things, but he would also see these men as clowns, for they are political entertainers.
In the strange composite clip under consideration here (a bizarre mish-mash of extremism), Smoot gives a standard dry speech on his favorite topic, the constitution. But first, a modern introduction by Ed Griffin of the John Birch Society. And the JBS has posted the clip on YouTube! Are these aging cold warriors really so “up-to-date”? Not exactly. Griffin is hardly representative of the new generation of right-wing bloggers. In fact, he was the narrator of the JBS’s 1960 recruitment films, which generally climaxed with JBS founder Robert Welch dryly giving a long speech at a podium. Welch was one of Smoot’s heroes, and Griffin’s presence as YouTube emcee does more to remind us of Smoot’s cold war roots than to establish his modern resonance.
The clip ends oddly with a contemporary take on the conspiracy theory theme that “9/11 was an inside job,” an apparent attempt to make Smoot’s old conspiracy theories even more relevant, at a Tea Party-fueled historical moment when the sanctity of the Constitution—or a certain idea of the Constitution, at least—hangs heavy in the air. But we should remember that Smoot’s inspiration for his “constitutional conservatism” was, in large part, his opposition to the Civil Rights movement. Contemporary right-wingers are walking on thin ice in claiming Smoot as a forefather and declaring their concerns not just un-racist but post-racist—as per Allison Perlman’s earlier comments on conservative appropriation of Martin Luther King’s image.
In any case, setting aside the modern packaging (the only way to access Smoot without heading to an archive or camping out on eBay waiting for old anticommunists to finally sell off their 16mm collections) and turning to Smoot specifically, we find someone who is articulate and collected, like William F. Buckley, but more overtly hostile and without his “intellectual” edge. More importantly, unlike Buckley, Smoot was unwilling to make political concessions. Buckley admitted in 1962 that Welch had his problems—accusing President Eisenhower of being a conscious agent of the communist conspiracy convinced most “legitimate” conservatives to finally write him off as an unredeemable “extremist”—but that there were many good patriots in the JBS. Yet even Buckley finally acknowledged in 1965 that both the organization as a whole, and its members, were unhinged and were holding back the conservative movement. Unwilling to recognize the pragmatism of repackaging cold war paranoia as something more palatable to a mainstream audience, Smoot would hang back with the old right and be forever incapable of making the transition to the new right. Ronald Reagan—slick and branded, as per Tim Raphael’s post—serves as a brilliant counter-example, an anticommunist and vehement opponent of the counterculture (see Rick Perlstein’s terrific Nixonland) who jumpstarted his political career by being a booster for Goldwater, the favored candidate of extremists like Smoot, but soon learned how to forge cold war anticommunism into something more hopeful and upbeat (“Morning Again in America”).
“Constitutional conservative” Dan Smoot was emblematic of the alarmist and extremist old right, the dull purveyors of anticommunist “facts” who had to be left behind for the new right to emerge, culminating with Reagan’s election.