Book Write-Up: Phyllis Schlafly’s Favorite Speeches

Phyllis Schlafly. Phyllis Schlafly Speaks, Volume 1: Her Favorite Speeches. Ed. Ed Martin. Skellig America, 2016.

This book is a compilation of Phyllis Schlafly’s favorite speeches that she gave. She selected them for this book shortly before her death.

A.  In a speech on those she calls the “gravediggers,” Schlafly offers a reason that LBJ’s Defense Secretary Robert S. MacNamara severely reduced military spending. She states that LBJ wanted to spend a lot of money on social programs so as to go down in history as a progressive reformer. But he wanted to do so while cutting taxes, since raising taxes for the Great Society and the War on Poverty would be controversial with voters. His solution was to cut defense spending and to divert that money to the social programs. The Vietnam War, as Schlafly acknowledges elsewhere, threw a wrench in LBJ’s plan, for LBJ spent a lot of money for the war and for social programs; liberals have claimed that the government spending on Vietnam gave the social programs a short shrift. In Kissinger on the Couch, Schlafly takes a different approach: she argues that MacNamara spent a lot on Vietnam so as to justify reductions in nuclear preparedness. Here, disarmament itself, not social programs, is MacNamara’s chief goal. Schlafly speculated that there were other reasons that MacNamara pursued nuclear disarmament, including a belief that it was better to be red than dead.

B. Schlafly disassociates Hitler and Nazism from the right and instead associates them with the left. She distinguishes Hitler from Marxism because Hitler supported National Socialism, whereas Communism had an international focus. Yet, she claims that Marxists supported Hitler and observes that Hitler enthusiastically pursued an alliance with Stalin. Hitler’s later attack of Stalin was a dispute over turf, not ideology. A lot can be said about this. Hitler was anti-Communist because he opposed Communism’s internationalist focus and preferred a German nationalistic approach to Germany’s problems. He still drew from Marxist insights and advocated the uplift of the German proletariat. Some Marxists became Nazis, but this was not because Nazism was a Communist front; rather, Nazism and Communism were political competitors in Germany for the loyalty of the proletariat, and some Marxists left the Communists for the Nazis. Communism’s internationalist focus has been debated: some argue that Communism itself was nationalistic and that Stalin’s version of Communism was more Russia-focused than Trotsky’s version.

C. In arguing against the idea that the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) will put women into the U.S. Constitution, Schlafly argues that the U.S. Constitution is already gender neutral. It uses gender-neutral terms: we the people, citizen, Senator, President, etc. Schlafly makes this point a few times in this book, and I saw her make it in a debate with a feminist. The feminist asked if Schlafly was saying that women had the right to vote prior to the Nineteenth Amendment, which, of course, they did not. The significance of Schlafly’s observation is unclear, as is her precise judicial philosophy. Obviously, the U.S. Constitution uses gender-neutral terms. One would understandably assume, however, that the framers of the Constitution meant men when they were using these terms, since women lacked the right to vote at the time. But the text still says what the text says, and it does not specify the gender of the the elected officials. Can the text stand apart from the original intent behind it, in Schlafly’s reckoning? She does embrace original intent when she criticizes judicially liberal decisions on same-sex marriage and abortion, but does she gravitate more towards the text itself when the subject is the gender of the elected officials in the Constitution?

D. On pages 52-53, Schlafly criticizes a feminist proposal that would require a husband to pay Social Security taxes on his wife’s full-time housework. Schlafly states: “…it would probably figure out to about $960 per year in additional taxes that the husband would have to pay on his wife who does not have paid employment. And, of course, with this additional tax, he will not get additional benefits because his wife already has the right to draw Social Security benefits based on her husband’s earnings.” I learned of this debate when I was watching Schlafly’s debate with Betty Friedan, part of which was quoted in the Mrs. America miniseries. Friedan was saying that the current system fails to protect homemakers, for, if a husband were to divorce his wife, the system ignores the wife’s contribution as a homemaker when it comes to Social Security. Schlafly retorted that Friedan’s proposal would dramatically increase Social Security taxes. This debate adds nuance to the characterization of feminists as anti-homemaker and Schlafly as pro-homemaker. Schlafly perhaps felt that Friedan’s argument treated housewives as employees rather than as performing a sacred role within the family unit.

E. Schlafly’s speech about colleges makes two noteworthy points. First, Schlafly is negative about the Greek system. Students should be in college to learn, not to get drunk, party, and have lots of sex. This is ironic because conservatives, such as William Simon, support the Greek system as a bastion against campus liberalism. Second, Schlafly says that students should take STEM classes because, in those classes, they are learning things that are true. This brings a couple incidents to mind. I was taking a class about postmodernism and science as an undergraduate, and a biology major was contrasting his science class with his humanities professors. When his science professor made an error, he acknowledged it before the class. His humanities professors made no such admission because they could bullshit about interpretation. For this student, the natural sciences are on firmer ground than the humanities. Years later, in a graduate program, a biblical studies professor critiqued such as assumption, observing that the natural sciences are in continual flux; think Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Both fields, undoubtedly, have their share of facts and interpretation, but STEM probably leans more towards the fact side.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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