Clarence Manion: Bridge to Goldwater’s Movement
(The following is an excerpt from The Right Frequency.)
Clarence Manion, the retired dean of the Notre Dame School of Law, became one of the most thoughtful conservatives from the mid-1950s through the 1970s. While Fulton Lewis Jr. was the more excitable and more remembered for his radio program, Manion had a philosophy fairly in tune with modern conservatism. The “Manion Forum” began broadcasting in 1954 and continued until his death in 1979. It had a national audience, but was not a profitable venture, as he purchased airtime, raised money for the efforts and did not have a salary. He didn’t even apply for non-profit status out of fear the Internal Revenue Service might harass him for his content.
“Today’s major radio talk shows are ongoing infomercials for political parties, but it hasn’t always been that way,” his son Christopher Manion wrote in 2009. “The ’Manion Forum,’ a national radio show founded by my father in 1954, took bipartisan aim at whoever was in power—Republican or Democrat—on the basis of solid conservative principles.”
Early on Manion, a lifelong Democrat, was a huge supporter of FDR and the New Deal, even writing a book endorsing the agenda in 1939. But when FDR began moving toward interventionist policies, Manion joined the America First Committee and began to rally against interventionism and big government.
He retired as the dean at Notre Dame to work full time for Senator Robert Taft’s presidential campaign. After Taft fell short of his bid for the Republican nomination in 1952, Manion would head the “Democrats for Eisenhower” organization. President Dwight D. Eisenhower named him as the chairman of a commission to study how to return to states the power that the federal government had taken away under the Roosevelt and Truman administration. It was “a task taken seriously by Dad but, in short order, not by Eisenhower,” his son wrote. What caused Manion’s ouster from the administration was his public support for the Bricker Amendment, named for Ohio Senator John Bricker. The proposal sought to eliminate “executive compacts”—such as those made by FDR and Truman with Soviet leader Stalin—if the agreements lacked congressional approval. When Manion did not back away from his support of something the administration opposed, Eisenhower fired him. So he returned to Indiana and began broadcasting the weekly 15-minute program from his home.
The “Manion Forum” was an early victim of the Fairness Doctrine, when in 1957, the Mutual network feared Manion’s comments on a strike in the Midwest would prompt union demands for equal time. As a pre-emptive measure, they dropped his program.
In other cases, stations warned that in addition to paying for his own time, he would have to pay the cost of the other side’s time for balance.
He stopped doing business with these stations.
Manion still maintained a national audience that heard him express his anti-communist views, criticize the Earl Warren court, and lambast the amount of deficit spending the government was
doing even under a Republican administration. He caused an uproar when he called Social Security a “ponzi scheme.” He decried the cost of Eisenhower’s interstate highway system. He also spoke up for America’s religious traditions. In 1957, Senator Barry Goldwater got welcomed national exposure as a guest on the show.
Manion talked Goldwater into writing a book that the he thought should be titled a “Conscience of a Conservative.” The book was ghost written by L. Brent Bozell II. But the publishing
industry was not receptive, so Manion founded Victor Publishing Company, and the book launched Goldwater’s forward to the 1964 Republican presidential nomination and influenced the politics for generations.
“Clarence Manion was very important to the conservative movement. His weekly program was very well read and carried on many stations,” said Lee Edwards of the Heritage Foundation. “The transcripts of his broadcasts were then reproduced and distributed widely in the conservative movement. It was always regarded as a mark of your standing if you were a guest on the Manion Forum. He was a major player.”
Other guests on the show included General Douglas MacArthur, Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, Harry Byrd Sr., Henry Regnery, and Stan Evans, all key players in the rise of the conservative
movement. Though Manion was on the executive board of the John Birch Society—a group eventually shunned by the conservative movement—Manion would remain a significant voice in the mainstream conservative movement until his death. Though his show did not have the ratings, bombast exposure, or even make money, it did carry forward a purist conservative message in a well reasoned sober way that was important in America’s gradual shift to the right.
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