I imagine about now many readers may be looking for some comic relief from the dreadful scenes of this week. Well, here is the episode for you!
As a few select people know, I am currently writing a biography of the late, great M. Stanton Evans, who passed away in 2015. Stan was one of the key figures in the conservative movement from the late 1950s (he was the principal author of the “Sharon Statement” that launched Young Americans for Freedom in 1960), and he was my first mentor out of college 40 years ago at his National Journalism Center. And he was the author of several books that will stand up for a long time, especially The Theme Is Freedom—a elegant and sophisticated statement of his political thought—and Blacklisted by History, his defense of Joseph McCarthy against the gross distortions of conventional history.
In addition to his many books and enormous corpus of journalism over his lifetime, he was also one of the funniest human beings around. You never saw this much in his writing, though I have discovered a rare 1959 column from the Indianapolis News on the technique he called his “bore baffler” that explains his ironic and deadpan sense of humor. Here’s an excerpt from my chapter about his time as editor of the Indianapolis News:
“How To Deal with Political Bores” took the familiar setting of being cornered at a cocktail party with someone equipped with tiresome 1950s liberal clichés, such as “too many people are watching television, too many people have cars with fins on them,” and so forth. (It is largely forgotten today how many liberals in the late 1950s were obsessed with tail fins on American sedans; they seemed to be a secular substitute for the horns of Satan—or perhaps as symbols of Satanic capitalism.) Evans called his antidote “the Bore Baffler”—”a hellish instrument guaranteed to hold even the most insistent bore in check, befuddled into refreshing silence.”
It works as follows: When you have been harangued into a coma on the subject, “Society’s Responsibility for Juvenile Crime,” rouse yourself, turn on your tormenter, and say: “You know Phil”—this is the more disconcerting if the adversary’s name is not actually Phil—“You know, Phil, the way I size it up is this: There is no such thing as a delinquent parent. THERE ARE ONLY DELINQUENT CHILDREN.” (The gaze must be level, and the tone one of belligerent sincerity.) The Bore Baffler is guaranteed to put you down in Phil’s book as Unconcerned, but it should produce a quick change of subject.
He rolled out for perhaps the only time in print what may have been his most famous jest. When subjected to “a long eye-glazing monologue on ‘McCarthyism and McCarthy’s Methods,’ you cut short with your Baffler with, “Personally, Phil, I didn’t like what McCarthy was trying to do, BUT I DID LIKE HIS METHODS.” And if the liberal bore should retreat to the “looming catastrophe” of quoting Voltaire’s famous cliché about defending disagreeable ideas, Evans recommended responding with: “Phil, I disagree with what you have so say—so shut up.” “You will settle your problem for good and all; you will no longer be invited to cocktail parties.”
In any case Stan’s humor depended a lot of his delivery, which always had the perfect timing of the best standup comics. It turns out there are a number of recordings of many of his speeches and lectures, and I decided to excerpt a small handful of his classic bits, especially his legendary story of the “human itties.” Pour yourself a drink and enjoy some time off from the nasty business from the week, and stay tuned for announcements of the publication of the biography later this year.
You know what to do now—listen here, or click over to the other guys.