The Phyllis Schlafly School of Politics

USA Today’s Cathy Lynn Grossman takes a look at Sarah Palin’s “death panel” nonsense to make an astute point:

What interests me here is the tactical gimmick of arguing-by-extremes. Palin reflects the teachings of the master — Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum and a conservative-right tactician extraordinaire.

Grossman is absolutely right about Schlafly’s practice of making every political argument a fight between traditional conservative values and some insane nightmare scenario that she just dreamed up and it reinforces a point I made about her not very long ago.

To prove her case, Grossman dusted off and reposted a profile she wrote about Schlafly back in 1987 which, though dated, excellently explains Schlafly’s tactics and offers a good insight into the standard right-wing practice of sowing confusion about already complex topics by spreading falsehoods designed solely to generate opposition by scaring the bejesus out of people:

U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop has called for a public education campaign throughout society — including the public schools at the earliest grades — to prevent the spread of AIDS. In a 36-page report, Koop recommends information and behavioral change because there are not yet any medical or legal measures that will halt AIDS.

Schlafly scorns this. She claims Koop is advocating “safe sodomy” for elementary schoolers and she’s circulating that message among conservatives.

“There’s a lot of accurate information in his report, but when you get down to the bottom line, he does not call for any public health measures to protect the uninfected from the infected. He seems to lay the burden on the public schools to teach children how to engage in sex with condoms,” she says in a recent interview at the Washington office of Eagle Forum, the umbrella group for her various activities.

“This must be what he means when he says he wants to teach them the risk behavior by which you get AIDS. Sodomy is a risk behavior by which you get AIDS. And we just simply don’t think that grade school children need to be taught what homosexuals do.”

In Schlafly’s terms, “Teaching children to use condoms is about like teaching children who take drugs to use needles.”

She can’t actually point out a passage in Koop’s report, however, that says anything exciting or explicit. She finally says the condoms-and-kids association is one she has made based on Koop’s support for school-based health clinics which, among numerous other medical services, might offer family planning information.

Schlafly takes associations very seriously. In an anti-Koop letter she circulates, she and Paul Weyrich, another conservative spokesman, make a particular point of noting that the U.S. surgeon general once traveled to California at the invitation of “liberal Democratic officials who have strong connections to the homosexual community.”

That all citizens might feel free to invite the surgeon general to speak on national issues is clearly not what Schlafly means. She means to warn: This man is tainted by his associations.

Convictions give a body energy. At 63, the only gray in her life is in her hair. Schlafly adores absolutes. It’s an efficient way to reason in debates.

A serious debate requires an opponent of equal intellectual weight and moral force. Schlafly says she can’t think of any honorable spokesman for the opposition — someone of knowledge and integrity with whom she can respectfully disagree — on any issue.

People who think differently than she does are either lying, laughing or not truly confronting the issues, she says.

In the ERA heyday of the late 1970s, “I got to where I preferred the debates because there wasn’t any argument on the other side.”

She vilified those who disagreed with her as emotional, anti-family slobs, if not pro-lesbian radicals. Her biographer recounts how Schlafly described the 90,000 pro-ERA marchers who converged for a 1978 demonstration in Washington as “a combination of federal employees and radicals and lesbians.”

In 40 years of devotion to American social politics, her ideas have changed no more than her techniques. Be it an admirable steadfastness or a commitment to ignorance, she seems impervious to experience and new information. A lifetime of activism, marriage and motherhood all confirm what she expected in life as if she had been born to her philosophy.

The article goes on to chronicle how Schlafly led a fight against the effort by Congress to require companies to provide up to 18 weeks of parental leave after a couple has a baby, claiming it would be a “windfall for yuppies” who would exploit it to take vacation and how she persuaded several members of a pro-life committee planning a dinner honoring C. Everett Koop to withdraw their sponsorship because Koop had said in a television interview that pregnant women with AIDS “could” have an abortion.

It also covers her claims that “many [of Koop’s] statements about AIDS are a cover-up for the homosexual community” which was coupled with her demand for AIDS testing of those holding public service or health care jobs and the banning of teachers with the virus.

The article is a case study in not only how Schlafly operates, but how the entire right-wing movement operates from that very same playbook … even today.