• Of Florid Prose and Low Blows: A Response to Mr. Greenberg

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    Most
    of us are inclined to let sleeping dogs lie, or (insert here your
    own favorite cliché). So imagine my surprise when I opened
    the mail this morning to find my late father compared to the biggest
    snake (the viper variety) in Arkansas! My eyebrows rose even higher
    when I realized the author of this comparison – made in jest, to
    be sure, by a professional critic – is one of my favorite columnists.

    Yes,
    Paul Greenberg was having some good fun with a dose of ponderosity
    from a heavy breather at the New York Times. Not satisfied
    with having tweaked the addle-minded sap, Mr. Greenberg stretched
    the observation to column length, beginning with the old saw that
    rural editors print pictures of snakes at their peril, and winding
    up with a blast at my late father, his prose, and his position in
    American intellectual history.

    A
    bit of a stretch, to be sure, and padded with a good number of references
    to bad writers (professors of education top the list) and to episodes
    in the career of our most recent ex-President. But this passing
    back-of-the-hand has appeared, for all I know, in a thousand newspapers
    and a million web mailboxes (as it appeared in mine).

    Mr.
    Greenberg claims that my father wrote “the most awkward specimen
    of prose in the English language…. For years,” he assures us, “it
    was my own personal winner in the Snake Photo competition for literary
    creation.”

    My
    dad would have a hearty laugh with that, and be done with it; and
    so will I. If Mr. Greenberg has to go back fifty years to find such
    specimen… well, maybe he's only been reading his own columns, which
    are uniformly original and appealing.

    But
    he isn't satisfied with that refined, and appreciated, literary
    tweak. He goes on to describe my father, “the late Clarence Manion
    of Notre Dame, a minor but memorable pamphleteer whose obscurities
    were widely advertised as profound insights.”

    As
    Mr. Greenberg plaintively wails, “What to do”?

    This
    is my response. Permit me to introduce my father, and his work,
    and his impact, without his prose.

    Clarence
    Manion was born in the nineteenth century in a rural Kentucky town
    on the Ohio River. The youngest of nine children, three of his siblings
    had already died when he was born. First in his high school class,
    he was awarded a scholarship to a college his family could not have
    afforded. From there, after a stint in the Army during the Great
    War, he earned several graduate degrees, and became professor, then
    Dean, of the law school at Notre Dame. He wrote many books.

    Columns
    must be short. Mr. Greenberg has not the space even to mention the
    culprit's title, “The Key to Peace.” This obscure work with the
    ill-phrased obscurities sold over a million copies in the early
    1950s. It examined the religious origins of American freedoms. Its
    impact (prose and all) was widespread, and deserves, perhaps, a
    more honorable mention. It got one just last year: on his radio
    show, Paul Harvey called it “the most important book, besides the
    Bible, that I have ever read.”

    My
    father taught constitutional law. In 1953, Eisenhower offered him
    a seat on the Supreme Court, but required as a condition that dad
    renounce the Bricker Amendment, a wise measure designed to limit
    the secret treaty-making power of the executive (Yalta, Potsdam,
    Teheran, Kennedy-Kruschchev come to mind). Dad refused this “litmus
    test,” so the seat went to another Irish Catholic Democrat named
    Brennan, the Bricker Amendment failed by one vote in the Senate,
    and I grew up on an obscure farm in rural Indiana, instead of inside
    the beltway.

    Thank
    God. (But thank Ike for Justice Brennan).

    In
    the late 50s, Dad urged Barry Goldwater to run for president. He
    suggested Goldwater write a book, and founded a publishing house
    when no one else would touch it. Dad even conceived the title, “The
    Conscience of a Conservative.” It was the best-selling political
    manifesto in the English language of the twentieth century.

    Dean
    Manion founded the first conservative radio talk show, the Manion
    Forum, in 1954. It introduced virtually every American conservative
    to a nationwide audience over hundreds of stations every week. It
    was on the air until his death in 1979. He was 83.

    Dad
    was a man of many facets. As a law student at Notre Dame he led
    the glee club, as professor he chaired the athletic commission.
    In my youth dad often quoted Knute Rockne, another obscure teacher
    at that backwater Indiana campus. My favorite was, “You should never
    spit on a man's head if you're standing on his shoulders.”

    Words
    to live by, Mr. Greenberg. Thanks for bringing them back to life,
    and for proving them so timelessly true.

    March
    15, 2000

    Christopher
    Manion, a founder of the political satire group the Capitol Steps,
    runs a background music production company in Front Royal, Virginia,
    and teaches political theory at Christendom College as an adjunct
    lecturer. He was at the 1960 Republican convention in Chicago, where,
    he insists, Nixon stole the nomination from Goldwater.

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