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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Paul Harvey: A Stilled Voice of the Old Right



When I was seven years old or so growing up in the small town of Albert Lea, Minnesota, Paul Harvey was one of the first voices I heard in the morning. His memorable over-the-top delivery kept me entertained as I gulped down my mother’s signature “mush” (which, contrary to the name, was a tasty Norwegian dish of cream, cinnamon, and butter). None of the reserved Minnesota adults I knew sounded like that! Harvey’s bracing “Good Day!” helped get me in the right frame of mind for the coming day in school--one my least favorite activities.

After we moved to Minneapolis, I rarely heard him on the air. Even the old fogie stations didn’t seem to carry him. His fan base was always in small towns, where he often preceded or followed the daily crop report. Like many, I eventually came to dismiss Harvey as an antiquated vestige from a 1950s time warp, a sort of precursor to such bumbling and pretentious fictional new announcers as Les Nessman (“WKRP in Cincinnati”) or Ted Baxter (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”)

Later, however, in my research for my book on tax revolts I gained a new appreciation for Harvey. He stood out as one of the last prominent survivors of the once powerful Old Right of the 1940s and 1950s. Old Right conservatives had fought a dogged rear-guard action against the New Deal welfare and warfare states. The man who published Harvey’s first books in the 1950s was none other than John M. Pratt. An ardent FDR hater, Pratt, while in Chicago during the 1930s, had led one of the largest tax strikes in American history. He obviously saw something in young Harvey.

While Harvey moved away from his earlier Old Right isolationism, events sometimes pulled him back to it. It was Harvey, along with Walter Cronkite, who was instrumental in turning the heartland against the Vietnam War. In 1970, when Richard Nixon was still popular in countless small towns Harvey announced dramatically in his daily commentary: “Mr. President, I love you ... but you're wrong." He was deluged with angry mail and phone calls.

For this expression of old fashioned Midwestern horse sense alone, Paul Harvey deserves the recognition and thanks of all Americans who value peace.

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