The Amazon show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel attacked the late Phyllis Schlafly, a pivotal conservative leader and the founder of Eagle Forum, echoing a decades-old accusation of anti-Semitism based on the notion of “code words.”
The show repeated the accusation in Season 3, Episode 7, “It’s the Sixties, Man!” In that episode, Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) — a comedian reduced to performing radio ads for cash — gets a gig to record live ads during an on-air event with Schlafly during her unsuccessful run for Congress.
At first, Maisel is inspired to hear that a woman is running for Congress, but her father Abe Weissman (Tony Shalhoub) warns her against the conservative activist.
“This is not a good woman; she’s a right-wing nut-job,” he tells her. “She’s come out against Nixon … because she thinks he’s too left-wing.”
Next comes the charge of anti-Semitism. “She also said that Eisenhower only got in office because of secret kingmakers in New York.” He argued that Schlafly’s use of “the words ‘kingmakers’ and ‘New York,'” refers to a specific ethnicity — Jews like himself and his daughter.
“Then she’s an idiot,” Maisel responds.
“She’s not. That’s what makes her so dangerous,” her father says. “If you’re going to have a voice, you’d better be careful what that voice says.”
Later in the episode, Maisel refuses to speak when it comes time to air the ad. “I can’t do this. This Schlafly woman, she’s awful. She is racist and sexist and she uses far too much hairspray.”
Another woman steps up to read from the script, which includes the phrase, “The atomic bomb is a marvelous gift that was given by God.” The script later warns against attempts by “certain well-financed minorities to determine our country’s future.”
This attack on Schlafly depends on innuendo. It echoes Judith Warner’s 2006 New York Times review of the book Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman’s Crusade by historian Donald T. Critchlow. In that review, Warner faulted Critchlow for failing to condemn Schlafly’s alleged anti-Semitism.
“Critchlow does note that Schlafly, like many other hard-right conservatives, has long been preoccupied with certain ‘well-financed’ minorities — ‘Eastern Establishment’ elites with ‘internationalist’ viewpoints who ‘shared strategies to expand their political and financial influence.’ For her, these elites are epitomized by Henry Kissinger,” Warner wrote.
“Critchlow points out that Schlafly ‘never identified Jews as part of any conspiracy,’ but then she didn’t have to: phrases that invoke godless, countryless ‘well-financed’ minorities are a well-recognized code among those who fear world domination by Wall Street and the Trilateral Commission. But Critchlow, a professor of history at St. Louis University, lets all this wink-winking go on without comment,” the Times reviewer sneered.
Shortly after America’s newspaper of record published this review, it published a response from Critchlow, a letter to the editor.
“When Schlafly spoke of the Eastern Establishment and the kingmakers within the Republican Party, she was referring to people like Ogden Reid, publisher of The New York Herald; Thomas Lamont, senior partner of J. P. Morgan; and Nelson Rockefeller, heir to the Rockefeller fortune. They were WASP’s,” Critchlow explained. As it turns out, Schlafly was attacking white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, not Jews.
“Warner asserts that everybody knows that ‘Wall Street and the Trilateral Commission’ are code words for world domination by an international Jewish conspiracy. Schlafly never spoke of world domination by the Trilateral Commission. She has opposed such international treaties as Kyoto, the Law of the Sea, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Her views are arguable, but it is unfair to say that she is anti-Semitic,” Critchlow explained. “Are those unionists, environmentalists and anti-Wall Street, anti-Trilateralist types who protest at international meetings of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund or G-8 using anti-Semitic code words?”
The historian also noted that real anti-Semites do not use “code words.”
“There are anti-Semites. The peculiar feature I have found in reading actual anti-Semites who have appeared in American history is that they did not feel the need to use code words. Their bigotry is explicit,” he explained. “To lump opponents of Wall Street or international treaties into a single category of anti-Semitism reveals either intellectual confusion or intellectual dishonesty.”
Many conservatives disagree with international bodies and global agreements because they fear that these bodies will chip away at America’s national sovereignty. President Donald Trump himself represents this kind of return to nationalism.
Indeed, before her death in 2016, Schlafly endorsed Trump. The then-candidate spoke at her funeral and hailed her as a conservative “hero.” Indeed, she was a hero for the conservative movement. Schlafly’s book A Choice, Not an Echo defended Barry Goldwater in 1964, the conservative candidate who set the stage in the Republican Party for Ronald Reagan. Schlafly surprised many by endorsing Trump early on in the 2016 primary. Her final book, The Conservative Case for Trump, was published one day after her death.
It is disgusting for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to repeat this unfounded accusation of anti-Semitism against a late conservative hero. Sadly, Amazon has trusted false accusations against conservatives and Christians before, excluding various organizations from the charity platform Amazon Smile because the far-left Southern Poverty Law Center smears them as “hate groups.”
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.