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Author: Rick Perlstein

The Strong, Silent Type

In 1976, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter squared off for the first presidential debate since Nixon and Kennedy high-mindedly locked horns. The campaign, to that point, had bogged down in childishness. Carter gave an interview to Playboy in which he affirmed that he had “committed adultery in my heart many times.” Thereupon, he was greeted at every stop on the campaign trail with signs like jimmy carter for playmate of the year and smile if you’re horny. Ford’s agriculture secretary told a dirty joke about black people, and that consumed half a dozen news cycles. Then, on September 23, all those voters pining for something high-minded amid the morass settled down for a serious discussion of the issues.

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Kingmakers Beware

Phyllis Stewart Schlafly (b. 1924) did not invent the practice we now call “trolling.” (Richard Nixon had been pretty good at it since the 1940s.) She just lowered it to unprecedented depths of perfection. In 1975, in response to complaints from conservatives about the ideological uniformity of Illinois’s Commission on the Status of Women, the governor appointed her to the body, which at that point had unanimously supported passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Schlafly began publicly referring to it as the “SOW Commission.” When others took offense, she affected surprise: that—Status of Women—was its acronym, after all. And besides, “these women who are complaining are the same ones who call men chauvinist pigs.”

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