R. Emmett Tyrrell

R. Emmett Tyrrell was interviewed on August 7, 2014. Mr. Tyrrell appeared on Booknotes on June 7, 1992, discussing his book Conservative Crack-Up.

Interview Transcript

Good afternoon. Today is Thursday, August 7, 2007, and we are interviewing author R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., who appeared on Booknotes on June 7, 1992, to discuss his book, The Conservative Crackup. Thank you so much for joining us this afternoon, sir.

I'm glad to be with you.

Well, I'd like to know, how did your book come to be on Booknotes?

Well, my interview came about, I like to think, by popular demand. Though maybe it was just the result of my publisher's ceaseless importunities on you people. But whatever the case, the interview did come about, and I enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun. And it clarified my thoughts on liberals and conservatives, at least to some degree.  The occasion for the interview was the publication of The Conservative Crackup, as you've said, a book that was preceded by The Liberal Crackup. In the interview, which took place in, as you've said, 1992, I was much more optimistic about the future than I am today. Today, I am optimistic about conservatives' forthcoming victories in 2014, and I believe in 2016. But I'm not so clear on the future of the American left, other than that liberalism is dead, as I wrote in my 2011 book, The Death of Liberalism. And the left that has emerged is best characterized as crony capitalism, or better yet, friendly fascism.   That's a pretty gruesome prospect for America.

Well, I would like to know, how did you prepare for your appearance on Booknotes?

Well, I just re-read the transcript to the interview, and I think I must have prepared meticulously, but I really do not recall. Perhaps I had a strong cup of coffee.

Well, do you remember most, I'd like to know what you remember most from your appearance on the program, and if you could describe your experience on the show.

Well, it was not as exciting as my interview for In Depth with R. M. Attariel, Jr. on your C-SPAN channel.  In that interview, your very nice interviewer asked me a question, and as I began to answer, he promptly spilled coffee, a whole cup of coffee, all over his lap. Fortunately, the camera was on me, not him, but I was left answering a question that should have been answered in a minute or two, or for as long as it took to clean up the interviewer.  Possibly, I talked for 15 minutes while the interviewer was being cleaned up. Your audience must have thought me the most long-winded hot air artist alive, but I was laboring for C-SPAN, and so the show must go on.  It did, with no one in the audience any the wiser.  I guess I remember on book notes, Brian's deadpan questions.  There is no one in television who has mastered the deadpan question like Brian. Frankly, his deadpan questions can be a bit intimidating.

Well, if I might ask you for clarity, on your appearance in June of 1992, you were sporting a lapel pin that was the emblem of the Communist, the Red Army, that you had told Brian you had just purchased in the streets of Prague.  You had visited just before you had taped the show. Do you recall that?

 Yeah, I do.  I could have brought the entire hat of the Red Army.  They had these great furry hats, but I was cautioned by the street peddler not to buy the hat because it was filled with lice.  So I just brought the pin, and for a couple years thereafter I would wear this Communist pin, claiming I was the last Communist in America. 

I thought that added a delightful sense of humor to your interview.

Well, I hope it did. At any rate, I enjoyed wearing it.  I enjoyed finally getting Brian to be a little surprised by my gesture. 

I bet your discussion of him having such a deadpan question technique that it's very difficult to get a rise from him.

Yeah, he's legendary in his style of looks, but wearing the Communist pin got his attention. 

Well, Book Note's hour-long format differed greatly from most of the network television interviews, which lasted three minutes or less. What do you think are the benefits and/or drawbacks of this longer format for the author and for the viewer?

Well, I see no drawbacks, especially if the author has something serious to impart. And if he or she has written an entire book, that should be the case. Also, people who read books probably would like to get to know an author, and that should take some time, certainly more than three minutes. Maybe you can get the fullness of the entire nature of the writer by three minutes if it's a proper writer. But at any rate, all these late-night interview shows with the host yuck-yucking it up, and some rock star, some  Hollywoodian, are tiresome. You never get to know anything about the guest, though I would assume there is nothing much to know about a rock star. There was a day when writers and intellectuals appeared on these late-night shows, and they had something to say. Tom Wolfe was frequently on them, and even I appeared. The conversation was intelligent, at least I thought so. Not today, or I should say, not tonight.

Well, judging by the extensive marginalia in his books, Mr. Lamb read them thoroughly before the interview.  I like to call them librarians' nightmares. Because we have the collection here at George Mason University, you can see them all marked up and dog-eared and all of Mr. Lamb's questions listed in the front of the book.
Do you find this sort of close read of the book to be normal for interviewers, and how does it change the interview experience? 

Well, Brian always put me in mind of the book show "Apostrophe," a French television show with Bernard Thievault.  Though Brian was the quintessentially friendly, inquiring American, Thievault was, as you might imagine, somewhat arrogant. Brian's style was his and his alone.  No other interviewer could be relied upon to completely read the books he or she was supposed to have read. Most book shows have been very unsatisfactory.  Possibly that is why they are a vanishing species today. Brian made it essential that a guest know what he or she was talking about and appear very much up to snuff. And I enjoyed working with Brian.

Well, Mr. Lamb asked about an author's research and writing methods. Do you believe the reading public finds these details about the practice of writing interesting? And do you think other authors or publishers find them interesting? 

Oh, yes. Writers are always interested in how other writers research, write, and spend their days. Doubtless, readers are the same. It is a funny thing. Readers and writers are generally interested in how a writer organizes his or her work in his or her day. How very boring in comparison with guests interviewed on late-night television nowadays, where each participant competes with the host to out-laugh the other, possibly to out-sob the other. BookTV has been the last outpost of the intelligent mind on television.

Well, Mr. Lamb frequently asked his guests biographical questions.  Did that surprise you? Is this generally different from most author interviews you have experienced?

No, it did not surprise me, as I had watched him before.  Again, people want to know what kind of life a writer leads. I have spent a lot of time reading, which is interesting for a while, but after a few books, the interviewer is on thin ice. Luckily, aside from the politicians I have known, for instance, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, I have also competed in sports, which is of interest to the general public. I have been particularly involved in handball and as a swimmer with the world-class Indiana swimming program.
That was back in my college days. That interested Brian, and he talked to me about it at length. On another show, he asked me about my divorce. I guess I was a bit surprised, but it was fair game. I would, however, have preferred that he talk about my second marriage than delve into my first marriage. By the way, I have pictures from my second marriage. 

Oh dear.

That can be a point at which an interviewer starts treading on thin ice, as you say. 

It can get a little dangerous.

Yes.  Brian wanted to talk about the person in front of him.  He talked about books, and he was comfortable with books.  He also wanted to draw us out on other aspects of our lives, and he certainly drew me out.

Were you surprised by any of Brian Lamb's questions?

Well, as I say, when he asked me about my first marriage, I was surprised, and my dear mother was outraged.  I think most of the rest of the questions were meant to encourage me to tell the audience what kind of man I was.  I think they were well thought out, and all of his interviews with me were, in my opinion, very thoughtful.

I would like to know, did you watch Book Notes before or after your interview, and did your experience on the show change your impressions of it?

Well, I was pretty well prepared, for among other reasons, Brian is not an oddball. There's nothing kooky about him.  He is, as I have said, a friendly American with a lot of curiosity. He was not trying to ambush me, as so many others have.  He was trying to get me to talk about my books and about things that related to my books. Sometimes I tried too hard to make a joke, but I've always believed that a bad joke is better than no joke at all, so I continued to try.  

Well, the Book Notes series focused entirely on non-fiction books published between the late 1980s and 2004.   Now, this is just the original Book Notes series we're talking about.   What do you think might be the advantage of an 800-book collection with just this focus?

Well, I think such a collection will tell you about the concerns of thoughtful Americans from the Cold War to the War on Terror, from sociology to political science, the whole gamut of American concerns.  Interestingly, the collections of books will reveal that our absorption with the Cold War almost completely died in the early 1990s.  Our interest in World War II did not end with the end of World War II, but our interest in the Cold War ended with the Cold War.   No one has ever explained that very well.  I'm curious, now that we're seeing the advance of the Russian Empire into places like the Crimea and Ukraine, sometimes people start implying that maybe this is another buildup of the Cold War.  

I'm just curious as to your personal opinion if you think this might be true.

Well, we've been particularly weak in the world during the Obama years.  President Obama actually talked about withdrawing.  Well, when you withdraw from a place like Eastern Europe or a place like the Ukraine, the Russian bear moves in, whether he's wearing a red star or just ordinary camouflaged clothes.  I think that after the Cold War, there was a sort of sense that the people on the left didn't want to go through denazification.  So they kind of left the Cold War to be talked about 100 years from now.
I think that was one of the reasons that we just dropped the Cold War. I don't think what's going on right now is a new Cold War, but I do think it's aggression by Russia where aggression need not be. But the Obama administration decided to withdraw, and nature hates a vacuum.

Yeah, that is correct.   Well, Brian Lamb had a rule that authors could only appear on the program one time.  If asked, would you have returned for another interview?

Well, I was not aware of his rule.  It seems to me I've been on C-SPAN talking about my books rather frequently.  I would be delighted, on the other hand, to return.  

We've now hit 100% of all of the authors who would like to return to C-SPAN and talk about their books with these interviews we've been doing.  

Yeah, well, I'm not surprised by that.

In fact, one of the authors suggested we start cloning Brian Lamb now.

Well, I don't understand the chemistry, but I'm all for something like that.

Well, what was the difference in sales or, excuse me, national attention for your book after you discussed it with Brian Lamb on book notes?  And what about the critical reception?

But, you know, people seem to be less and less interested in books nowadays.  Actually, they seem to be less and less interested in much of what I consider important.  Years ago, I wrote that after the Cold War, a whole generation that waged the war was fatigued.  I think that things have gotten much worse, chalk it up to the loss of curiosity or simple innervation.  But these are not exciting times in which to live.

Did your experience with Brian Lamb and book notes cause you to rethink any of your approaches or assumptions regarding your research or writing?

Yes, I think I said at the outset that I reviewed my thoughts on history.  And as many of my thoughts have been on liberalism and conservatism, I reviewed my thoughts on liberalism and conservatism.  I stuck pretty much to my earlier conclusions.  But on specific matters, I did change.  For instance, my coverage of Bill Clinton at Mena Airport, a very specific incident.  I came to the conclusion that Bill might have been lying when he said rather famously, "That's Lasseter's deal."   He then was acting as though he knew his friend Dan Lasseter was involved in bringing drugs through Mena Airport.  This instance made Clinton appear complicit in drug trafficking, which I don't think he meant to have happen. And the Arkansas State trooper walked away with the notion that Clinton was complicit in drug trafficking at Mena Airport.  Actually, this is one of the few scandals in which he might have been innocent, but his possible lie implicated him. 

I would like to know what have you been working on after this book, and which works are you most pleased with?

Well, I've been researching a book about the Kennedy family, from Joseph Kennedy, the father, down through his sons. My thesis is just how conservative they were compared to Democrats today, and how very Catholic they were. As for my prized books, I would have to say those are the two on Bill Clinton, Boy Clinton, the political biography, and the Clinton Crack-Up, the boy president's life after the White House.  No one has ever landed a glove on their accuracy. Yet, my most recent book, The Death of Liberalism, rates pretty high, too.   Liberalism really is dead, replaced by crony capitalism. 

Well, in your estimation, what has been the lasting impact of book notes in the then contemporary American society, and perhaps in subsequent times?

Well, it has held up the book as an incomparable exercise in thought.  Next to a book and its authors, I do not think there is anything comparable using language.
My source on that isn't me, it's the venerable Jacques Barzin.  

Well, is there anything that you would like to add regarding book notes, program, C-SPAN, or Brian Lamb?

No, I think I've said it all. 

Okay. Well, I want to formally thank you so much, Mr. Tyrrell, for your comments today and for helping us to better understand the book notes series and its place in the C-SPAN legacy.  I would like to say again thank you, and to add that I am Misha Griffith, the oral historian for this project.   Bob Vay is our audio engineer. Thank you so much, sir.

My pleasure.