R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.--"call me Bob"--claims he hasn't combed his hair in 30 years. And for years he hawked T-shirts in his influential opinion magazine, the American Spectator, that said "Nuke the Whales."
But that hasn't prevented the conservative gadfly from dining regularly at the Reagan White House and hanging around with Henry Kissinger.
Tyrrell, who whistles Debussy sonatas and religiously wears pin-striped suits, says his life as an iconoclastic, free-speaking newspaper columnist and magazine editor "is a ball."
At 40, he's already a 15-year veteran of the political movement that put Ronald Reagan in the White House. He's a sassier, handball playing, slightly more libertarian version of William F. Buckley Jr., a godfather of modern American conservativism and Tyrrell's friend and ideological soul mate.
And though Tyrrell does hold a lingering (and purely ideological) hatred for the lowly snail darter--"An idiotic and inedible fish that environmentalists raised above the citizens of Tennessee, who needed the Tellico Dam"--he doesn't really hate whales.
It's just that this independently wealthy wag gets a kick out of enraging his political enemy, the American liberal.
In print, Tyrrell's conservative fulminations and Menckenian rhetoric can seem excessive and cruelly vitriolic, especially to liberals, who are most often the targets.
In person, however, though he uses the word idiot with great frequency and there always seems to be the gleam of a juvenile delinquent in his eyes, he is a good-natured, pleasant gentleman.
Tyrrell has no quarrel with "sensible liberals" such as Adlai Stevenson, John F. Kennedy or L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, he explained recently while in Los Angeles to push "The Liberal Crack-Up" (Simon & Schuster: $16.95), his new book that unmercifully caricatures liberals while making the case that liberalism has achieved its goals but lost its coherence.
And Tyrrell is buddy-buddy with his neoconservative Democrat friends like outgoing U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), who, he says, "believe in freedom as the ultimate political value and who believe in modest reforms."
His big beef is with those he calls "The New Age Liberals," the "fanatics" who he says have seized ideological control of the Democrat Party and are wrecking American liberalism.
New Age Liberals include "fanatical feminists," whom Tyrrell has tagged "women of the fevered brow" ("Idiots like Susan Brownmiller who think that the fundamental relationship between men and women is rape").
They also include those who "go along with such idiot ideas" as the nuclear-weapons freeze movement ("A preposterous movement that acts as though the second half of the negotiations table either doesn't exist or shares the views of American liberals"). The idea of comparable worth, he says, is a totalitarian notion and "dangerous statism."
He'll name names: New Age Liberals are "gloomy" folks like Ralph Nader or Jerry Brown, as well as Walter Mondale, who, Tyrrell says, is "a moral braggart, who, along with his fellow goody-goodies, has no monopoly on virtue."
And there's Santa Monica's own Tom Hayden, "a career rabble-rouser," and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who Tyrrell says performed "an amazing feat. He managed to raise anti-Semitism to the highest level of American political discourse, as far as I know, and yet claimed to be a humanitarian."
Tyrrell says that "the fundamental value of the American liberal is to disturb his neighbor.
"The liberal is a haranguer, a pontificator. He's always trying to stir us up--and a lot of people would like to be let alone. The liberal claims that all mankind is good, but acts as though all mankind is highly suspicious, especially when mankind has a little power or a little jingle in his pocket.
"I believe in the view that the Founding Fathers had, that man has a divided character capable of good or evil."
Another consistent trait of liberals, Tyrrell claims, is their inconsistency.
For example, "Fifteen years ago, the liberal set out in the vanguard of the sexual liberation movement," he says. "Now you see the vanguard of the liberals, the feminists, marching on all the porn parlors of America, trying to shut them down."
Liberalism isn't all bad, says Tyrrell, who acquired his political ideas from Aristotle, the Founding Fathers, an obscure Italian Renaissance historian named Francesco Guicciardini and his own grandfather, a wealthy manufacturer of gas ranges.
It accomplished a number of its original goals, bringing about greatly needed reforms in welfare and civil rights in the 1960s, a time when Tyrrell says many conservatives "were lazy and fatuous and didn't much care" about social problems.
But civil rights was already achieved by liberals and blacks by the time of the 1965 Civil Rights Act, he says. "All we had to do was make sure that the law was carried out. But from favoring a color-free society, in which advancement was based on merit, they went toward advocating a color-based society, in which preferment was based on the color of your skin: affirmative action.
The True Liberals
"Now that, of course, is not very liberal. I consider it radical and illiberal and those who are for it are not true liberals."
Tyrrell says he doesn't see any great respect for freedom among liberals. "You say the liberal is a great advocate of freedom, and before you know it, they're forcing us to wear seat belts, forcing us to buy medicine bottles whose tops don't open--that are particularly difficult to open if you're sick.
"But as soon as you conclude that liberals are out to police us, to patrol our morals, you find the liberal forcing freedoms on you that the American people never wanted. For example, our absolute dirty-book rights, our right to pull down our pants in public or at a public beach, right in front of bourgeoise beachgoers.
"So, I say, the one consistent thing you'll find in the liberal is neither a pursuit of freedom nor a pursuit of virtue, but a pursuit of his neighbor, distressing his neighbor all the way."
Tyrrell, a former sub-Olympic-class college swimmer who still plays an hour of handball six days a week and runs each day, insists he's no exotic conservative ideologue. He cheerfully describes himself as "about as far right as 59% of the American people."
He enjoys a bit of browbeating himself. "I'm the great equalizer, ha, ha, ha," he says. "I think I've probably caused my liberal friends much heartache."
His nationally syndicated newspaper column appears in the Washington Post. But Tyrrell's main forum is the American Spectator, a high-spirited, sharply edited but money-losing monthly that he originally founded in the mid-'60s at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., where he still lives with his wife Judy and their three kids.
The Spectator regularly features important conservative and neoconservative writers and is subscribed to by everyone from Margaret Thatcher and G. Gordon Liddy to Hollywood screenwriter Steve Tesich. It has 40,000 subscribers today, up from 22,000 in 1979, when Time magazine named Tyrrell one of the country's 50 future leaders.
His satirical 1979 book "Public Nuisances" included chapters on "nuisances" Richard Nixon, Ralph Nader and his present buddy, Kissinger, whom Tyrrell then called a flimflam artist. (Kissinger has endorsed "Crack-Up" as a "stimulating book," a fact that proves conservatives can change too, Tyrrell says.)
Names His Influences
Tyrrell names Mark Twain, Shakespeare, H. L. Mencken, Malcolm Muggeridge and neoconservative guru Irving Kristol among his influences. He says Beethoven was the greatest genius and admits to never having heard of the TV show "SCTV." He believes that the ideal society--even though "women had to wear skirts, etc."--was America at its founding.
Despite his proximity to it, Tyrrell says he's wary of power and believes that today's society has become too politicized.
"Some of your life ought not to be examined. Some of your life ought to just be lived. Politics has to do with power, and power divides people. If you're infusing politics into normal human relations where there ought to be fluency and a kind of natural flow, you're going to increase the brutality of a society."
Though most manifestations of the American welfare state are philosophically abhorrent to him, Tyrrell says he has gotten used to it.
"We have an obligation to the poorest of the poor, but the problem with the welfare state is that it takes on a life of its own. You have the full-time welfare bureaucrat who's a kind of a bully toward the poor, who treats the poor as though they're white mice.
"Secondly, as Guicciardini says, necessity is the great stimulant in life. We all operate out of necessity, out of some need. If you eliminate all need and take care of every little problem, you end up with the indolent rich, whether you have the money or not," says Tyrrell, a former rich kid from Chicago who saw most of the kids he grew up with "rendered idiotic by their parents' wealth and by their sense of how great their parents were."
Conservative Citizen Tyrrell, of course, believes that needs of the poor are best met by a growing, deregulated, job-creating economy, not more social programs. The welfare state has created a whole generation of young people in cities "who have lost the capacity to work."
But liberals have thwarted attempts to overhaul the welfare system, according to Tyrrell, while liberalism has hardened into orthodoxy, actually becoming conservative.
"In the late '70s, liberals thought history had ended. They thought no new problems were going to come along. They thought the reforms that they had imposed on us--often through undemocratic means, through bureaucracy and through the courts--were always going to be with us and never change.
"A lot of people have realized that there are simply limits to what government can do to bring heaven to earth. And a lot of them are Democrats. But it depends on who you're talking about.
"In Congress, it's true that there's a lot of talk about efficiency in government now and keeping taxes down, and their concern for the deficit is very touching. But I don't see any of the writers showing any sense at all. John Kenneth Galbraith goes on as he always has. Michael Harrington says that the only thing this country needs to help the welfare class is more welfare, which is pretty irresponsible--unless he hasn't been through Harlem lately."