Farewell to an Optimist
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I have several good friends who work in upper management at various TV networks. It’s easy to mock and deride network execs, because most TV shows are straight-out lousy. But I’ve always found a certain nobility in the profession, because every year, like clockwork, these poor bastards have to announce the coming season’s new shows, knowing with absolute certainty that the majority of them will fail within months. Yet even with that knowledge, these lamentable souls still need to plaster on the smiles and act as though every single show on the slate is the best thing ever.
There is dignity in optimism, and there is nobility in being able to fake optimism in the name of a greater good.
Bradley Smith was like a TV network exec. I have known the man for twenty-seven years, and during that time he was always trying to come up with that one idea – that one gimmick, that one campaign, that one strategy – that would mainstream and popularize if not Holocaust revisionism, then at least the idea of giving revisionists an open and fair hearing. Bradley never had to glue on the smile; his optimism was true and genuine, even in the face of the fact that it was almost assured that each new idea would be as unsuccessful as the last. The average TV network exec lasts barely a few years, so taxing is the grind of selling what you know will probably fail. But Bradley was at it for over thirty years.
One of Bradley’s many grand “this’ll do it” strategies produced the image that I’ll always associate with him in my mind. Sometime in the early ‘90s, he came up with the idea of doing a comic strip called SpiegelMaus, a satire of Art Spiegel’s Holocaust graphic novel, Maus. A CODOH supporter volunteered to draw it, and Bradley stayed with the idea even after it (of course) failed to catch on. The panel from the strip that stays with me depicts Bradley as an old dog, lying in bed dreaming of the day a monument to free speech dedicated to CODOH is erected at an American university.
Bradley never lived to see that dream become reality. In fact, things on college campuses regarding free speech and free expression have gotten much, much worse. What seemed like a localized battle when Bradley and I braved angry crowds in the early 1990s has degenerated into a world war. Speech has not gotten freer, but rather the converse has occurred: more and more thoughts, words, and expressions have been added to the blacklist. Last year, students at Yale spent a week marching and chanting and demanding firings and censorship, all because of an email about a Halloween costume. Not even an actual costume, but an email about a costume. These days, the list of things that throw “special interest” student organizations into full riot and censorship mode is too long to enumerate. What Bradley and I witnessed in the early ‘90s was merely the ugly mole that would eventually metastasize into full-on skin cancer. Bradley was present for the opening shots of a war that was still waxing even as he lay on his deathbed. In the end, he was denied not only his monument, but also the small satisfaction of seeing the fight through to its end.
But he made his mark. Whether they know it or not, those who today campaign for free speech on college campuses – people like David Horowitz, Ann Coulter, and that prissy gay man from Breitbart.com with the Jim Jarmusch hair – all use techniques Bradley helped pioneer. They’d never admit it in a hundred years, but it’s true. Campus newspaper ads disguised as op-eds, calculatedly-provocative speaking tours, pitting student idealists against ideologues... Bradley did it first. He may have never found the winning strategy for himself, but he pioneered a winning strategy for a larger battle.
Say what you will about the man, but he did that.
To Bradley you can pay perhaps the greatest compliment a losing warrior can hope to receive – even people who hated him nevertheless adopted his techniques.
That’s almost a better legacy than actually winning.
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|Title:||Farewell to an Optimist|
|First posted on CODOH:||Feb. 20, 2016, 12:57 p.m.|