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The Vanishing TraditionPerspectives on American Conservatism$
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Paul Gottfried

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501749858

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501749858.001.0001

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The Significance of the M. E. Bradford Affair

The Significance of the M. E. Bradford Affair

(p.21) 2 The Significance of the M. E. Bradford Affair
The Vanishing Tradition

Keith Preston

Cornell University Press

This chapter analyzes the precipitous downfall of Southern literary scholar M. E. Bradford, who in an explosive rebuke was refused the post of director of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1981. The M. E. Bradford affair was the first incident where the neoconservatives were able to establish a position for themselves in the conservative movement and Republican politics by aggressively attacking and slandering an accomplished scholar, and by promoting someone who was much less accomplished in his scholarship in his place. Indeed, Bradford's fall from grace in the Reagan administration was engineered by neoconservative journalists and foundation heads; and the attacks leveled against him in the press as a “Lincoln hater” and Southern reactionary continued long after he was kept from government service. The chapter considers the likely reasons for these broadsides and how they targeted not only Bradford but, at least indirectly, other Southern regionalists, whom the neoconservatives in their ascent to power were interested in marginalizing. Contrary to a widespread misconception, the Bradford affair was more than a minor incident in the history of the conservative movement. It was fraught with significance in both demonstrating and consolidating neoconservative control of American conservatism.

Keywords:   M. E. Bradford, neoconservatives, American conservative movement, Republican politics, Reagan administration, Southern regionalists, American conservatism

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