Going Tubbing with Barbara Carlson

Would it be in questionable taste to say Barbara Carlson is the only woman I’ve ever debated the Second Amendment with, partially clothed, in a hot tub?  Whether gentlemanly or not, it’s the truth, as alluded to by Barbara herself on Page One of her book, This Broad’s Life.  Actually, I’m proud to be in her book twice, albeit described the second time as an “overweight” conservative think tanker, or something flattering like that.

Let the record show that if there was anything jellied about me it was only my legs after spending half-a-morning submerged in the tropics.

Barbara, who died of cancer at age 80 earlier this week, was a friend.  As just about everyone knows, she was routinely wet and wild on the radio.  But what many people might not know or remember is that when it came to complicated and wonky issues she could be an incisive interviewer, as was the case in the mid-1990s when she interviewed my colleague Katherine Kersten about a pivotal and detailed critique she had written (499 footnotes, if I remember correctly) regarding a very bad and counterproductive school desegregation plan.  It was a long time ago, but I don’t recall anyone doing a better job than Barbara in questioning Katherine about the report.

More personally, she was exceptionally supportive of my wife Diane and me when we adopted our daughter, which for a variety of reasons, sad to say, didn’t prove as joyous as hoped.  But there she was in court with us, on Adoption Day in Hennepin County, when hopes were higher.  That was the real Barbara.

But so was, if full truth be told, the Barbara who invited me to be the guest speaker at the first singles party (I don’t know if there ever was a second) she hosted at her home for somewhat older men and women.  She asked what I wanted to talk about and I said civility in public life, since American Experiment had just published a big symposium on it.  She said great, I was pleased, and we were on.

But there turned out to be a couple of problems on the eventual Sunday afternoon in her backyard, the first being that it quickly became clear that all the singles were infinitely more interested in becoming doubles than they were in listening to me talk about anything.  Barbara introduced me anyway, and I thought I was doing okay, though it was not the most attentive audience I ever had.

But then, after ten minutes or so, Barbara interrupted and asked me a question about a particularly contentious issue of the day.  I started to answer in a way she didn’t approve and she jumped back in, more vigorously this time by yelling “BS,” except she used the whole word.

“But Barbara,” I exclaimed, “we’re talking about civility.”

No matter, and at which point her disputation effectively ended my disquisition, and everyone gratefully got back to the real purpose of the afternoon: putting moves on everybody else.  And for which all assembled doubtless thought in unison—just as friends throughout radioland are thinking this week—thank you, Barbara, for not taking scripts all that seriously.