Get to know a Depression Era Political Demagouge: JR Brinkley


Vote total:
1930 Write-In Campaign for Governor of Kansas
Harry Woodring 217,171
Frank Huacke  216,914
JR Brinkley 183,278 — by a strict count of properly filling in the bubble and writing in name “J R Brinkley”.  From the “Intent of the voter” measure, he would have had 50,000 more votes — and won the election.

Alfred Landon 278,581
Harry Woodring 272,944
JR Brinkley 244,607
(And with Brinkley taking more votes from the Democrat to allow one of the few Republican wins in the anti-Hoover landslide, Landon became “Presidential Timber” enough for the Republican nomination in 1936.)

After settling in tiny Milford, Kansas, in 1917, Brinkley devloped the operation that earned him the title “the goat gland doctor.”  As Brinkley told it, a farmer came to the doctor complaining of impotency.  Looking at several goats mounting each other, Brinkley joked that the patient would have no trouble with sex with those goat sex glands in him.  The patient insisted that Brinkley perform the transplant.  He did, and within a year the farmer’s wife gave birth to a boy, Billy.  For years afterword, Brinkley offered his goat gland transplant for nearly any problem that could be classified as “failing manhood.”  In the mid 1930s Brinkley abondoned transplantation for other, equally questionable procedures, but the goat gland reputation stuck with him.
Bruce Lenthal Radio’s America, 122

Quacks and Crsuaders, Eric S Juhnke, page 18-19, 22
Brinkley also catered to religious voters.  As a committed Methodist and outspoken antievolutionist, he had earned a reputation as a fundamentalist.  His KFKB broadcasts had often combined medicine and religion.  And he took his Bible with him on the campaign trail.  With his Van Dyke beard, totoise shell spectacles, white suit, and diamond rings, he seemed the precursor of some of today’s televangelists.  His words helped complete the costume.  “I don’t talk politics on Sunday,” he announced to a crowd of twenty thousand Kansans convened in a pasture outside Wichita.  Instead, he preached a Sermon.  “”The men in power wanted to do away with Jesus before the common people woke up.  Are you awake here?” he asked.  “I too have walked up the path Jesus walked to calvary, … I know how Jesus felt.”
Brinkley embraced such criticism as further evidence of his martyrdom.  In a campaign flyer, he suggested that his enemies had become “desparate” in their attempt to derail his campaign.  He revealed that he had discovered a conspiracy to kidnap and kill Johnny Boy in order to “break [his] morale and cause [him] to give up in despair.”  Others, Brinkley reported, had “decided that [the doctor] himself must be disposed of at all costs.”  He claimed that Governor Woodring had “extended executive clemency to certain inmates of the Lansing Prison” if they killed him before the 8 November election.  Although the rumors had no basis, Brinkley was frightened enough to order a bulletproof vest for his protection.

Gerald Carson, The Roguish World of Dr. Brinkley, 1960
With his radio slogan: “Let’s pasture the goats on the statehouse lawn,” Dr. Brinkley became a powerful focus for underground sentiment.  If he wasn’t a political pro, he certainly was a gifted amateur and he promised plenty — free schoolbooks, free auto tags, lower taxes, a good housecleaning at the statehouse, better times for the working people, an open door to the governor’s office, and a lake in every county.  The water evaporated from the lakes would be precipitated on Kansas and the state would become Canaan.  It was a program of uplift, happiness, clean-up, good health, lower taxes, higher property values and more migratory game birds.

A startling hodgepodge of a newspaper, Publicity, with a strong political bent, plunked for Brinkley.  It was frequently asserted, and always denied by Doctor, that he had bought the publication to advance his political, and indeed, medical activities.  To Publicity Doc was the “Lincoln of Kansas.”  It serialized The Life of a Man, and also sold the hard covered book.  Publicity also approved of naturopaths, electrotherapy, chiros, Pernuna, and W.W. Cooper, the Altoona, Pennsylvania Cancer Man.  Later in the decade, the sheet became violenty isolationist, and supported Hitlerian race theories. — 169

(At which time, Dr. Brinkley formed a working relationship with Gerald Winrod, and was credited with inspiring a revival of the KKK in Kansas.)
(I assume the broadcasts at this time are available in this fine assemblage.)

Dr. Brinkley’s appeal at the ballot box, viewed now in historical perspective, thrived on the Depression.  His popularity was an expression of radical discontent with the two major parties.  Some citizens — as a kind of Rabelasian outburst — voted for Doctor without fully swallowing his panaceas.  His exploitation of his “persecution” won him the sympathy vote.  His counter-attack on the medical profession rallied all the popular prejudices against Scientific Medicine as opposed to the appeal of Brinkley’s own surgical mysteries and patent medicines.  Brinkley used the language of the Lodge, appealed to the same gullibles who supported Huey Long, Cole Blease, and “Big Bill” Thompson. […]
William Allen White had a theory to explain the support of the Brinkley, Longs, and Thompsons.  About 20 percent of the population is permanently gullible, any time, in any place, White said.  “In  every civilization there is a moronic underworld which cannot be civilized.  It can be taught to read and write, but not to think, and it lives upon the level of its emotions and prejudices.”

(Undoubtedly This book has more on the “Brinkley Act“.  Always good when your actions inspire a law.)

2 Responses to “Get to know a Depression Era Political Demagouge: JR Brinkley”

  1. Jeff Says:

    It’s appropriate that the farmer named his son Billy.

  2. Justin Says:

    Human Animal Hybrids.

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