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Lynn Samuels: liberal tweaker of liberals, 1942-2011

Like lots of New York radio listeners circa the late 1970s, I first heard Lynn Samuels when she was a regular host on Pacifica station WBAI. A classic talker from the free form era, Samuels mastered a kind of earthy stream of consciousness discourse, which drifted from Vietnam to who was buying the toilet paper for the station this week. From ‘BAI Samuels moved on to WABC in the 1980s, and then Sirius XM radio. I moved to California and more or less forgot about her, that is, until the news came in that Samuels has died.

She passed on Christmas Eve, it seems. One of her last Christmas podcasts can be heard via “I just hate everyone,” Samuels declares. “Merry Christmas.”

In truth, Samuels didn’t hate everyone. She didn’t even hate anyone. Perusing through her online oeuvre, her approach comes back to me. Samuels was a populist liberal—a raunchy feminist New Dealer with little patience for the identity politics and far left romanticism of the 1970s. Instead, she found her politics in the absurdity of daily life.

“North Carolina man is in critical condition!” Samuels disclosed on WABC in 1983, bemusedly reading from a newspaper article, “and his wife has been charged . . . ”

“You think this is funny, Lynn?” her co-host soberly asked as she broke down in laughter.

” . . . with setting his genitals on fire!” Samuels continued.

“What she do, pour gasoline on him?” he speculated.

“No. Come on. This is a woman doing it! She used nail polish!” she corrected.

In 1990, during an on air firefight with conservative talker Barry Farber over the US invasion of Panama, Samuels called President George H.W. Bush a dictator and drug runner. In more recent years, she found common ground with the right in her hatred of President Barack Obama. Samuels castigated Obama for what she saw as his elitism, espoused Birther opinions about his place of origin, and also sympathized with Juan Williams’ famous commentary on Muslims at airports.

“All you liberals that listen to me, all you people that complain that I’m not liberal enough,” Samuels began, “if you’re in an airport, and there are people . . . I don’t even have to see them in Muslim garb; people that are obviously from the mid-east, particularly if they’re getting on the same flight as you, doesn’t that make you nervous? It makes me nervous!”

And yet even in these contentious and controversial moments, Samuels’ affection for people always came through.

“And nobody likes Muslims as much as I do,” she added, “well, maybe other Muslims.”

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