This week’s New Yorker examines the Tea Party’s roots in a piece called Confounding Fathers.
It’s common knowledge that much of today’s Tea Party rhetoric is a rehash of the paranoid ravings of the John Birch Society, the ultra-right-wing group known in the 1960s for seeing Communists behind every door and in every government action. The group was so extreme, even FBI director J. Edgar Hoover thought it was wise to keep an eye on them.
Today’s Tea Party also traces present “conspiracies” back to the early 20th century and President Woodrow Wilson. (It’s too crazy to explain.)
Anyway, according to the New Yorker story, one of the people responsible for keeping the right-wing fringe in check decades ago was noted conservative William F. Buckley Jr. “By 1961,” his biographer John B. Judis writes, “Buckley was beginning to worry that with the John Birch Society growing so rapidly, the right-wing upsurge in the country would take an ugly, even Fascist turn rather than leading toward the kind of conservatism National Review had promoted.”
So who’s responsible for the renewed push of Birch-flavored rhetoric? Fox News’s schizoid–cokehead-in-Chief Glenn Beck. The story note that when Beck had a show on CNN, he brought on a spokesman for the JBS as a guest and said: “When I was growing up, the John Birch Society—I thought they were a bunch of nuts.” But now, he said, “you guys are starting to make more and more sense to me.”
Beck now is the prominent voice for American conservatives. No other conservative leaders have done anything to debunk the revived JBS message in the way Buckley did with his magazine the National Review, and Buckley, the bane of liberals for decades, was as conservative as they came.
The New Yorker story ends with this warning:
For the moment, though, it appears that the extreme right wing is on the verge of securing a degree of power over Congress and the Republican Party that is unprecedented in modern American history. For defenders of national cohesion and tempered adversity in our politics, it is an alarming state of affairs.