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Friday, July 27, 2007

The Birchers

by tristero

The blogosphere seems astounded that Glenn Beck fluffed a John Bircher. In fact, it really should surpise no one. There is no ideological difference of any importance between modern conservatives and the John Birch Society, something I noted in my very first post, dated February 14, 2003:
In October of '02, I made a speech to a parent's gathering at my daughter's school about the Cuban Missile Crisis. In that speech I asserted that the Bush administration had been mistakenly classified by the press as "conservative." Instead, they are right-wing extremists with "intellectual" ties to the nuts of the Kennedy era, like Curtis Lemay or the John Birch Society members.
What follows is adopted from a post I wrote in September of '04.

The John Birch Society arose in the late 50's and rapidly grew to considerable prominence. It is worth noting that the Birchers were thought to be so extreme that William F. Buckley himself denounced them in the pages of National Review. Among their goals were:

1. The abolition of the graduated income tax.

2. The repeal of social security legislation.

3. The impeachment of various high government officials,

4..The end to busing for the purpose of school integration.

5. The end to U.S. membership in the United Nations.

As you can see, these goals, which were, 40 years ago, the platform of an extremist group on the fringes of American politics, are the all but spoken platform of the Bush administration and the modern Republican party. We have seen numerous attempts to eliminate the income tax; Bush has proposed changes to Social Security that will send it down the road to extinction; Bill Clinton was impeached and Governor Gray Davis of California removed from office; the busing issue has morphed into an intense focus of the easier-to-frame affirmative action; and the Bush administration, on the issue of Iraq and in many other ways, great and small, has worked assiduously to bypass the United Nations and make the actions of the UN worthless (see this notorious article by Perle for a neo-Bircher perspective.).

It is useful to read Bircher literature because, if for no other reason, it will give you insight into what underlies some -perhaps a lot - of the secular components of Bush's worldview.

Birch Society Founder Robert Welch believed that "an elite international cabal...is seeking to establish a world tyranny." In the U.S., that cabal was centered in the Council on Foreign Relations. Of course, Welch and his followers were convinced that Franklin Roosevelt was a communist and that the New Deal was pure socialism. But the Birchers went further. Some of the abettors of the vast communist conspiracy Welch saw as an imminent danger to freedom were President Dwight D. Eisenhower and John Foster Dulles.

But there is more, much more, to the Birchers than just this. At one point, the Birchers had "a minimum of 6,600 corporate-financed anticommunist broadcasts, carried by more than 1,300 radio and television stations at a total annual budget of about $20 million," which was an enormous sum in the early 60's.

Important Birch Society members were close to the Bush family and the close relationship between the families has continued to the present. The Birchers had major sponsors among Texas oilmen, of course, men like H.L.Hunt and J. Howard Pew. President George H. W. Bush was close enough to the Hunt family to say that H.L. Hunt's wife was "one of the loveliest human beings I have ever encountered." In the fall of 2004, the ambassador to Saudi Arabia is James C. Oberwetter; he was appointed by Bush II, and he was a high ranking member of the oil company founded by H.L. Hunt.

In short, the intellectual tradition, if you can call it that, that underlies Bushism is a branch of the conservative movement that's grown directly from the trunk of a crackpot tree. Since the 60's, the heirs to the Birchers dropped the more bizarre claims (no one's talking too much anymore about Eisenhower being a communist), and learned ways to disguise what they say (Dave Neiwert has written brilliantly on this; for a start, download his "Rush, Newspeak, and Fascism"). But they haven't lost sight of their end goal: to create an America fully in sync with Robert Welch's core vision.

Take, for example, the UN. Naturally, the role that an international organization might have in world affairs is a complex and subtle topic. However, the criticism and contempt Bush heaps on the UN does not address any of the real issues involved, nor can it, because it descends not from a serious intellectual engagement with the concepts, but from paranoid rumination.

The Bush administration's view of the UN and and the views of their apologists are directly analogous to the creationist assault on evolution. In both cases, there are serious issues and differences to be hashed out (how to respond to genocide/whether the punctuated equilibrium model fits the evidence for evolution). And in both cases, the people who are heaping the most scorn and garnering the most attention are completely unqualified for a serious, useful discussion.