The overestimation of the John Birch SocietySep 1, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 47 • By STEVEN F. HAYWARD
Populism, that ever-lurking and always problematic phenomenon in American politics, is especially galling to liberals when it breaks from the right, as it has done during the last few years in the form of the Tea Party. Conservative populism disorients and frightens liberals (almost as much as the Republican establishment does), such that liberals find it necessary to make out conservative populism to be “extremist” and to magnify its potential threat to democracy.
Fifty years ago, the liberal bugbear was the John Birch Society, which D. J. Mulloy, who teaches history at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, thinks is the trailblazer and blueprint for today’s Tea Party. His book doesn’t really bear the weight of this argument, which was probably added for the purpose of lending it some kind of contemporary relevance. Despite some superficial parallels (Eisenhower is a Communist! Obama is a Muslim! Impeach Earl Warren! Impeach Obama!), the differences are more important, starting with the fact that today’s diffuse Tea Party is largely a spontaneous populist movement without clear leaders, while the John Birch Society was a focused and more hierarchical organization that owed its origin and staying power to the peculiar genius and drive of its founder, Robert Welch.
The John Birch Society is a worthy topic on its own, and while the society has made appearances in many histories of the 1960s and the Cold War era, Mulloy’s is the first in-depth scholarly history concentrating on the Birch Society by itself.
The John Birch Society could be said to have formed out of the ashes of Joseph McCarthy’s self-immolation, when Robert Welch, a person of considerable talent and brilliance who enjoyed a successful business career in candymaking (we owe Sugar Daddies and Junior Mints to his company), seized upon the story of John Birch, an American soldier who was killed in August 1945 by Chinese Communists—making him, supposedly, the first American casualty of the Cold War.
In 1958, Welch, a Republican who had unsuccessfully sought office in Massachusetts earlier in the decade, recruited a small circle of his business associates to found the John Birch Society. Some of Welch’s business contacts were men of prominence and consequence, such as Fred Koch, patriarch of today’s Koch brothers, and William Grede, former president of the National Association of Manufacturers. The “national council” of Welch’s new group was no assembly of fringe yahoos.
Nonetheless, the early Birch Society did combine two traits that marked it out for the fringe: its bent for the kind of sweeping conspiracy theorizing that explained everything, and what today we might call “viral marketing.” Welch’s central idea was that it was “not possible to lose so much ground, so rapidly, to an enemy so inferior, by chance or stupidity.” There had to have been collaboration from inside our own government, a deliberate slow-motion surrender—nay, “treason” itself.
The earliest version of Welch’s schemata was a longish “letter”—eventually growing to 60,000 words in later iterations—informally titled “The Politician.” Privately but widely circulated by Welch, it contained the extraordinary charge that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a “dedicated, conscious agent” of the Communist conspiracy to overthrow the United States. And not just Ike, but everyone around him was in on the game, including Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, CIA director Allen Dulles. It was turtles all the way down, if you know the old apocryphal line attributed to Bertrand Russell. It was also preposterous.
But it was brilliant marketing. As Mulloy writes, “Certainly no one could accuse [Welch] of lacking ambition.” Although circulated “confidentially,” the message of “The Politician” caught on. Especially with liberals. While membership of the Birch Society never exceeded more than 100,000 people at its peak, liberals in the early 1960s were certain they were seeing the second coming of McCarthyism. Journalists jumped to attention, making sure they wouldn’t miss sounding the alarm.
8:36 AM, Jul 10, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
A lively panel and discussion on Ronald Reagan and today's conservatism, held yesterday at the Heritage Foundation with remarks from the boss, Jonah Goldberg, and Jim Antle:
2:48 PM, Jun 4, 2014 • By ADAM J. WHITE
"Everything reminds Milton of the money supply," Robert Solow once said of his fellow Nobel-winning economist Milton Friedman at a symposium. "Well, everything reminds me of sex, but I keep it out of the paper."
Washington gains a friend in Canberra.Sep 23, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 03 • By ROSS TERRILL
Canberra has joined Tokyo and other U.S. allies in Asia by electing a conservative government vowing less tax on business, robust defense, support for the United States, and guarded cooperation with China. A big victory in Australia’s national election on September 7 for Tony Abbott’s Liberal-Nationals ends six years of political tumult under Labor.
They were just as conservative.Jun 17, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 38 • By JAY COST
Former senator and Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole had some harsh words for his political party recently. In a Fox News Sunday interview, Chris Wallace asked, “You describe the GOP of your generation as Eisenhower Republicans, moderate Republicans. Could people like Bob Dole, even Ronald Reagan—could you make it in today’s Republican party?” Dole replied, “I doubt it. Reagan wouldn’t have made it. Certainly Nixon couldn’t have made it, ’cause he had ideas. We might have made it, but I doubt it.”
Hosted by Michael Graham.4:00 PM, Apr 8, 2013 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with William Kristol on the rise of Margaret Thatcher and the lessons for today's GOP.
Hosted by Michael Graham.3:38 PM, Mar 15, 2013 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with Michael Warren, live from CPAC. Will conservatives find a new way forward? Hosted by Michael Graham.
2:05 PM, Mar 13, 2013 • By FRED BAUER
Four of the most lamentably omitted words in American politics are the following: "in this present crisis." Conventional references to Ronald Reagan's first inaugural address note his declaration that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Reagan actually said, "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Omitting those first four words does a significant damage to the legacy of Reagan---and also poses problems for the future of conservatism and the GOP after 2012.
5:57 PM, Jan 7, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
At the Washington Post, Jen Rubin writes of a renewed interest in compassionate conservatism, citing Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute, Republican Paul Ryan, and Gertrude Himmelfarb, writing in THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Here's Rubin:
How to turn a successful majority coalition into a perpetual election-losing machineNov 19, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 10 • By SAM SCHULMAN
Oct 29, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 07 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
Viewers of the 2012 debates have witnessed an extraordinary turnaround. John Stuart Mill famously spoke of “a party of order and stability, and a party of progress or reform.” Once upon a time, Barack Obama and Joe Biden could claim the mantle of change and progress. But the televised exchanges between Mitt Romney and Obama and Paul Ryan and Biden have revealed that this is no longer the case.
6:00 AM, Oct 19, 2012 • By JAY COST
Naturally, there has been plenty of talk this week about who won the debate. As I mentioned in my own recap, I thought that though Obama won more “points,” Romney did a better job advancing his argument for election.
2:01 PM, Sep 26, 2012 • By FRANK CANNON and JEFFREY BELL
When Republican strategists like Karl Rove cite 1980 as a model for this year’s election, they usually have in mind two main elements: Ronald Reagan’s question in the late October presidential debate about whether voters felt better off than four years earlier, when they elected Jimmy Carter, and Reagan’s ability in that debate to reassure swing voters about his ability to serve successfully if elected, converting a very close race into a ten-point blowout by “closing the deal.”
It’s a dead heat between the aggressive liberal and the decisive manager.
Sep 17, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 01 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
One day after the Democratic convention ended here, and a week after the Republican convention wrapped up in Tampa, and American politics is basically all tied up. Here’s the top line on Real Clear Politics 60 days before November 6: The RCP average for the presidential race shows a dead heat (Obama +0.7 percentage points), the Senate is 46-46 with 8 tossups, and the generic congressional ballot is tied.