Time for a new Goldwater-Buckley manifesto for the GOP

These are dangerous times for the conservative movement in America.  After last November’s mid-term election, the far-right has shown that it has the power to shape key elections.

The Tea Party erupted into prominence as a national force, thanks to a remarkably supple partnership between the conservative media (Fox News and AM talk radio), wealthy backers (the Koch brothers and others) and hundreds of thousands of rank-and-file grassroots activists.

At the heart of this renaissance is what Indiana’s Republican Governor Mitch Daniels called the “red menace” — this time meaning, not communism, but red ink.

The public is clearly concerned about the Federal debt, and wants to see real budget-cutting solutions that also maintain a high level of basic government services, along with a robust social safety net.

The GOP owns this issue, and is leveraging the Democrats toward significant compromises.

But also fueling the conservative movement is a risky cocktail of conspiracy theorists, full-throated whack-jobs, hucksters and patently unqualified populists who are sucking the oxygen out of the room.

It’s hard to tell whether the GOP has a significant slate of presidential contenders, because so much of the attention is going to Fox News personalities, who keep winking and nudging about being possible candidates.

And that’s hardly the worst of it.

Watching a recent broadcast of Glenn Beck’s Fox program, I found myself a little breathless at the vitriol, the flights of fancy, and the jittery panic he displayed.  This may be an act, but I’m not so sure.

I think Fox may really be exploiting an unwell man who has gone seriously lost in the maze of his own elaborately goofy ideas.

In an interview last week, a frankly skeptical Bill O’Reilly asked Beck to back up his fulminations that Islamic extremists are conspiring with “labor unions” and other leftist groups to create “chaos” in America’s streets.

Beck had no facts to offer.  (In what appears almost an act of self-parody, Beck has urged his viewers to trust his “gut” that all these bizarre and mutually contradictory conceits are true.

But Beck is only one of the more prominent examples of this phenomenon.

At last week’s CPAC conservative conference — attended by almost all of the serious Republican leadership — some activists accused the right-leaning organization of being infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

This from Politico.

“This is the problem with CPAC. It’s corrupted and compromised by the Muslim Brotherhood,” [Pam] Geller told the audience at her panel, saying CPAC’s leaders were either “clueless or complicit” to the threat posed by Islamists.

Serious conservatives, from Bill Kristol at the Weekly Standard to anti-tax activist Grover Norquist have been pushing back in sporadic and spotty ways against this kind of internet-conspiracy-theory silliness.
But I think the time is long overdue for a more serious house-cleaning, comparable to the John Birch Society purge that William Buckley championed in the 1960s.
At that time, the Birchers were insisting that President Dwight Eisenhower — a Republican — was a national traitor, in much the same way that some tea party activists declaim against President Barack Obama now.
(Birchers claimed that because America had “lost” China to the communist regime in the 1940s and 50s, Eisenhower must therefore be a secret communist agent.  On even thinner grounds, some on the right now insist that Obama must be a secret Muslim.)
Buckley came out unambiguously against this kind of lunacy, and to his credit conservative icon Sen. Barry Goldwater backed him up.
Goldwater wrote a public letter that described the Birchers’ conspiracy theories as “far removed from reality and common sense…”
Which brings us back to today.  In a way, the conspiracy theorists were right about the CPAC conference, and about the conservative movement in general.
It has been infiltrated.  Not by Islamic radicals, but by American conservative radicals.
It’s time for a new Buckley-Goldwater manifesto that pushes back against these zanies.   It will be harder this time, because the nutters are far more powerful, with bigger followings and bigger megaphones.
But if the right is to be a serious movement, capable of governing the most powerful nation on earth, surely it must first demonstrate the ability to distance itself from its own kooky fringe.

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24 Comments on “Time for a new Goldwater-Buckley manifesto for the GOP”

  1. scratchy says:

    How about instead of obsessing over Fox News you stop watching it? You’ll feel much better not having to think about windbags like Beck.

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  2. Bill G says:

    Both Boehner and Cantor have had ample opportunity to “distance themselves” from Birthers, even after clearly stating that they believe that Obama was born in Hawaii. They refused to do so, noting that everyone is entitled to their opinion. If these “leaders” are reluctant to take a stand on such benign issue, what would lead anyone to think they would take on wingnuts with much larger followings?

    Spokespeople on the right have very little incentive to bring some degree of balance and logic to the discussion of Islam. It leaves them open to the claim of the latter day version of being soft on communism by the windbags on radio and TV. Just think, when was the last time a political figure ran afoul of Limbaugh and didn’t apologize?

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  3. Pete Klein says:

    Follow the money. While some of these clowns may actually believe in the nonsense they say, many more say what they say for the money.
    And just to be fair, much the same thing is going on when it comes to the Global Warming/Climate Change activist who have found books and speaking engagements the way to dollar heaven.
    What the two groups have in common is the knowledge that fear sells and brings in the bucks.

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  4. Brian Mann says:

    Scratchy – As my post made clear, it’s not just Fox News. When the CPAC conference is riven by questions of whether the conservative right has been “infiltrated” by Muslim extremists, that’s worthy of note.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  5. JDM says:

    First of all, ditto, for the far-left lunacy of man-made climate change, formerly known (in its loonier name of man-made global-warming).

    Even the lefties could see the laughter coming from naming their theory “global-WARMING”

    Concerning Glen Beck. I think people can vote with their on-off switch. We don’t need to shut him up. He will stand or fall based on his theories – and their outcomes.

    Look what happened with global-WARMING. Hahahahahahah

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  6. Bill G says:

    Since I’m not a climatologist, I’m disinclined to take on the issue global warming. However, I would note that there is a difference between weather and climate and that there is little if any disagreement that the two warmest years since records have been kept were 2005 and 2010. In addition, average temperatures have been inching up for the last several decades. The question, I think, isn’t whether the earth is getting warmer; rather, it’s whether it is a man-induced phenomenon or just a natural fluctuation in climate.

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  7. Brian Mann says:

    JDM -

    We’ve hashed the climate change debate pretty thoroughly here, but I think by raising that issue you helpfully suggest what’s wrong with the Right of the moment.

    Extreme conservatives and extreme liberals are, as you suggest, both asking us to respond to a remarkable set of claims.

    On the right, the claim is that the Western way of life is under siege by Islam, a faith that is so cunning and malign that it has managed to install a Manchurian-candidate style mole in the White House.

    Remarkable, right? And if true, it would logically prompt the kind of response that some on the Right suggest (revolution, 2nd amendment solutions, etc.).

    But there’s no evidence of any sort that any of it is true. Period. It’s unambiguous hokum.

    The left is also making a remarkable claim. They’re suggesting that some of the most basic human activities in our modern society (operating our cars, building things in our factories, generating electricity for our homes) have begun to screw up the entire global climate.

    They are suggesting changes to our lifestyles which would, if we agreed, be profound.

    The difference here is that there exists a mountain of evidence, with literally tens of thousands of independent scientists from every nation corroborating and refining the basic concepts.

    To discredit climate change science, the right has come up with yet another set of extravagant conspiracy theories (climate change is part of a new world order plot, etc.) for which (again) there is no evidence.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  8. Mervel says:

    But also on the Left we have those who claim that 9/11 was a CIA plot, we have those who support groups like Hamas who say openly and publically that the Holocaust did not happen and that they (Hamas) want to exterminate all Jews. Both sides have the same level of nuts, extremism and racism. I do think the Republicans need to learn from the Democrats however about how to handle them. The Holocaust deniers and the 9/11 conspiracy people are not attending main stream Democratic functions.

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  9. dave says:

    Again…

    Yes, of course both sides have extremists and nut jobs.

    But only one side is supporting, rallying around, elevating to cult heroes, and electing their extremist nut jobs.

    There is really no comparison between right and left when it comes to this.

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  10. JDM says:

    Brian:

    Mervel helped me out. I used global-warming as the poster child of the leftist loonacy, but there are many more examples.

    And I agree with you, both the left and right have their over-the-top extreme views on things.

    My point is that they will sort themselves out.

    By the way, there are many “scientific” proofs of some sort of Islamic problem mounting – just like the “scientific” proofs of man-made global warming.

    It depends on who is doing the proving, and what their proofs consist of.

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  11. JDM says:

    Bill G. “However, I would note that there is a difference between weather and climate and that there is little if any disagreement that the two warmest years since records have been kept were 2005 and 2010.”

    Yes, Bill, but the point is the “man-made” part.

    The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, but it doesn’t mean that human activity is causing it.

    In fact, one could argue, that if there is a man-made component to climate change, then the slowdown in the world economy should have caused a corresponding lower temperature in 2010. And here Bill is telling us that is was one of the warmest years on record.

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  12. Mervel says:

    The John Birch society comparisons work for some of these FOX guys but not all. The reason that the Birchers had to go was not for some sort of public good, the reason that Buckley wanted them out was to save the conservative movement from marginalization. Like JDM says this stuff will sort itself out. If the crazies actually get elected than that is Democracy by definition they are no longer on the margin they are representing a point of view.

    (As an aside if we make the House larger with smaller districts the crazies will have a MUCH easier time getting in our Congress).

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  13. Mike Ludovici says:

    At this point it looks like Obama will have no trouble being re-elected in 2012.

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  14. Bret4207 says:

    “But only one side is supporting, rallying around, elevating to cult heroes, and electing their extremist nut jobs.”

    Yeah, right, people like Al Franken, Sheila Jackson Lee, Al Gore, Barney Frank, etc. are just run of the mill centrist Democrats. Sorry, I keep forgetting you guys make the rules.

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  15. Brian says:

    Ah Bret, you can throw rhetoric around with no actual logic or evidence to back it up. Defuse any criticism of the right with some vague, ill-defined fake moral equivalency and call it even. Yawn…

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  16. Brian says:

    “They’re suggesting that some of the most basic human activities in our modern society (operating our cars, building things in our factories, generating electricity for our homes) have begun to screw up the entire global climate.”
    It’s not ‘remarkable.’ It’s common sense. It’s not the activities per se that are causing the problems. It’s the SCALE of the activities.

    It was mostly fine when industrialization was just a dozen or two countries in Western Europe, North America and Asia. But as industrialization has expanded rapidly to many more countries, including the two who account for at least a quarter of the world’s population, THAT’s what’s causing the problem.

    It’s no different than another basic human activity: eating. It’s fine to a certain extent but you can’t keep doing it more and more with no effect.

    Besides, the effects of climate change have been felt for many years in places like the African Sahel and Indian Ocean islands. If I remember correctly, even Vermont and NY maple syrup harvesters are experiencing the effects. They know it’s true because of actual evidence. They have no time for people who refuse to accept the fact of climate change not for scientific or fact-based reasons but for ideological ones.

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  17. Brian says:

    I know scratchy would like Brian M to stop exposing the complete craziness of his fellow right-wing extremist (especially since even O’Reilly finds him too far out there). And I’d like people to stop giving Beck attention too. But it’s irresponsible for journalists to ignore rantings like this which are so completely insane but so many people actually take seriously.

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  18. Mervel says:

    But maybe it is better for Democracy to have a true marketplace of ideas. Instead of stomping out the relevance of the John Birch Society maybe it would have been better to really present their ideas and let the public really decide?

    Some of the tea party stuff is comparable contrary to many predictions the Tea Party seems to be doing pretty well, they certainly didn’t destroy the Republican Party, in fact you could say that they saved it given the results of the last election. You need people who are really excited about something, you need true believers to challenge the status quo who are mainly concerned with strategy and tactics.

    I guess I question the premise in Brains introduction that “these are dangerous times for the conservative movement in America”. You could just as easily say exciting times. Without the excitement of the “nuts” would any of this gone anywhere?

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  19. Bret4207 says:

    Brian, perception. What you see from your viewpoint as wild haired rantings of right wing extremists I see as slightly melodramatic presentation of simple facts. Extremists nuts elevated to cult hero? Really, and the left is totally bereft of those? It’s all rhetoric? Open your eyes. The rantings of the Olbermans and Maddows, of Franken, Kucinich, Jackson, the pure hate and lack of civility from the left are readily apparent if you only step back and look.

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  20. Bill G says:

    The left wing bloviators (Olberman,et al) are certainly no better than their right wing counterparts. In fact, I find them particularly obnoxious because they are cheap imitations whose rhetoric legitimzes the windbags on the right. What is disturbing is the popularity of those on hate radio and cable. (Maddow or Olberman would die to have a small percentage of Beck, Limbaugh, or O’Reilly’s following.) All of these individuals are driven more by ratings and money than by any sense of intellectual honesty, but large portions of the American public eat this stuff up as if it’s news or some form of thoughtful analysis. Sean, “You’re a great American.” Right.

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  21. Bret4207 says:

    Brian Mann said- “It’s time for a new Buckley-Goldwater manifesto that pushes back against these zanies. It will be harder this time, because the nutters are far more powerful…”

    Gee Brian, what happened to all the civility and higher moral ground talk you were after a couple weeks ago?

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  22. oa says:

    You forgot the devil himself, GEORGE SOROS. All hail our DARK LORD SOROS!

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  23. oa says:

    Brian M,
    There is a conservative manifesto, and it’s simple: If liberals like something, we hate it with all our hearts, all our minds and all our souls.

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  24. Bret4207 says:

    And likewise a liberal manifesto- if it involves personal responsibility, retains personal freedoms or if somebody might actually get to keep a dollar then they hate it!

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