Republican Party’s Shift to the Right – Part 2

As previously reported, the Republican Party once embraced a broad variety of political positions; it contained both conservative and moderate wings. During the 1950s the moderate faction held the reins of power with Dwight D. Eisenhower serving as one of the most popular presidents of all time. But with the rise of the New Right in the 1960s the moderates came under increasing attack. In recent years the moderate wing of the Republican Party has all but disappeared.

GeoffreyKabaserviceSMGeoffrey Kabaservice traces these developments in his recent book, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (Oxford University Press, 2012).

In the opening chapter Kabaservice describes how the Republican Party used to represent a broad coalition of differing political views. He amplifies this discussion in a recent interview with Sagar Jethani for PolicyMic.

In 1960 there were four main factions within the Republican Party: the conservatives, the moderates, the progressives, and a new upstart faction known as the New Right.

1. The Conservatives

Robert TaftThe largest political faction, long forgotten now, was known as the “Tafties.” It was largely concentrated in the mid-West and reflected the traditional conservative values of Middle America. The Tafties were wedded to the policies of Robert Taft, the Republican Senator from Ohio from 1939 to 1953. Robert Taft was the eldest son of William Howard Taft the 27th President of the United States (1909-1913) who later served Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His name was well respected, and his personal influence on the Republican Party was immense. By 1950 he had become “the acknowledged national leader of the GOP’s conservative faction.” He campaigned for (but failed to win) the Republican nomination for President in 1940, 1948, and 1952.

Robert Taft was a long time opponent of FDR’s New Deal, and is best remembered for the Taft-Hartley Labor Act (passed in 1947) limiting the power of labor unions; it defines basic labor law to this day. On other domestic issues, however, Taft pursued policies that would mark him as socially progressive today. As Kabaservice reports,

[Taft] recognized that parts of the New Deal were legitimate responses to real needs, and he tried to offer social welfare alternatives more in keeping with Republican ideals of small government, sound finance, and local responsibility. He supported government-funded old age pensions, medical care for the indigent, an income floor for the deserving poor, unem­ployment insurance, and an increased minimum wage. … [H]e advocated urban slum clear­ance and public housing. Because he believed that all children deserved an equal start in life, he … called for federal aid to education. Because he did not believe in deficit financing he was willing to raise taxes to pay for these needed measures. (Rule and Ruin, p. 6)

On international policy

he preferred that the country stay out of World War II rather than accept the large activist intrusive government that total war would require. … He became sharply critical of the military buildup, increased political power, and overseas involvement accompanying the conflict, which to Taft smacked of imperialism. … He voted against the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), tried to cut funding for the Marshall Plan for post-was European reconstruction, and blasted what he called the “tendency to interfere in the affairs of other nations … .” (Rule and Ruin, pp. 5-6)

Taft even questioned the constitutionality of the Korean War. Kabaservice notes that his strong anti-internationalist stance was the primary factor in his defeat at Republican moderates at the Republican presidential conventions of 1940, 1948, and 1952.

2. The Moderates

ThomasDeweyOpposing the conservative faction were the moderate Republicans led by Thomas Dewey, the Governor of New York (1943-1954). Dewey was chosen as the Republican candidate for President in both 1944 and 1948, but lost both elections. Kabaservice states that Dewey’s “primary appeal was to middle-class professionals attuned to the need for social reform and an internationalist foreign policy.” (Rule and Ruin, p. 7)

These moderates represented the Eastern establishment, and were sometimes referred to as “Wall Street Republicans.” As such, it was felt that they “could be trusted to keep a steady hand on the economy and be responsible on foreign and domestic policy.” (Rule and Ruin, p. 22) Republican moderates supported many of FDR’s New Deal policies, but criticized the way they were managed, promising to run them more efficiently. They opposed the isolationist policies of the conservative faction, and strongly supported the United States’ involvement in international conflicts.

On social policies the Republican moderates were even more progressive than the conservative Tafties. As Governor of New York, Dewey personally

put forward social programs that included unemployment insurance, sickness and disability benefits, old age pensions, slum clearance, state aid to education, … infrastructure projects, … and pathbreaking anti-discrimination legislation. (Rule and Ruin, p. 8)

By the early 1950s Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (1936-1944 & 1946-1952) had become the main spokesperson for this moderate internationalist faction of the Republican Party. Other important moderates within the Republican camp during the 1950s were Michigan Governor George Romney, the father of the 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush, the father of George H. W. Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush.

3. The Progressives

In addition to these two main wings of the Republican Party, there was also a small group of progressive Republicans who harkened back to the progressive policies of Teddy Roosevelt, the Republican President in 1901-1909. Roosevelt is remembered for supporting union causes, breaking up monopolies like Standard Oil and the financial trusts, regulating interstate commerce, and his policies of conservationism. Internationally, Roosevelt championed a vigorous U.S. interventionist policy.

Nelson RockefellerThese political progressives saw themselves, like Roosevelt, as “willing and eager to use government power to promote economic growth and social development.” (Rule and Ruin, p. 20) The movement found its strongest support in the New England States and in the Pacific Northwest. By 1960 its main representative was New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Soon Senator Jacob Javits of New York (1957-1981) also came to prominence. Javits saw himself as “a political descendent of Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Republicanism.” He had a strong commitment to social issues, supporting the 1957 Civil Rights Act, and was soon regarded as “the most outspoken Republican liberal in Congress.”

4. The New Right

Joseph-Mccarthy-1The final faction within Republican circles was the smallest of the four, and is the most recent in origin. Whereas Taft did not regard Communism as much of a threat to America and so did not emphasize it, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy mounted a vigorous anti-Communist campaign in 1950 that drew considerable attention. As Kabaservice explains,

McCarthy’s movement constituted a new political force within the Republican Party, one that was very different from the Old Guard faction around Taft. (Rule and Ruin, p. 9)

McCarthy is remembered for his abrasive, populist and anti-intellectual rhetoric. His campaign sharply divided the Republican Party, with him drawing much of his support away from the conservative Old Guard. But eventually McCarthy’s grandiose conspiratorial claims were discredited, and he died a rejected and broken man in 1957.

buckley-williamFive years after McCarthy’s initial rise to national prominence, William F. Buckley Jr. and William Rusher founded the National Review magazine (in 1955) and gave the new conservative movement McCarthy had spawned a more rigorous intellectual foundation. In an early interview, Buckley described himself as “a revolutionary against the present liberal order. An intellectual revolutionary.” (Rule and Ruin, p. 16)

Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater (1953-1965 & 1979-1987) was the one who brought this new political movement to prominence. He presented a political stance that appealed to “militant economic, social, and cultural right-wingers.” It was also strongly “anti-government in rhetoric if not always in practice.” (Rule and Ruin, p. 25)

Barry GoldwaterGoldwater actively campaigned against the Soviet Union, labor unions, and what he called “the welfare state.” He and likeminded conservatives “considered the New Deal to be wholly alien to the American tradition and aimed to eradicate it.” They also claimed that “liberalism led inexorably to socialism and Communism, and that the smallest government effort to provide for the general welfare constituted the first step on ‘The Road to Serfdom’.” [The phrase comes from the title of the 1944 bestselling book by the libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek. (Rule and Ruin, p. 25)

Kabaservice notes that many moderates saw this new conservative movement as “a totally new element” within the Republican Party that had nothing in common with the established Taft conservatives. They therefore rejected them out of hand.

The conservatives in turn saw the moderates and progressives not as misguided brethren, but as traitors to be destroyed. (Rule and Ruin, p. 25)

In 1960 Goldwater published his own political manifesto, The Conscience of a Conservative, which garnered enormous attention and made him a hero in the eyes of many fellow conservatives. He soon had attracted a considerable following throughout in the American South and the Southwestern States.

As Kabaservice reports,

Goldwater and his followers believed that a “hidden” majority of Americans were conservative; the reason that Republicans usually lost elections was that they put forward moderates who were too similar to the Democrats to inspire the conservative majority to turn up at the polls. (Rule and Ruin, pp. 18-19)

According to this view, if a Republican candidate came forth who presented a clear alternative to the policies espoused by the Democrats, the conservative majority would turn out in large numbers to provide a Republican victory.

This political movement known as the New Right had one important advantage over the other factions within the Republican Party at the time. As Kabaservice notes,

[They] had a sense of themselves as an ideologically coherent group [united together] in a movement. … [They] were also the sole faction calling for an ideological realignment of the American political system. They argued that converting the GOP into a party of pure con­servatism would bring in some previously unrepresented groups such as white South­erners and working-class white ethnics, including many Catholics. (Rule and Ruin, p. 25)

During the 1960s, the New Right would continue to gain strength within each of these demographic groups. In the 1964 presidential campaign this newly ascendant faction would take control of the Republican Party and put forward the name of its hero Barry Goldwater for the office of president.

That story will be told in the next blog.


Unfinished Business

March on WashingtonThis week marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before a crowd of over 200,000 people.

Even those of us like myself who are white and old enough to remember that event find it difficult to recall the perilous struggle of those involved in the American Civil Rights movement.

Last week the independently produced movie The Butler was released starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, and a stellar cast of other well-known actors. Today I went and saw it and found it to be extremely moving.

movies-the-butler-posterThe movie traces the history of the American Black experience through the eyes of a single man over a period spanning eight decades. He is Cecil Gaines, a black man raised on a cotton plantation who witnesses horrifying brutality as a boy before leaving to find employment as a hotel waiter and is eventually selected to become a butler at the White House. He serves as a butler to eight presidents, from Eisenhower through Reagan.

Ever silent, observant and inconspicuous (invisible really), Gaines witnesses the inner workings of the White House through the period of the civil rights movement and beyond. His necessary passive detachment from the events of the day is contrasted with that of his oldest son, who becomes involved with the civil rights movement, becomes a Freedom Rider, is present when Martin Luther King is assassinated, and for a time becomes part of the radical Black Panther movement.

The film is about the silent suffering of those contending with benign forms of racism and the violent suffering of those struggling with its overt manifestations. The film dramatically juxtaposes these two is several memorable scenes. It is about broken lives and the courage to continue on each day – to do what one must do. It is about tenacity, perseverance, and commitment to one’s self and to others. It is, all in all, a remarkable story.

63-Civil-Rights-March.enlargedIn the opening week of the film’s release over one third of those coming to see it in the U.S. were African-Americans. It was as if they were waiting for this story to be told. Leonard Pitts Jr., in the National Memo, reports seeing elderly African-Americans bringing their grandchildren in tow to watch the movie. He emphasizes that, “This isn’t your average summer movie crowd.” It is as if they have brought their grandchildren to see The Truth – as in “The Truth of How Things Were, and how that shades and shapes How Things Are.”

The Butler tells us the truth about America’s racist past, but the story itself is fiction. Anyone watching the film should understand that it is not a documentary, and it is not a personal biography. It is a fictional narrative created around real historical events.

The butler in question did serve in the White House for 34 years to eight Presidents. His real name is Eugene Allen; he died in 2010. The bare outline of his life and career provide the framework for the story. But the details of his childhood and his interactions with his wife, neighbours, and two sons are fictional creations. (A very good summary of the film’s adaptation is found here.) They provide the necessary elements for a gripping drama, and that drama is compelling.

civil-rights-1963-grangerThe depiction of the African-American experience during those years is, unfortunately, all too true. The repeated scenes of racial bigotry depict actual events – the lynchings, the sit-ins, the Freedom Riders, the violence – they are all part of that history. And it is very unsettling.

The Truth needs to be told, even (or especially) when it is painful. Aging African-Americans know the truth of their experiences in the long and difficult struggles to end segregation. They know the struggles for fair treatment that continue even today. The New York Times reported this week that

According to a Pew Research Center poll released Thursday, nearly twice as many blacks as whites say that blacks are treated less fairly by the police. More than twice as many blacks as whites say that blacks are treated less fairly by the courts. And about three times as many blacks as whites say that blacks are treated less fairly than whites at work, in stores or restaurants, in public schools and by the health care system.

We white folks need to know the Truth of these realities too. Most of us are out of touch with the black American experience. We are not directly affected by it. It is not our story. It is not our history. It is not our experience. As Paul Waldman recently stated in his essay in The American Prospect on “the Privilege of Whiteness,”

[I]n all my years I’ve never been stopped by a cop who just wanted to know who I was and what I was up to. I’ve never been accused of “furtive movements,” the rationale New York City police use for the hundreds of thousands of times every year they question black and Hispanic men. I’ve never been frisked on the street, and nobody has ever responded with fear when I got in an elevator. That’s not because of my inherent personal virtue. It’s because I’m white.

I will never have to sit my children down and give them a lengthy talk about what to do and not to do when they encounter the police. That’s the talk so many black parents make sure to give their children, one filled with detailed instructions about how to not appear threatening, how to diffuse tension, what to do with your hands when you get pulled over, and how to end the encounter without being arrested or beaten.

My hope is that The Butler will not only help the grandchildren of those who went through the civil rights movement to understand what that struggle was about. My hope is that it will help all of us to understand what was a stake and what remains at stake in the ongoing struggle for human rights today.


Republican Party’s Shift to the Right

The Republican Party of today had gained a reputation for being dogmatic, ideological, intransigent and combative. It takes positions far to the right on most major issues. It has become dominated by a faction that until just a few decades ago represented only a small minority position within the Party as a whole. That vocal faction now seeks to define the entire party in its own image.

GeoffreyKabaserviceSMWhat accounts for this wholesale shift to the right, and what does it portend for the future of the Republican Party? These issues are addressed in the recent meticulously researched book by the respected Yale historian Geoffrey Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, From Eisenhower to the Tea Party (Oxford University Press, 2012).

In the Preface of his book, Kabaservice provides an overview of the events that produced this ideological shift within the Republican Party. He explains that

The form of conservatism that now wholly controls the party did not even exist until the 1950s, and remained a minority faction for many years afterward. … It is only in the last decade or so that movement conservatism finally succeeded in silencing, co-opting, repelling, or expelling nearly every competing strain of Republicanism from the party, to the extent that the terms “liberal Republican” or “moderate Republican” have practically become oxymorons. [p. vxi]

How did this transformation take place? Kabaservice explains,

During the 1950s a new breed of conservatism, which became known as the New Right, developed in reaction to President Dwight Eisenhower’s brand of political moderation which, at the time, appeared to dominate the GOP. [p. vxii]

Frustrated by the moderates’ influence on Republican Party politics, the New Right sought to bring together conservatives in a well-defined counter movement.

The immediate goal of movement conservatism was to seize the GOP’s presidential nomination by taking over party organizations and the forums in which national convention delegated were chosen. The longer-term goal was to transform the Republican Party into an organ of conservative ideology and purge it of all who resisted the true faith. [pp. vxii-xviii]

This process would take decades, and it would suffer some early early setbacks. But in the end the New Right triumphed over the moderates and redefined Republican Party politics as a whole. Kabaservice explains,

Barry GoldwaterThe history of the struggles between moderates and conservatives in the Republican Party opens with the 1960 GOP national convention, which marked the first time that the New Right entered the Republican political scene in a significant way. It was also the last moment when moderates exercised anything close to dominance of the party. … [T]he period from 1960 to 1964 witnessed the conservatives’ capture of most of the Republican Party machinery, culminating in the nomination of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater as the 1964 presidential candidate. Goldwater and his supporters set the tone for the conservative movement ever after by mobilizing a base of right-wing populists, refusing to compromise with moderates, and pursuing a Southern strategy aimed at attracting civil rights opponents to the GOP. [p. vxiii]

These events set the stage for what Kabaservice calls a “civil war between the party’s moderate and conservative factions.” [p. 30] In a recent interview Kabaservice states that the 1964 Republican nominating convention was a brutal affair. At the convention,

[The Goldwater camp] gave absolutely no quarter to Republican moderates, no voice whatsoever. Conservatives stood behind Goldwater’s rejection of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and they ripped up a lot of what the Republican Party had stood for through the previous several elections. Barry Goldwater’s statement that if you’re not committed to our cause you should leave, and that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice — these were messages to the moderates that they were not wanted in the Republican Party. That they needed to go.

The New Right triumphed at the 1964 nominating convention, and Goldwater’s supporters saw this as their “golden moment.” But when it came to running against the Democratic nominee, Lyndon B. Johnson, Goldwater suffered a humiliating defeat, with Johnson winning the election by a landslide.

In response, moderates within the Republican Party “staged furious efforts to retake control.” They organized around causes such as civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War. They formed publications and think tanks to counter the New Right ideology promulgated in William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review. Volunteers and party workers promoted the presidential candidacy of moderates like Nelson Rockefeller and George Romney. They had to contend with dirty tricks by a new breed of activists like Karl Rove within the Young Republicans organization. Republican feminists went head to head with Phyllis Schlafly and the National Federation of Republican Women. The gains were only temporary. Some of the talented young moderates of that era like Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Rumsfeld would later change sides and become prominent figures representing the New Right. [p. vxiii]

A critical mass of moderate Republican politicians remained in office after 1970, although their numbers dwindled, and moderate ideas continued to have some influence on the GOP’s positions. [p. xix]

220pxPresident_Reagan_1981The election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980, however, marked a resurgence of conservative ideology within the Republican Party, ushering in a nearly mythical “golden age” in the collective memory of the New Right. Moderate Republicans have never recovered. Kabaservice states that

In the years after Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980 … the moderates did not simply die out, but were killed off by conservative enmity from within their own party as well as Democratic opposition and their own failures. The first decade of the twenty-first century witnessed the final decline and virtual extinction of moderates’ power and representation in the Republican Party. [p. xix]

Kabaservice concludes the introduction of his book by noting that

There remain millions of voters who define themselves as moderate Republicans, and millions more who would vote for moderate Republican candidates if they could find them. But the complete domination of the conservative infrastructure in party politics, and the absence of moderate efforts to counter grassroots movements like the Tea Party, means that the GOP has for all intents and purposes become a uniformly ideological party unlike any that has existed in American history. It has also become a party that has cut itself off from its own history, and indeed has become antagonistic to most of its own heritage. This unprecedented transformation of one of our major parties is likely to change our entire political system in ways that ought to concern all Americans.

Rule and Ruin presents a fascinating study of the rise of the new conservatism that thoroughly dominates the Republican Party today. Kabaservice provides a great deal of historical detail in tracing these developments, and I will report more of his findings in future posts.

The Genesis of Radical Right-Wing Politics

I was 15 years old when in 1961 a mysterious group appeared at my high school in San Diego, CA to present an evening film series. The first night several hundred students, along with parents and some teachers, filled the bleachers in the school gym and watched grainy black and white film footage of the Joseph McCarthy’s Senate hearings.

Joseph-Mccarthy-1The film was intended to educate us on Communist infiltration in government, the media, and higher education. I remember the film graphically showing the police using force to break up demonstrators who dared to oppose McCarthy’s cause. The film was very clear about being vigilant to guard against Communist sympathizers who might be present in our own communities.

Blue Book-1After the second film night a meeting was held to organize a student club so we could educate ourselves further about this Communist threat. I joined with others and received my very own membership card. At the end of the meeting, one of the organizers presented a teacher with a gift for our school library: The Blue Book of the John Birch Society, written by the Society’s founder Robert W. Welch.

In his writings, Welch accused President Dwight D. Eisenhower of being “a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” and claimed that the United States was “under operational control of the Communist Party.”

Birch Society billboardWelch definitely believed in a Communist conspiracy.  In fact, he promoted a wide variety of conspiracy theories. He claimed that the United Nations was plotting to impose a one-world socialist government, that the burgeoning civil rights movement was organized by Communist agents, and that water fluoridation was a Communist-backed plot to poison and weaken the minds of Americans.

A few days after our local student club had been organized, school faculty and administrators held a meeting of their own. They reviewed Welch’s views and prudently decided to remove the donated Blue Book from the library. They also decided to disband our student club.

This was my introduction to the John Birch Society (JBS), perhaps the best-known and most influential radical right-wing political organization in America. Welch founded his Society on December 9, 1958 in Indianapolis. By January 1960 the Society had grown to 75 chapters and 1,500 members. By September of that year there were 324 chapters and some 5,300 members.  Many would agree with the claim of a former insider that,

The John Birch Society built the most effective, best-funded right-wing populist organization in the United States of America.

RobertWelchWelch had been an executive in sales and advertising before becoming involved in politics, and he proved to be something of an organizational genius. He is said to have pioneered the practice of grassroots lobbying through educational meetings, petition drives and letter writing campaigns – activities that are a staple part of grassroots politics today.

Welch decided that to be effective in opposing Communism, he must use some of the same techniques he believed the Communists were using. This included organizing his movement into small cells whose leadership could not easily be penetrated, working through front groups, and infiltrating other organizations to take over their leadership.

In 1960, Welch advised JBS members to “join your local PTA [Parent Teachers Association] at the beginning of the school year, get your conservative friends to do likewise, and go to work to take it over.”

The JBS was particularly successful in recruiting younger members. By 1960 Welch had launched a program to organize student groups in high school and college campuses across the nation. In 1962 supporters succeeded in getting one of their members elected as chairman of the college campus based California Young Republicans. Soon National Republican leaders were being advised that, “There is a definite, well-organized, well-financed program … to repeat this California situation in state after state.” (Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin, 64)

That same year Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater complained, “Every other person in Phoenix is a member of the John Birch Society,” and by this he meant people of high political influence. buckley-williamThe staunchly conservative thinker and author William F. Buckley, Jr. became so alarmed over the rapid growth of the JBS that he published a 5,000-word essay in his magazine, the National Review, vehemently denouncing Welch and the John Birch Society and urging the Republican Party to purge itself of Welch’s influence. Welch responded by attempting (unsuccessfully) to take over Young Americans for Freedom, the conservative youth organization that Buckley had helped found. (Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin, 206)

The influence of the John Birch Society on the Republican Party continued to grow. By 1963 right-wing political organizations, including JBS, had effectively taken over the California Republican Assembly on a platform that opposed civil rights, the United Nations, and called for the abolition of federal taxes (Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin, 87) Many Birchers were delegates at the 1964 Republican nominating convention, and the majority threw their support behind Senator Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election.

In October of 1964 an editorial in the Idaho Statesman expressed concern over the American public being inundated with thousands of weekly “ultra right radio and television broadcasts,” estimated to cost $10 million annually. The editorial warned that by virtue of these saturation tactics,

radical, reactionary propaganda is producing an impact … on large numbers of people who, themselves, are in no sense extremists or sympathetic to extremists’ views. When day after day they hear distortions of fact and sinister charges against persons or groups, often emanating from organizations with conspicuously respectable sounding names, it is no wonder [w]hat the result is: Confusion on some important public issues; stimulation of latent prejudices; creation of suspicion, fear and mistrust [of] their representatives in government.

Old Ties and New Allies

Barry Goldwater was resoundingly defeated in the election, and the extreme right wing of the Republican Party bowed out of the public spotlight. But their influence continued behind the scenes. In 1968 Welch and the Birchers threw their support behind third party presidential candidate George Wallace of Alabama.

By the mid-1970s a new right-wing coalition of Protestant Evangelical conservatives emerged. They helped elect Ronald Reagan as President in 1980. This new conservative movement eclipsed the John Birch Society, and the JBS became further marginalized after attacking many of Reagan’s policies.

Many in this new generation of conservative political activists had their start in the John Birch Society.

koch_brothersFred C. Koch, the founder of Koch Industries, was one of the charter members of the John Birch Society. His two sons, Charles G. and David H. Koch, grew up thoroughly influenced by their father’s Bircher philosophy and anti-Communist libertarian leanings. They later used their vast family fortune to found and support dozens of conservative foundations and think tanks. The best known of these are FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, and the Cato Institute. They are also major donors to The Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

David Koch ran as a Libertarian Vice-Presidential candidate in 1980. He advocated the abolition of Social Security, the FBI, the CIA, and public schools. Between 2007 and 2011 the Koch brothers poured over $100 million into conservative lobbying and advertising campaigns. During the 2012 election the Koch network spent an estimated $400 million.  Through their foundations the Koch brothers also helped to organize the early libertarian Tea Party movement and they continue to actively promote its causes.

Phyllis SchalflyPhyllis Schlafly, the well-known anti-feminist and “family values” campaigner was associated with the John Birch Society in the 1960s. (Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin, 204) Robert Welch referred to her as “one of our most loyal members.” (Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin, 90) In 1964 Schlafly published her influential book, A Choice, Not an Echo, which was used extensively to mobilize support for the Goldwater campaign.

In her book she outlined a grand conspiracy theory: “America’s so-called democracy was controlled by ‘secret kingmakers,’ a shadowy group mostly made up of internationalist New York investment bankers [who] dominated the media.” (Kabaservice, Rule and Ruin, 89) Their operations were coordinated internationally through the Bilderburger banking conferences with the overall goal of ushering in a “global Communist conquest.” Schlafly’s grand conspiracy theory resembles a script taken from Welch’s own writings. At age 88 she continues to be a featured celebrity speaker at conservative Republican gatherings.

tim-lahaye-preachTimothy LaHaye, best-selling author of the Left Behind series of apocalyptic novels has lengthy ties with the John Birch Society. In the 1970s, as pastor of Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego, CA he regularly lectured and ran training seminars for the John Birch Society, a fact he openly acknowledges in his book No Fear of the Storm (later reissued under the title Rapture Under Attack). 

Familiar Bircher conspiratorial views are reflected in LaHaye’s 1980 book, The Battle for the Mind, in which he “asserts that ‘secular humanists’ have taken control of all American institutions, including public schools and universities, the political system, the news media and the entertainment industry, with the aim of driving Christianity from American life and creating a totalitarian state.” He further charges in this book that

since World War II, most members of the House of Representatives, Senate, presidential cabinets and the State Department have secretly been humanists who have labored to disarm the nation and deliver it up to the Soviets.

In 1981 LaHaye joined with ex-billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt, a member of the John Birch Society’s national council, to co-found the Council for National Policy. The Council meets three times a year in secret, bringing together conservative Christian activists (such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell), right-wing Republican politicians and wealthy patrons to advance a “theocratic” agenda. (LeHaye advocates a society ruled by “ biblical” principles where abortion and homosexuality are outlawed, women are kept subordinate to men, and public schools offer fundamentalist religious education.)

The Cause Continues

Membership in the John Birch Society declined during the 1980s as the Religious Right gained increasing power and influence. When Robert Welch died in 1985 a power struggle ensued within the Society over who would be in control. Active membership dropped even more. Many thought that the Society’s raison d’etre had passed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But new conspiracy theories took shape, and between 1988 and 1995 membership in JBS doubled; by some estimates it even tripled.

ron-paul.nIn 2008 Ron Paul, the Republican House Representative from Texas and three-time candidate for President, spoke at the John Birch Society’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. He praised the group for its many accomplishments saying,

Anyone who has been in the trenches over the years battling on any of the major issues – whether it’s pro-life, gun rights, property rights, taxes, government spending, regulation, national security, privacy, national sovereignty, the United Nations, foreign aid – knows that members of the John Birch Society are always in there doing the heavy lifting.

In 2010 the John Birch Society gained renewed prominence as one of the official sponsors of CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington D.C.

The ideals of the John Birch Society live on, taken up now by Tea Party activists, conservative members of Congress, and the Christian Right. Whenever you hear allegations of secret Communist plots to undermine American superiority, assertions that the United Nations wants to establish a one-world government, that current human rights causes are part of some nefarious greater plot, or that secular humanists are out to subvert fundamental Christian values, think back to Robert Welch and the conspiratorial theories he promoted a half-century ago.

Times may have changed but these old ideas live on. And they are as dangerous and delusional as ever.

Obama’s New Economic Plan – Part 2

Obama Chattanooga-2On Tuesday President Obama delivered his first major follow-up address on job creation since unfolding his new economic plan for America in Galesburg, Illinois the previous week.  [See my previous post on that speech.]

Obama spoke this time in Chattanooga, Tennessee at an Inc. mega-warehouse, where he praised the company for its initiatives in job creation. The site was a somewhat controversial choice since Amazon has previously been cited for abusive working conditions in its warehouses.

Much of the President’s speech repeated the same themes and language found in his earlier address in Galesburg, and we may expect more of the same as he brings his message to the other stops on his multi-city tour. But he did use the occasion to expand on the first of the five main cornerstones of middle-class security outlined at Galesburg, that of having a good job with decent wages and benefits. He also provided additional details on how he expects to get his job plan approved by Congress. And with a bit of additional research I have been able to piece together some of the maneuvering in the background that underlies his proposals.

Obama had previously announced a series of major employment initiatives in his February State of the Union address. He promised at that time that creating these jobs would not add to the deficit – that expenses incurred in creating these jobs would be offset by other revenues so there would be no net cost to individual taxpayers. The problem has been that Republicans in Congress have been adamantly opposed to approving any additional expenditures, even if they would be offset by other means.

Now the President believes he has found a way around this impasse. He stated on Tuesday,

I came here to offer a framework that might help break through some of the political logjam in Washington and try to get Congress to start moving.

He is even talking once again about a “Grand Bargain.” He is attempting to combine measures that he knows Republicans support with those he knows Democrats will support to achieve legislation that can receive broad enough bi-partisan backing to be approved by Congress.

In his address the President said,

I don’t want to go through the same old arguments where I propose an idea and the Republicans just say, no, because it’s my idea. So I’m going to try offering something that serious people in both parties should be able to support: a deal that simplifies the tax code for our businesses and creates good jobs with good wages for middle-class folks who work at those businesses.

Obama is resurrecting his plan outlined during the 2012 Presidential campaign to cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to no more than 28 percent through revisions to the tax code. Republicans are generally in favour of this reduction in tax rates, although they are far from agreement on other revisions to the tax code. Obama seems to be hoping that his proposal will encourage them to get moving on tax code restructuring – something that politicians on both sides of the aisle have been calling for. But there is still a problem. Republicans have insisted that all gains in revenue from closing tax loopholes must be reabsorbed in a lower overall tax rate. Changes to the tax code must not be used to provide any increased revenue.

The Obama administration has also called for the “repatriation” of earnings by U.S. companies that are currently being kept overseas and out of the reach of the IRS. Any recovery of taxes on this estimated $1.5 to $2 trillion in off-shore earnings would amount to a sizeable one-time windfall for the U.S. government. Measures to repatriate and tax these earnings (even at a substantially reduced rate) have broad support in Congress.

In 2004 the U.S. granted a “repatriation holiday” to corporations that returned earnings held overseas, and the business community has been lobbying for another complete tax holiday as the condition for repatriating their earnings once again. But there is considerable resistance in Congress to granting these corporations complete tax immunity on these amounts.

Ezra Klein notes, both the White House and House Republicans have settled on a compromise solution that would impose

a small, one-time fee on all deferred foreign earnings. This isn’t a tax cut for money corporations bring back. It’s a levy on all the money they have sitting overseas, and they pay it whether they bring it back or not. After paying the fee, that money is free and clear so far as the taxman is concerned.

The details of this one-time fee still have to be negotiated, but the President is proposing to use this money to fund a jobs program providing broad employment opportunities in the repair of roads and bridges, in education at community colleges, and in creating new industrial centeres for manufacturing.

Obama’s jobs creation proposal consists of linking these two measures: The president will support a Republican plan for revenue neutral changes to the tax code (eliminating tax loopholes and using the gains to lower corporate tax rates) if they will agree to let him take the additional revenue received from a separate one-time fee on corporate foreign earnings and apply them to his job creation program.

Here’s the bottom line: I’m willing to work with Republicans on reforming our corporate tax code, as long as we use the money from transitioning to a simpler tax system for a significant investment in creating middle-class jobs. That’s the deal.

As MoneyNews reports,

The White House hopes the idea will gain some traction in Congress because Republicans want corporate tax reform and Democrats want spending for infrastructure, so this offers something for both sides.

We should note that Democrats have until now been opposed to the revenue neutral model of reforming the tax code, and want to apply the additional revenues resulting from these tax changes to funding enhanced employment and social programs. They do not want to see this increased revenue disappear again into other tax cuts.

So President Obama met with the Democratic caucus on Wednesday, explaining his proposals to them, and they have now rallied to announce their solid support for his jobs initiative.

The timing of this move has been carefully planned. This Friday Congress goes into summer recess, and both Republicans and Democrats will be returning to their home ridings to meet with their constituents. Democratic members of Congress will be promoting their strong support for the President’s jobs initiative and talking about their own “Make it in America” employment strategy. They will have a positive, hopeful message to bring to their constituents.

And what message will the Republicans be bringing to their constituents? What they have to report on so far is largely a negative campaign: nearly 40 attempts to repeat Obamacare, threats to shut down the government this fall by refusing to pay for current expenditures; the continuation of the sequester which the independent Congressional Budget Office estimates will cost the American economy 750,000 jobs this year and 900,000 fewer jobs next year? That may please their hard-core supporters, but it will not play well before a larger audience.

As the Congress prepares to go on summer recess, President Obama is putting the Republicans on the defensive. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Photo credit: Amy Smotherman Burgess/News Sentinel