Part of the political dynamic of Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater was Johnson’s success in linking Goldwater to the fringiest fringe of the Republican Party: the John Birch Society and its ilk.
Goldwater’s support for giving theater commanders the authority to use “tactical” nuclear weapons, and his poorly-chosen paraphrase of Cicero in his acceptance speech, helped. but the groundwork had been laid by several years of news coverage focusing on just how loony-toons the Birchers were. (For example: they thought that Dwight Eisenhower wasn’t smart enough to be a Communist, but instead took orders from his “Communist” brother Milton, the president of Hopkins.)
Goldwater never publicly identified with the Birchers, and even disowned Robert Welch, the founder, but he didn’t want to put too much distance between himself and an group containing many influential peope. Johnson never claimed called Goldwater a Bircher. But the phrases “extremist” and “out of the mainstream” were designed to make that charge by implication, and it worked.
More than one person has remarked on the similarities between the Tea Party/Limbaugh/Beck ideology and that of the Birchers. And the Republican leadership is making what may prove to be a mistake in embracing the movement. So the key question is whether the public comes to identify the Teabaggers as a lunatic-fringe group, to the point where Republican office-seekers are afraid to be associated with them.
CNN makes a good start:
And the Washington Post, in an otherwise generally favorable account of the Washington march, frames the issue as I’d like to see it framed:
But after a spring of anti-tax rallies and summer health-care protests proved to be effective, a growing number of GOP leaders are dropping their wariness and seeing the political possibilities of latching onto this freewheeling coalition. Others are cautious about embracing views that can be seen as extremist.
The more discussion of “Republican extremism,” the better.