Making the teabaggers a political albatross

The John Birch Society hurt Barry Goldwater. The Teabaggers ought to hurt the Palins and Pawlentys.

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:

h/t Red Tory v.3.0

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.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

8 thoughts on “Making the teabaggers a political albatross”

  1. The John Birch Society, as far as I remember, was a political organization with an agenda, whereas the teabaggers appear to be just a group of paranoiacs. It seems that 50,000 (or however many) showed up in Washington yesterday because they fear that universal health coverage will take away their freedoms and is the equivalent of Nazism or Communism. Yet they were not concerned that their freedom might be limited by Bush's exercise, with Congress's complicity, of the power to pull American citizens off the street, imprison them indefinitely without a trial, and torture them to the point of insanity or death. Can there be that many loony people? Although racism is no doubt a strong element in their motivation, I doubt if it is conscious on the part of many. What else is making them tick? I don't think that it is a political agenda.

  2. What Republicans and Re-thuglicans are ignoring (and I find that remarkable) is the link between this type of anti-reform-Obama protest and its likeness to the segregationist movement of the 50's and 60's.

  3. What likeness to the segregationist movement do you see? The teabaggers, to the extent they are consciously racist, know better than to say so. I saw a woman on YouTube who broke into tears at the thought that her child might be exposed at school to Obama's speech urging students to work hard. Her fear seemed genuine. She may unconsciously have been feeling, "That black man is going to rape my child," but that was not conscious on her part, whereas the segregationists' goal was racial.

  4. It seems that 50,000 (or however many) showed up in Washington yesterday because they fear that universal health coverage will take away their freedoms and is the equivalent of Nazism or Communism.

    They're a bunch of old people (seriously – look at the demographics on those least likely to support Obama, and not the pictures from the rallies) who are still scared of the "Red Menace", and many of whom are scared that changing health care will reduce support for Medicare.

    Can there be that many loony people?

    It's a big country. Plus, the crazies are just a lot more visible than they were back when their main method of communication with each other was only by newsletter – and they have the help of a political party that likes to keep them around for political purposes, as well as a major television network that seems determined to create a conservative counter-movement.

    Her fear seemed genuine. She may unconsciously have been feeling, “That black man is going to rape my child,” but that was not conscious on her part, whereas the segregationists’ goal was racial.

    More likely it was a mix of things – fear of the Big, Scary [black] liberal who consorted with [black] radicals. Did I mention that he's a [black] liberal? In other words, they're terrified mostly of difference, and Obama strikes them as not being One of Us.

  5. You know, I'm used to this, it's been going on for years, but it still gets tiresome. Arguments being "fixed". Outrage over unspoken words. Liberals reacting to what they assume you'd say, rather than what you DID say. Do you really think that inserting the word black into a sentence that didn't originally contain it, proves that the person who didn't say it is a racist? Rather than constituting evidence that you're race obsessed?

  6. Brett, adding on to Henry's words, we've seen this before. People who supported Reagan suddenly discovered 'I love my country but fear my government' during the Clinton administration, and then wholeheartedly supported Bushian authoritarianism, and then turned back to 'freedom loving' antigovernment protesters in January, 2009. And we're seeing the same sort of right-wing lie campaigns which were used in the 1990's. 'Deja Vu' isn't strong enough a word

    When one goes A, not A, A, not A in perfect sync with the changing administrations, what is not being said is far, far stronger than what is being said.

  7. I know use the phrase "the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party.' That's because the lunatics are no longer on the fringe.

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