Saturday, February 20, 2010

Idiotic and paranoid: CPAC, the John Birch Society, and the state of American conservatism

One of the co-sponsors of this year's CPAC is the John Birch Society, a notorious right-wing organization founded during the Cold War.

While the JBS was ostensibly and primarily anti-communist from its inception, and while it remains ostensibly pro-liberty (according to its own perverted definition of liberty), it has been home to a number of leaders of the neo-Nazi, white supremacist right, according to the Anti-Defamation League, and it has always been essentially a front for extremism. ABC News's John Karl reports:

According to Ian Walters, a spokesman for CPAC, it's the first time the John Birch Society has sponsored the conference. That's not surprising, considering that the Birch Society has long been considered wacky and extreme by conservative leaders.

William F. Buckley famously denounced the John Birch Society and its founder Robert Welch in the early 1960s as "idiotic" and "paranoid." Buckley's condemnation effectively banishing the group from the mainstream conservative movement. Welch had called President Dwight D. Eisenhower a "conscious, dedicated agent of the communist conspiracy" and that the U.S. government was "under operational control of the Communist party." Buckley argued that such paranoid rantings had no place in the conservative movement or the Republican party. 

Two years after Buckley's death, the John Birch Society is no longer banished; it is listed as one of about 100 co-sponsors of the 2010 CPAC.

Why is the Birch Society a co-sponsor?

"They're a conservative organization," said Lisa Depasquale, the CPAC Director for the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC. "Beyond that I have no comment."

Well, they are conservative, yes, in a paranoid anti-liberal, anti-government way, but where they were once on the fringe they are now, it would seem, very much a part of the mainstream of movement conservatism. (Is the "no comment" a sign of embarrassment, or of a refusal to acknowledge the truth publicly?)

And that says a lot about the state of American conservatism today.

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