Tag Archives: Barry Goldwater

Conservatives Have Fought Right-Wing Conspiracies Before: William F. Buckley, Jr. and The John Birch Society.

This is an interesting excerpt from a March 2008 article written by William F. Buckley, Jr. for Commentary Magazine. In it, Buckley discusses a strategy meeting he attended in early 1962 with a couple of other Conservative strategists and Senator Barry Goldwater. The main topic? How to deal with Robert Welch and the John Birch Society. The entire piece is absolutely worth reading (I’ve linked to it above), but I have chosen a specific excerpt in light of today’s article in The Daily Beast entitled Too Hot for Fox News:

 

Time was given to the John Birch Society lasting through lunch, and the subject came up again the next morning. We resolved that conservative leaders should do something about the John Birch Society. An allocation of responsibilities crystallized.

Goldwater would seek out an opportunity to dissociate himself from the “findings” of the Society’s leader, without, however, casting any aspersions on the Society itself. I, in National Review and in my other writing, would continue to expose Welch and his thinking to scorn and derision. “You know how to do that,” said Jay Hall.

I volunteered to go further. Unless Welch himself disowned his operative fallacy, National Review would oppose any support for the society.

“How would you define the Birch fallacy?” Jay Hall asked.

“The fallacy,” I said, “is the assumption that you can infer subjective intention from objective consequence: we lost China to the Communists, therefore the President of the United States and the Secretary of State wished China to go to the Communists.”

(*Among many other controversial comments over the years, Robert Welch circulated a letter calling President Dwight D. Eisenhower a “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy.”)

“I like that,” Goldwater said.

What would Russell Kirk do? He was straightforward. “Me? I’ll just say, if anybody gets around to asking me, that the guy is loony and should be put away.”

“Put away in Alaska?” I asked, mock-seriously. The wisecrack traced to Robert Welch’s expressed conviction, a year or so earlier, that the state of Alaska was being prepared to house anyone who doubted his doctrine that fluoridated water was a Communist-backed plot to weaken the minds of the American public.

 

The idea behind the term “Birch Fallacy” applies to so much of our contemporary political discourse; the very reasoning continues to be used often. It really is quite an ingenious and concise term for describing a means of attempting to make logical what is inherently illogical in the face of rationality. I thus propose that the “Birch Fallacy” should hold a greater place in our contemporary political lexicon. 

Also, apparently even in the 1960s Alaska was a little crazy.

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Jim Leach: The GOP, Michael Steele, And That Big Tent Everybody Keeps Talking About

Remember Jim Leach? The moderate Republican Rep. from Iowa defeated in 2006 by Dave Loebsack in a major upset partially attributed to his refusal to allow Republican activists to distribute an anti-gay mailing? Phew. Had a lot to say there.

Today, on Politico’s The Arena, Leach posted a very thoughtful comment on where the GOP is today, how it moved there, and why everybody keeps talking about tents. The initial question asked was: “Is there room for Michael Steele in the GOP tent? How small can a tent get anyway?”

Jim Leach’s response:

If he doesn’t survive it will be a shame

Yes, this is all about the most overused metaphor in Republican politics – the tent. At issue is not only how big it is but how many doors it has. 

The pillars of Goldwater’s tent were decidedly of an individual rights, individual initiative nature. They were not considered strong or compassionate enough to hold a majority of the American people, at least at the time. The tent therefore got broadened with 1) a Southern strategy, based in part on Republican connivance but principally on a Democratic Party becoming philosophically committed to a Northern abolitionist soul, and 2) an appeal to fundamentalist pro-life values which gave a perceived moral legitimacy to a collectivist spectrum of issues beyond the realm of the traditional Rockefeller/Goldwater divisions within the party. 

What this meant was that the door to the Republican tent was opened to include two huge groups that had for most of the 20th Century been Democrats – Catholics and fundamentalist Christians. At the same time, however, as these new entrants came in the front door, traditional “country club” Republicans who had been comfortable with Taft, Eisenhower, Goldwater, Ford, and the gentler sides of Reagan and G.H.W. Bush began walking out the back of the tent. They – doctors, lawyers, business leaders – found their values and their leadership challenged. Understandably, the new entrants to the party determined that they didn’t simply want to be manipulated at the voting booth as “strategists” from Atwater to Rove may have wanted. They wanted to lead, to insist on more absolutist approaches to values, and abandon the tolerance and diversity which had been the progressive pinions of Republican philosophy from 1853 through much of the 20th Century. 

In this context it is impressive not that Michael Steele is proving controversial but that he was elected in the first place. If he doesn’t survive, it will be a shame; but the party should be given more than a little credit that he has been given a chance.

Interesting.

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