Wednesday, August 22, 2012

South Dakota Republicans: Any John Birch Society Port In A Storm?

These are trying times. South Dakota's Senate Majority Leader and other Republican legislators are beset and bothered by postcards and robocalls. Leader Olson deems those behind the communication terrorists. The cards and calls claim that the Republicans are not true Republicans but merely Republicans in name only (RINOs).

Pat Powers, late of the South Dakota Secretary of State's office and founder of Dakota War College, a South Dakota Republican organ, has rushed to assure Olson and other afflicted Republicans of their conservative bona fides. This succor comes from the John Birch Society.

Somewhere the body and spirit of William F. Buckley must be mimicking a whirling dervish. Buckley laid the intellectual base for modern conservatism.  Geoffrey Kabaservice sums up the Buckley's view of the John Birch Society:
Nonetheless, in February 1962 National Review ran a six-page editorial against Welch, arguing that he was damaging the anti-Communist cause by “distorting reality” and failing to distinguish between an “active pro-Communist” and an “ineffectually anti-Communist liberal.” It would be several years before Buckley excommunicated all Birchers from the conservative movement, but his editorial emphasized that “There are bounds to the dictum, Anyone on the right is my ally.”
Recalling a meeting that led to the editorial,  Buckley quotes Russel Kirk, author of The Conservative Mind, one of contemporary conservatism's founding texts, volunteering to take a rather a rather direct approach when describing Robert Welch, the John Birch Society's founder:
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.”
Buckley died believing that he, Kirk, and others had dealt the death blow to the John Birch Society:
The wound we Palm Beach plotters delivered to the John Birch Society proved fatal over time. Barry Goldwater did not win the presidency, but he clarified the proper place of anti-Communism on the Right, with bright prospects to follow.
Paranoia is apparently more resilient than the brilliant Buckley realized. In South Dakota, the Republican party has apparently decided that allying itself with a political zombie is preferable to calling on its intellectual roots.

Buckley used "scorn and derision" to defeat the John Birch Society's paranoia fifty years ago. South Dakota Republicans have used those tools against Democrats; they can use them against those behind the robocalls and postcards. Instead they have chosen to ignore Buckley's injunction: "There are bounds to the dictum, Anyone on the right is my ally." They have chosen to accept the comfort afforded them by a group that true conservatives decried fifty years ago and ought to continue to denounce today.

Conservatism has well-developed and formidable intellectual base. South Dakota Republicans, through one of their most conspicuous organs, have chosen ignore that intellectual history.  Instead, they have decided to ally themselves with a paranoia that should have died long ago.

No comments: