Buckley, who died three years ago last month, might be surprised to learn what’s being yelled these days by some claiming the conservative banner.
“Stop” is for amateurs. Today we hear far worse, including that President Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen or that he is a Muslim or that the first lady’s advocacy on behalf of good health is a socialist plot or that Muslims are plotting to infiltrate the U.S. justice system.
Exaggerations? Nope, these examples are real, and voiced not by faceless activists but by high-profile conservative politicians.
The latest to fall into the birther/secret Muslim nonsense is Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who is said to be considering a 2012 run for president. In a recent interview, Huckabee said Obama grew up in Kenya and this fact is the cause for his hostility toward Britain, which colonized the African nation. A U.S. president damaging the two nations’ “special relationship?” Who knew?
Huckabee attempted to clarify by saying he meant Indonesia instead of Kenya. Of course, Dutch colonialists had their way with what is now Indonesia, so we guess Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte better watch his back if he ever visits Washington.
Alabama Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, is proposing a law that would prohibit Alabama courts from considering Shariah law, the Islamic code based on Koranic teachings. Anyone who has come into contact with the Alabama legal system will be surprised to learn that this is an issue worth the Legislature’s valuable time or even an issue at all.
When we last heard from Sen. Allen, he was proposing public libraries in Alabama rid themselves of books authored by homosexuals. The effort failed. Oddly enough, Allen might have had a better shot at book-banning had Alabama been filled with adherents of a radical version of Shariah.
First lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to inspire kids to eat healthy and to get more exercise has its critics. Former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin described Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” program as “the government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us according to some politician or politician’s wife priorities.” Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., sees a creeping “nanny state” in the first lady’s encouragement to take more walks and eat less sweets.
Too bad Buckley, the founding editor of National Review, isn’t around for an intervention.
While Buckley was helping build the modern conservative movement in the 1950s and 1960s, a danger arose to his right in the form of the John Birch Society.
Buckley soon realized that the society, named in honor of a Christian missionary and U.S. intelligence agent killed by Chinese Communists, posed a threat to conservatism’s credibility.
The Birchers stretched past Buckley’s low taxes/small government aims, delving into outrageous conspiracy theories about fluoride in drinking water, one-world government and communists run amok within the U.S. government. Robert W. Welch Jr., the society’s founder, had gone so far as suggesting Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was a “tool of the Communists,” an outrageous claim that led one of the day’s leading conservatives to counter that Ike was a golfer, not a Commie.
By the early 1960s, Buckley stepped in as extremists to his right threatened to overwhelm his message. According to John B. Judis’ biography of Buckley, the editor was concerned that “the right-wing upsurge in the country would take an ugly, even Fascist turn rather than leading toward the kind of conservatism National Review had promoted.”
Buckley diplomatically began steering conservative politicians away from the Bircher’s conspiracy theories.
For the most part, Buckley succeeded. Buckley oversaw the rise of the Republican Party as the party of small government, and Birchers receded to the margins, clinging ever tightly to conspiracy theories unwelcome in the political mainstream.
Not so much anymore. Since Obama’s election in 2008, it appears more elected conservatives have dabbled in the aforementioned Bircher-style theories.
Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, writing late last year in The New Yorker, posed the query that may take on greater import as the nation moves closer to the 2012 election. He wrote, “The pressing historical question is how extremist ideas held at bay for decades inside the Republican Party have exploded anew — and why, this time, party leaders have done virtually nothing to challenge those ideas, and a great deal to abet them.”
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at (256) 235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis