Charles Postel: The Tea Party and the Dark Side of Conservatism





[Charles Postel, an assistant professor of history at San Francisco State University, won the Bancroft Prize in American history for his book “The Populist Vision.”]

Tea partiers proudly proclaim themselves conservatives. And rightly so.

Tea party protesters repeat the conservative catchwords of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, who built their careers fighting the “creeping socialism” of civil rights legislation, Social Security and Medicare.

Tea partiers also have echoes of a well-known grass-roots movement of the 1950s and ’60s — the John Birch Society. The JBS organized in upper-middle-class neighborhoods and among business groups for anti-Communist and conservative causes.

In tone and substance, tea partiers even sound like the JBS did. When they claim that a moderate American president is a “Communist,” it recalls the old JBS attacks on “Communist” President Dwight Eisenhower.

As today’s tea partiers shout their slogans to end the Federal Reserve, abolish the Internal Revenue Service and restore the gold standard, they seem to be lifting a page from the old JBS playbook.

For its part, the JBS followed in the tradition of the Liberty League, a right-wing citizens’ group organized by the DuPont family in the 1930s to overturn President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Yet commentators resist linking tea parties to this radical right.

Perhaps this is because of the Liberty League’s association with shadowy corporate conspiracies. Or it could be because of the John Birch Society’s reputation for secrecy and extremism. But the lineage of today’s tea parties doesn’t change just because they parade in the glare of a major TV network....

The tea party leaders disavow any racist appeals from their ranks. But historically, whether it was the JBS or Goldwater, the radical right has often had a soft spot for bigots....

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John a Wilson - 7/14/2010

This is character assassination in the macro.

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