I have to admit to having been even more intrigued than usual by the outbreaks of 'crazy' that have plagued Tea Party candidates over the past couple of weeks, and in particular the flap over Christine O'Donnell's seeming lack of knowledge about the constitution.
Outbreaks of Idiocy? Or Cold-Eyed Policy?
Since then, the consensus among commentators - even those of a conservative stripe such as Red State's Erick Erickson - agreeing that Tea Party candidates are prone to outbreaks of idiocy, given that they are "ordinary folks", and not career politicians.
When they say things like suggesting it's OK to contemplate violent revolution, then, it's just a boo boo, right? A mis-statement?
I'm not so sure. I have concluded that these aberrations, the gaffes made by Sharon Angle, Christine O'Donnell, et al, are probably not slips made in the heat of battle, but rather are full-on statements of policy.
For me, the likelihood that this was true was reinforced when Rush Limbaugh sprang to O'Donnell's defence.
Christine O'Donnell was absolutely correct. The constitution says nothing about the separation of church and state
Now...I understand that what is being played here is a bit of a lawyerly game about whether or not the actual phrase "separation of church and state" is written down, and further I can see where you might even be able to make an argument - albeit a weak one, in my assessment - that the wording implying separation of church and state is mere 'interpretation'.
Repealing the 20th Century
The crux of the matter is that what we are talking about is not a matter of unfamiliarity with the provisions of the Constitution, but a radical new 'interpretation' of it - and one that supports a very detailed platform that intends to propel the United States of America back at least 100 years, undoing all of the progress of the 20th century. (After all, 'progress' is a dirty word to conservatives, is it not?)
And lest we forget, it's unlikely that Ms O'Donnell would make such an elementary mistake as being unaware of the wording of the First Amendment. After all, as she has told us numerous times, she possesses a 'Graduate Fellowship' from the Claremont Institute. Despite the observation, made by CNN's Anderson Cooper among others, that the 'fellowship' was a week-long course, I thought that, perhaps by beginning to examine Claremont, we might start to learn what the Tea Party really stands for.
When I did, I was shocked to find that not only are these 'outbreaks of idiocy' not isolated moments of stupidity, they appear to be solid planks in a platform devised by a radical right movement within the conservative ranks that has been accumulating momentum for the better part of a century. A movement traceable through the Bush era back to Goldwater Republicanism and beyond. A movement that seeks to undo the social safety net first put in place during the New Deal (like Social Security and unemployment insurance), eliminate Great Society programs like Medicare, eliminate taxes on corporations, eliminate the separation of church and state, withdraw from international institutions like the United Nations, and base its foreign policy on unending conflict using America's military might to quash competitors from all quarters.
Paranoid, you say?
Well, let's find out.
This Tune Has Been Being Composed for a Decade, at Least
The fringe nature of some of the comments we have been seeing, and which some have characterized as 'silly season' comments are not necessarily all that new. The neoconservative administration of George Bush the Younger had its fair share of radical ideologues as well, figures such as neocon godfather Richard Perle, resident fellow at the American Enterprise institute and former assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, who wrote, in March of 2003:
What will die in Iraq is the fantasy of the United Nations as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris of the war to liberate Iraq, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions."
We march forward with a biblical worldview, a worldview that says God is our Creator, that man is a sinner, and that we will save this country by changing the hearts and minds of Americans."
Still, most of us are familiar with the often black-and-white, good versus 'Axis of Evil' weltanshauung of the neocons, and we can draw a pretty clear line from there to where we are today. Especially since the Tea Party movement has been fairly exhaustively researched, and their birth as a fake grassroots front organization for far-right conservative 'dirty tricks' practitioners during the height of the Bush administration has been conclusively demonstrated by investigative research, both here on Newsvine and elsewhere.
The Tea Party movement is remarkable in two respects. It is one of the biggest exercises in false consciousness the world has seen – and the biggest Astroturf operation in history. These accomplishments are closely related.
An Astroturf campaign is a fake grassroots movement: it purports to be a spontaneous uprising of concerned citizens, but in reality it is founded and funded by elite interests. Some Astroturf campaigns have no grassroots component at all. Others catalyse and direct real mobilisations. The Tea Party belongs in the second category. It is mostly composed of passionate, well-meaning people who think they are fighting elite power, unaware that they have been organised by the very interests they believe they are confronting. We now have powerful evidence that the movement was established and has been guided with the help of money from billionaires and big business. Much of this money, as well as much of the strategy and staffing, were provided by two brothers who run what they call "the biggest company you've never heard of".
Charles and David Koch own 84% of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the United States. It runs oil refineries, coal suppliers, chemical plants and logging firms, and turns over roughly $100bn a year; the brothers are each worth $21bn. The company has had to pay tens of millions of dollars in fines and settlements for oil and chemical spills and other industrial accidents. The Kochs want to pay less tax, keep more profits and be restrained by less regulation. Their challenge has been to persuade the people harmed by this agenda that it's good for them.
What I was really interested in was seeing how far back the tentacles of the radical right reached.
How Long....Has This Been Going On....?
To do that, I started with the provider of O'Donnell's 'Graduate Fellowship', The Claremont Institute, which it turns out was founded by Leo Strauss disciple Harry Jaffa, the Goldwater speechwriter and adviser who coined the phrase "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." Jaffa's so-called 'institute', according to a recent article in The Nation, is a "training ground", where "rising stars of the conservative movement" are taught orthodoxy. Oh -- and The Nation concludes that they are also taught that orthodoxy includes "viciously anti-Gay politics." The Strauss connection also suggests that these conservative Manchurian Candidates are also taught that promulgating known lies is also acceptable in an "all's fair in love and war" kind of way. According to Canadian political science professor Shadia Drury, Strauss believed that "those who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right – the right of the superior to rule over the inferior."
With the Jaffa/Goldwater connection, we find the first suggestion that, far from being a recent eruption of discontent stemming from terror fears and an imploding economy, these radical right-wing ideas may have been around for at least 30 or 40 years. Is there evidence that figures such as Barry Goldwater embraced them? Possibly.
Certainly, it's true that Goldwater was considered a 'Conservative's Conservative' in his heyday. He rejected the legacy of The New Deal, he was anti-union and anti-Communist, voting against the 1964 move to censure Joseph R. McCarthy.
Lunch Counter Libertarianism
In election campaigns in 1964, Goldwater repeatedly emphasized states' rights, and in opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 - a stance which would sit well with Rand Paul's Lunch Counter Libertarianism. His friends and supporters included George W. Bush's grandfather Prescott, and father, George H.W. Bush, as well as the eventual (and very conservative) Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who served as his legal advisor during the '64 campaign. Other positions Goldwater advocated included making Social Security voluntary, and selling off the Tennessee Valley Authority. Indeed, from many of his political beliefs, it would be easy to conclude that Barry Goldwater really is the spiritual godfather of the Tea Party Movement, even more so than the sainted Ronald Reagan. After all, it was Goldwater who said, in one of his presidential campaign commercials:
...we as a nation, are not far from the kind of moral decay that has brought on the fall of other nations and people...
These are sentiments that find another eerily modern parallel in the xenophobic "Chinese Professor" ad recently released by 'Citizens Against Government Waste'.
If it's true that Barry Goldwater really represents the spiritual fountainhead of today's Tea Party movement, his fate should perhaps serve as a cautionary tale, because in his presidential campaign against Lyndon Johnson, he was defeated in what was one of the most colossal landslides in U.S. history, a tsunami of rejection of far-right conservatism that brought down a great many establishment Republicans, and made possible the implementation of Johnson's Great Society.
On the other hand, it's possible that Tea Party ideology goes back even farther than Goldwater...
To learn more, check in tomorrow night, when I hope to have published the second part of this two-part article: Part Two, The Fed, Flappers and Fascists.
Part two is now up here.