Back in December, NewsReal’s own Ryan Mauro took the Conservative Political Action Conference to task for accepting the crackpot John Birch Society as a sponsor of CPAC 2010, calling it a “monumentally stupid decision” that would give the Left plenty of ammo for their current “conservatives are extreme!” narrative.
With CPAC set to begin tomorrow, The Daily Beast’s John Avlon has finally taken notice:
For decades, the John Birch Society found itself exiled from polite conservative society. No less a figure than William F. Buckley Jr. leveled a 5,000-word condemnation in the pages of National Review, concluding, “How can the John Birch Society be an effective political instrument while it is led by a man whose views on current affairs are, at so many critical points, removed from common sense?” In 1965, a coordinating committee of the RNC sought to formally disavow the Birchers as being a radical extremist group.
What’s significant now is that as the fringe blurs with the base, the Birchers are closer to the conservative movement mainstream than they have been in half a century. They were railing against the Federal Reserve long before Ron Paul’s “End the Fed” effort. The neo-isolationist movement has given new encouragement to U.S.-out-of-U.N. efforts. The 9/11 Truthers parrot longstanding Bircher claims about the sinister New World Order. With the fiscal crisis, more people are willing to listen to tales about colluding bankers trying to undermine capitalism.
Avlon goes too far in attempting to associate more mainstream conservatives with the crackpots—Glenn Beck’s prediction that America is heading towards socialism isn’t all that shocking, the latest example of Rep. Tom Tancredo’s “extremism” is bull, and as Donald Douglas also pointed out in December, “the only time people hear of the John Birch Society is when folks are dissing the right.”
However, that’s not to say there’s no fire under this hint of smoke. As Ryan explained, JBS is still mired in conspiratorial nonsense (“the U.S. had begun Operation Iraqi Freedom to enforce UN law as part of the conspiracy” to bring about a New World Order? Really?), and CPAC’s embrace of JBS shows, at best, a disturbing level of carelessness. Some Tea Partiers have circled the wagons around Texas gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina, rather than recoil at the stupidity of her proclaimed sympathy to 9/11 Trutherism. Skirmishes over Barack Obama’s birth certificate still flare up among prominent right-wingers. Even Sarah Palin endorsed Ron Paul’s son, despite the incompatibility of his foreign policy views with her own.
The truth is that conservatism has never been some monolithic, well-organized conspiracy, and the Tea Party movement even less so. Robert Stacy McCain was on to something when he said we should “get used to the idea that the conservative coalition of the future will be a loud, rowdy and unruly bunch, composed of diverse people with disparate beliefs.”
We’re never going to enforce full ideological purity movement-wide, or get everybody on their best behavior, and we shouldn’t obsess over the nuts, especially since we’re never going to get credit from the Left for doing so anyway. But sometimes the nuts threaten to seep into the mainstream, as it has in CPAC and the other examples above. In short, our primary goal should remain as standing up to the primary domestic danger to America—the Left—and our secondary goal should be keeping the fringe on the, well, fringe.