It Was Nice While It Lasted: Self-Appointed Conservative Gatekeepers Begin Their Purge
It remains to be seen just how populist the Tea Party Movement really is. Will it survive as an independent movement that brings together diverse Americans in order to fight the expansion of government and make sure that American political leaders take practical steps to limit government, cut spending, and preserve constitutional principles when in power? Or will it just become a faux rebellion, which is eventually co-opted by the Republican Party and the conservative intellectual elite, who will geld it and use it merely to win a few elections?
This is an important question to ask, for this past week, the conservative elite and their fellow gatekeepers in the conservative media have begun the long-expected crackdown on Tea Party democracy and freedom of speech and thought that is at the heart of the movement. More specifically, the subjects of the purge are elements associated with the Tea Party Movement that Republican and conservative opinion-makers are uncomfortable with. The “Birthers”, Ron Paul and Rand Paul supporters, insurgent Tea Party candidates who have threatened establishment Republican candidates for elected office, Sarah Palin, and even the Family Research Council have all been subject to a recent flurry of attacks from the mainstream conservative movement. And surprisingly, the attacks have been executed utilizing the typical ad hominem smear preferred by the Trotkyist Left when it attempts to discredit anyone who opposes them.
The attacks are having their effect. Although it has went largely unreported, this Rasmussen Poll, taken a day after the first Tea Party Convention ended in Nashville, shows that the popularity of the Tea Party is on the wane. Where just a few months ago the Tea Party candidate beat the Republican in the same generic poll, it now comes in third. Also,the poll shows that many unaffiliated voters are moving away from the Tea Party, while others are beginning to file back into the Republican Party.
The poll shows that while in December, 33% of unaffiliated voters supported the Tea Party, only 23% do now. It also shows that while 33% of GOP voters supported a Tea Party candidate in December, only 23% do now. I have no doubt that the conflict over the “birther” issue, attacks on Tom Tancredo, Sarah Palin, and Joseph Farah-the most important speakers at the Tea Party Convention- are having their effect.
People who have been around the conservative movement for a while know that purges have always been a part of it. Perhaps the most famous of the conservative purges was the one conducted by William F. Buckley against the John Birch Society in the early 1960s. As Buckley admitted in this column, the marginalization of the anti-Communist JBS was a planned and coordinated strategy that would leave the popular group ravaged by consistent ad hominem smears targeting its leader, Robert Welch.
The plan was intended to give Barry Goldwater the ability to separate himself from some of the “wild” ideas of the JBS, without necessarily separating himself from the JBS altogether. Goldwater needed to do this because he understood that most of his financial support came directly from JBS members in Arizona, and for him to be part of a purge eliminating the group from mainstream conservative politics would most likely have been the end of his political career and his as yet unannounced run for the presidency in 1964.
In an amazing meeting that took place in Palm Beach, Florida in 1962, a small group of conservative intellectuals and opinion-makers got together to frame the plot. As Buckley recounts, the meeting that included himself, Goldwater, writer Russell Kirk, National Review’s Washington editor Brent Bozell (whose son now runs the invaluable Media Research Center), and head of the American Enterprise Institute William Baroody, would use the credibility of the National Review to expose Welch’s “operative fallacy” which was that recent losses to world Communism meant that Communists controlled a significant part of the U.S. government. Or, as put more simply by Russell Kirk: “Me? I’ll just say, if anybody gets around to asking me, that the guy is loony and should be put away.”
History repeats itself, and for anyone who observes the conservative blogosphere consistently could have ascertained a few weeks ago, the purge of the Tea Party Movement was coming. The first evidence of it was visible when on February 2 David Horowitz’ Newsreal blog, ran a piece attacking Sarah Palin and suggesting in another that her political career may be over. Apparently, they were infuriated that Gov. Palin endorsed Rand Paul in the Republican primary for Kentucky U.S. Senate. Writers at Newsreal seemed primarily upset that Palin endorsed Paul because they believe he may not be a strong supporter of Israel.
Rand Paul has expressed opposition to the Patriot Act, has supported the cutting of military spending, has endorsed the shutting down of GITMO and has called for the banning of harsh interrogation of Muslim terrorists. His father (“the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” theory), Ron Paul, wants to end all foreign aid to Israel and see the United States sever its alliance with Israel. He has gone so far as to denounce the pro-Israel lobby on Capitol Hill, but NOT the Saudi lobby. The elder Paul is a staunch critic of military action against Iran.Palin has just cast her political star in a potentially career-killing direction. I was never a big fan but now I’m definitely no fan at all.
Unrelated to the politics of the Tea Party, but also at Newsreal, there has been a growing campaign to discredit and marginalize the premiere research and advocacy group for social conservatism: The Family Research Council. In this article, Newsreal believes that the the FRC should be condemned and forever exiled from serious conservative circles because one of its spokesmen, Peter Sprigg, admitted to Chris Matthews, on his MSNBC show Hardball, that he thinks “there would be a place for criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior. ” One of Newsreal’s bloggers, Calvin Freiberger, flew off the handle at this and wrote:
I have already expressed why Sprigg’s remarks are morally indefensible. But apparently more needs to be said about the tremendous damage his remarks—and subsequent silence from the Right—will do both to the conservative movement and to the cause of traditional marriage.
First, Sprigg has all-but destroyed the credibility of the Family Research Council, which has until now been one of social conservatives’ most valuable allies, providing sharp analysis, research and commentary on the right to life, civil marriage, religious liberty, the judiciary, education, and more. I have used and promoted FRC material for years, and I’m certainly not the only one.
From now on, every FRC press release, study, and media appearance will be labeled as coming from “that group who wants to throw gays in jail,” and dismissed as the biased work of bigots. Everybody who continues to rely on FRC material will face similar attacks. And unlike the Left’s usual slander routine, this one will be rooted in truth—FRC’s Senior Fellow for Policy Studies really said it, and FRC has done nothing to distance themselves from him or his sentiments.
Of course, it’s not just those with discernible ties to FRC that have been endangered. Indeed, anybody who expresses legitimate concerns over same-sex marriage and other societal issues pertaining to homosexuality should expect to be tarred as a fellow traveler of Sprigg’s sooner or later.
It is interesting that Freiberger believes himself the arbiter of conservative legitimacy. So much so, that he feels it necessary to proclaim the death of the FRC, a group that has been around since 1983 and one of the only research/policy organizations dedicated primarily to social (as opposed to political or economic) conservatism in the country. Now, I am not saying that Newsreal Blog has a John Birch Society-like attack plan for the Tea Parties or FRC, but it is a blog that seems to devote a larger proportion of its time to pronouncing the acceptable “party line” for conservatives, who is in and who is out, than most other blogs. It was Newsreal, for instance, that was first amongst conservatives to come out against the “Birthers” even while a number of congressmen were trying to move an eligibility bill through Congress.
Newsreal is not the only self-appointed arbiter of acceptable conservative opinion. Many people have been upset that Glenn Beck single-handedly destroyed the candidacy of the preferred Tea Party candidate for the Governor of Texas, Debra Medina, last week. For those who haven’t heard the story, Glenn Beck was interviewing Debra Medina, a candidate for Texas Governor, who had recently been surging in the polls, pulling even with Kay Bailey Hutchison. Near the end of the interview, Beck asked Medina whether she believed that “the government had anything to do with 9/11.” Medina answered that she was not taking a position on the issue, but felt that most people have not been given all the information on the issue.
When this story came to light, Medina was universally calumniated in the mainstream conservative blogosphere and her candidacy written off. However, what is significant, is the number of comments and other conservative blogs that defended Medina, while not necessarily embracing the 9/11 Truth question.
At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey explained that if conservatives wanted Van Jones to resign from his job atb the White House because he was a 9/11 Truther, it would be hypocritical for conservatives to support Medina. However, many of the commenters to that post (in what was one of the most commented on posts at Hot Air this month) responded in this way:
Is this the Republican Purity Test Now?
How utterly ludicrous. The GOP is a joke. Trying to smear Medina based on this will backfire, fools. The American people are as sick of Republicans as they are of Democrats. It’s about trust in government, not “trutherism.” Medina should have restated Beck’s pathetic line of questioning as an issue of “trust in government” writ large; she didn’t, that was her mistake.
But, to make Beck’s questioning the test of purity for “conservatives” ONLY TRIVIALIZES CONSERVATIVES.
We have serious problems in this country, but what do conservatives do? Smear a candidate based their 9/11 “purity test.” It’s is the most PATHETIC, base and ill-advised smear tactic evah!
This also seems to be the response of many Texans who support Medina:
It is also interesting to note the immediate response of callers to Glenn Beck’s own radio show, many who expressed their belief that Beck was intentionally trying to hijack her campaign:
Along with the attacks on most of the main speakers of the Tea Party Convention last week in Nashville, I hope that I provided enough evidence here in order to prove that the mainstream conservative movement is attempting to hijack and define the not only the Tea Party Movement itself, but conservative opinion altogether. They are doing this, unfortunately, under the auspices of the Neo-Cons in order to end the debate on foreign intervention, auditing the Federal Reserve, Obama’s birth certificate, and a number of other legitimate and reasonable issues expressed by the Tea Party crowd.
The litmus test is coming. Those who do not want the resistance to Obama to be hijacked by the Republicans or even the mainstream conservative movement, must realize that if they resist they will continue to be slandered and smeared by those they once trusted and believed in: like Glenn Beck.
The point isn’t that Beck is wrong; the point is that a real social movement must be left to sort itself out in order to to be effective. Once it is taken over by the establishment and its core values are determined by the self-anointed whose agendas are not transparent, it will become a servant of a master it does not really know. And that way lies distrust, disunion, and eventually, the end of the movement.