Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tea Party’s cold war roots

Glenn Beck – huge on the American right

Another must-listen from NPR’s Fresh Air (that’s American National Public Radio).  An interview on 13th October with Historian Sean Wilentz.

He had an article in The New Yorker on Oct 18th: “Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party’s Cold War roots.”

He tries to answer the question, why have extremist ideas held at bay for decades inside the Republican Party exploded anew?   And why, this time, have party leaders done virtually nothing to challenge those ideas, and a great deal to abet them?

Glenn Beck the educator

You can't hear about the Tea Party without Glenn Beck’s name being mentioned. He is a Fox News host. In the interview Wilentz says Beck has emerged as a unifying figure and intellectual guide for the Tea Party movement.  Polls of Tea Party members show they respect Beck more than anyone else, even Sarah Palin, and that they consider him not as an entertainer
but as an educator.  (Rush Limbaugh in the same poll came out as an entertainer - that's the radio talk show host who is hugely influential as a conservative political commentator and opinion leader.

Beck presents himself as a truthful historian, in contrast to all the academic historians who are conspiring to hide the truth from the American people.  His bugbear is President Woodrow Wilson (the brains behind the League of Nations).  He claims Wilson was a fascist and cites the following as evidence. In Wilson’s presidency a dime coin was minted depicting war and peace. Peace was an olive branch. War was a bundle of sticks (a Roman symbol known as a fasces.) Later, Mussolini made the fasces the symbol of the Italian fascists. But Beck reversed the order of events and says  'Aha! Who brought the dime in? It was Woodrow Wilson. We've been on the road to fascism for a long time.'

“I started watching Fox News and getting more informed”

Fox News is huge in America and is a megaphone for the Tea Party. On October 14th NPR broadcast interviews with rank and file Tea Partiers to enable them to explain what makes them boil.  Retired financial services worker Shelby Burnett says : "I was unaware of what was going on around me until I retired.  And we started watching Fox News, and getting more informed on what was going on in our nation ..  We were asleep." 

Back to the Sean Wilentz interview on Fresh Air.  He describes the John Birch Society founded in 1958.  This is often mentioned in the same breath as the Tea Party, though I knew little about it. It sprang from the same root as McCarthyism. Robert Welch founded it, and seems to have run it like a dictatorship.  He saw the country as having been taken over by totalitarians, by the communists.  He said Dwight D Eisenhower was part of a communist conspiracy against America.  Wilentz says the Tea Party is reviving the John Birch Society’s ideas. Now Obama is a fascist. Or it is communist.  Can they tell the difference.

Do listen to this interview. 

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