The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
    Michael Wolraich's picture

    Persecution Politics: Civil War Rages in the G.O.P., but Watch Out What You Wish For

    In the wake of resignations by Democratic Senators Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan, Democrats may be taking some shortsighted solace in the prospect of a brewing conservative civil war between the Republican Party establishment and the revolting Teabaggers, no pun intended. The differences between the warring camps are not ideological - the G.O.P. long ago purged its dissenting moderates - but attitudinal. The Teabaggers have embraced a paranoid worldview according to which they suspect President Obama, House Speaker Pelosi, and assorted White House bureaucrats (the so-called "czars") of a secret plot to destroy the country, or as Teabag-hero Glenn Beck has put it, "feast on the Republic." The paranoia has led them to vilify any Republicans who express doctrinal flexibility or willingness to compromise with Democrats.

    Dale Robertson, one of the founding baggers, recently growled to the Republican Party, "We are turning our guns on anyone who doesn't support constitutional conservative candidates." The latest victim of Teabagger gunplay is Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer, an ally of moderate Gov. Charlie Christ. Teabaggers, who have vowed to block Christ's 2010 Senate campaign, reportedly orchestrated Greer's resignation. On his way out, Greer lambasted the "destructive behavior" of those who have been "tearing and shredding the fabric of the Republican Party to pieces." Jim Greer, incidentally, is the same voice of moderation who promoted the conspiracy theory about Obama's back-to-school speech last September:

    As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology…President Obama has turned to American's children to spread his liberal lies, indoctrinating American's youngest children before they have a chance to decide for themselves.

    The intraparty conflict may help the Democrats this fall, blunting the effect of Dodd and Dorgan's resignations and the negative impact that a weak economy typically imposes on the incumbent party. Last November, a special election in New York's 23rd congressional district offered a sample of what is to come. Teabaggers supported Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, a devotee of Glenn Beck, in his challenge to moderate Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava. After Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh endorsed Hoffman, Scozzafava dropped out of the race and threw her support to Democrat Bill Owens, who narrowly won the election in this heavily Republican district. "Tea Party Patriots" hoping to emulate Hoffman are already running campaigns in Virginia, Alabama, and Pennsylvania.

    But self-satisfied Democrats would do well to study their political history. The Teabagger revolt is only the latest battle in a long-running G.O.P. struggle that has wrenched the party and the nation ever rightward. In 1976, the liberal conspiracy du jour was not a cabal of government "czars" but a plot by "secular humanists" in the government and the schools to destroy Christianity. To thwart the plot, Rep. John Conlan (R-AZ) introduced an amendment prohibiting federal funds for educational programs "involving any aspect of the religion of secular humanism." It passed the House but failed in the Senate. One of the legislators who voted against it was Rep. John Anderson (R-IL),  an evangelical who had once introduced a constitutional amendment to "recognize the law and authority of Jesus Christ" over the United States. Anderson had been a favorite of the burgeoning religious right movement, but his vote against the attack on secular humanism enraged them. As one columnist wrote at the time:

    Trust the zany right-wingers to work themselves into a perfect lather because Anderson voted against Washington issuing an unintelligible decree to local schools.

    In consequence of Anderson's betrayal, the right backed a fundamentalist minister named Donald Lyon in the 1978 primaries. Anderson squeaked out a victory but sought to escape his conservative district by running for president in 1980. He lost the primary to Ronald Reagan and then ran as an independent, winning 7% of the vote. He may have peeled off more Carter supporters then he did Reagan supporters.

    The 1978 column about the "zany right-wingers" observed that "the Republican 'left' has been shrinking even faster than the party itself has been. Today, the GOP is a conservative party, with...more ideological uniformity than any major American party has had in this century."

    The name of the columnist: George Will.

    Today, Will has been supplanted as a leading conservative commentator by the proud "journalists" of FOX News. And the "ideological uniformity" of 1978 Republicans - many of whom shunned cultural issues like abortion and school prayer - seems like a tepid foreshadowing of today's right-wing Republican Party. Let us hope that we never reach the day when statements by FOX commentators about the power of the right wing seem like anachronistic throwbacks to the liberal days of 2010.



    some fascinating history lessons here. i find it hard to believe the teabaggers will spoil the Repubs chance for taking back Congress this fall. they may have the will to do so in the name of ideological purity - i i just dont think they have the power or numbers yet. but here's hoping theyre successful in their quixotean crusade.

    btw, i know my parents voted for anderson in the 80 election - which is a bit of a surprise given you call him an evangelical - i do find it tough to believe he was trying to escape his conservative district by running for president as an independent (talk about an odd path for escape - a longshot presidential campaign!).

    Will's column was titled "Illinois Republican Looking For Way Out." You can read it here.

    In those days, "evangelical" and "Republican" were not synonymous. Jimmy Carter was an evangelical. And Anderson was fairly liberal, especially by today's standards, so it's not that surprising that your parents voted for him. I distinctly remember being angry at Anderson--in a precocious 9-year-old kind of way--for hurting Carter's chances by running as an independent. But I remember him being a Democrat and was surprised to recently discover that he was a Republican, so take that with a grain of salt. For the record, Reagan would have won even if Anderson hadn't run.

    1. You said "Teabag gunplay." Bravo. 2. A buddy of mine who lives in Germany says that the conservatives there are not religious wackos who don't believe in evolution. He says by them not being dogmatic intolerant arses they actually bring something to the table to debate. Crazy.

    The most prominent conservative group I'm aware of in Germany isn't made of religious wackos, but it does have much more than its fair share of racist wackos. I think that's even worse.

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