The writers of The Daily Show, Colbert Report, and Saturday Night Live (although I’m not convinced they’ve even had writers lately) can have February 18-20, 2010, off. The hosts can handle it themselves. On those dates, the jokes will practically write themselves as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) takes place — co-sponsored by the John Birch Society. Every liberal commentator needs to send a thank-you note to CPAC’s organizers for that monumentally stupid decision.
By having the John Birch Society sponsor it, CPAC can guarantee that 90% of the coverage regarding the conference will relate to JBS’ oh-my-god-look-a-conspiracy attitude rather than the heavy-hitters and rising stars of conservatism and libertarianism that speak there. Instead of focusing on politics, reporters will ask attendees for their response to the JBS controversy and will ask organizers whether they are in such financial distress that they had to embrace a fringe group for support.
Here’s a little history on JBS for those of you that may not understand why this issue is going to overshadow any agenda pursued at the conference. The organization was founded in 1958 by Robert Welch, a businessman concerned about communist infiltration of the U.S. It is understandable why people would initially be drawn into his fold, given advances internationally by hostile communist powers and their intense espionage efforts in the West. However, Welch, apparently believing in the supreme competence of government, could not fathom that the U.S. government failed to halt such advances unless it secretly sympathized with the enemy’s success. A conspiracy theory that the European and American governments were secretly pursuing a socialist one-world government to merge our societies with that of the communists was born.
William F. Buckley Jr. was one of the most prominent critics of JBS, aware that its paranoia undermined efforts by the political right to give more attention to the menacing threat posed by the communists. Buckley wrote that Welch “said Dwight D. Eisenhower was a ‘dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy,’ and that the government of the United States was ‘under operational control of the Communist Party.’ It was, he said in the summer of 1961, ‘50-70 percent’ communist-controlled.”
Today, many decent people are still part of JBS, some of whom don’t fully accept its theories. They are anti-globalist, favor a U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations, are socially conservative, and want to dramatically reduce spending and the size of government. With the Republican Party viewed by many conservatives as having betrayed its principles, it’s not a surprise that a group would be embraced as long as it is upholding conservative ideals, even if it has some wacky theories.
JBS is also very aggressive in its recruiting efforts. I remember being 15 or 16 years old, and I had just published my first couple of articles on the Internet. As I did some research, I decided to try a trial subscription of The New American, which is owned by JBS. Very soon after, I was emailed and then visited by a representative of the organization trying pretty forcefully to sell me a full subscription and educate me about the new world order conspiracy. I was introduced to a myriad of organizations that acted as fronts for the new world order agents and shown how virtually everyone of significance in politics and the media was part of them. He boasted of the summer camps the group ran to educate youngsters in great things like the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and, of course, the manipulation carried out by the freedom-hating globalist forces. “Be leery of Bush and Cheney,” I was warned, due to the vice president’s membership in the Council on Foreign Relations. The conspiracy warned about by Welch still existed today, albeit in a more modern manifestation.
In 2002 and 2003, I read some free issues of The New American and couldn’t get past why, if the Bush administration was supposedly involved in this conspiracy, it would raise the ire of many of the world’s countries (also said to be involved in the NWO) by acting without UN approval in invading Iraq. I remember reading an article explaining that the U.S. had begun Operation Iraqi Freedom to enforce UN law as part of the conspiracy, not for national security reasons. Other articles entertained the idea that the American people had been deliberately misled to support the war.
Ironically, in warning about such conspiracies, JBS undermines a crucial argument of conservatism: that the government becomes far less competent as it grows. Think about it. Such theories require that both U.S. political parties, despite all their differences, unite for a choreographed effort to bring about a socialist new world order in concert with a host of other countries, political parties, and businessmen. Tens of thousands of people must be involved with complete devotion, with none defecting out of moral conviction, and all resisting the temptation to become rich and famous by exposing the conspiracy. Now, that’s competence! If they can pull that off, then government-run health care is a cinch!
The whole problem with JBS’ arguments is that big government is not flawlessly competent. Look at Katrina. Look at Iraq. A massive conspiracy on this order cannot be carried out without betrayal and leaks taking place. If governments like Iran and China, with all their brutality, can’t keep their secrets from getting out, how can a greater number of countries and powerful individuals and organizations with greater restraint on enforcing their secrecy pull it off?
The most concerning element of this development is the question of how much influence JBS will have over CPAC, an event whose importance in the conservative movement can’t be understated. Is this simply a reflection of the dissatisfaction of conservatives, willing to find just somebody to uphold small government? Is this a reflection of libertarians just looking for somebody to oppose overseas wars and the war on drugs, and push more radical policies than most conservatives are willing to consider?
CPAC has made a major PR mistake in forming this alliance with JBS. It won’t be long until the media puts all those taking part on the defensive, forcing the organizers to spend precious time explaining this move. From now on, when I hear the acronym “CPAC,” I won’t think “Conservative Political Action Conference.” I’ll think “Consciously Providing Ammo to Critics.”