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The Urge to Purge Solves Nothing

Many prominent young bloggers say its time conservatives altered their fortunes and cast off those intellectual dead weights who stir up irrational fear. Time to throw off those whose intellectual bankruptcy has left the conservative movement with no credibility in the eyes of the American people.

No, they’re not calling for the removal of those writers and political leaders who told us that if we didn’t give the Treasury $700 billion to distribute to corporate America, the world as we know it would end, thus undermining free-market economics. Rather, the talk from young political guns Patrick Ruffini and Jon Henke has been about the need to purge WorldNetDaily’s Joseph Farah and the birthers. Ruffini called for the conservatives to bend it like William Buckley, who famously purged the John Birch Society from the conservative movement. Ruffini even calls for a return of “Buckleyite elite,” which will come after conservatives take the necessary steps to expel from their midst the rabble that believe in nutty conspiracies.

I’ve mixed feelings on Mr. Farah, and questioning the president’s country of origin is a waste of time. However, the calls for “purges” are wrongheaded for several reasons.

First is the issue of practicality. Mr. Buckley detailed his experience with the John Birch Society in an article for Commentary in 2008. Of his excoriation of John Birch Society founder Robert Welch, Buckley wrote of conservatives who gathered in Palm Beach to  plan a coordinated response to Welch’s kookiness: “The wound we Palm Beach plotters delivered to the John Birch Society proved fatal over time.”

One has to define “fatal” and “over time” quite loosely to say that his attack on the John Birch Society succeeded. In 1983 (twenty-one years after Buckley’s article), Congressman Lawrence McDonald (D-GA) became president of the John Birch Society. That a member of Congress was not only a member but the president of the organization suggests Buckley wasn’t nearly as successful as he thought. Indeed, the John Birch Society exists to this day.

True, it’s not as socially acceptable to be a member of the John Birch Society, but several Birch-like groups have come and gone over the years. The goal of purging all things perceived to be nutty is as impractical now as it was forty-seven years ago, if not more so in the age of the Internet.

Second is the question: who gets to define what the fringe is? Morton Blackwell writes: “Conservatives make a great mistake if they think: I’m as conservative as one can be and still be responsible. Anyone to the right of me is to that extent irresponsible.”

The question is not whether a political fringe exists, but what behavior and beliefs it constitutes. In a society where women wear floor-length skirts, a woman in an ankle-length skirt will be deemed inordinately immodest. As we define up what standards make people acceptable political allies, we find the fringe constantly defined to apply to more conservatives, particularly if we buy the left’s definition. Opponents of same-sex marriage are “homobigots,” opponents of abortion on demand are “anti-choice zealots,” and anyone who doesn’t believe in open borders and unlimited immigration is a “xenophobe.” Go down this road and pretty soon we’ll all be extremists.

Most importantly, “purges” are not the key to winning national elections. In his remembrance, Buckley wrote that, following the 1962 purge, “Barry Goldwater did not win the presidency.” This is akin to saying, “Custer didn’t do well at Little Big Horn.” Goldwater was obliterated by a 61-39 percent margin.

One can’t say Goldwater’s condemnation of the president of the John Birch Society hurt his campaign, but it didn’t help. The key lesson is that conservatives don’t win support by condemning folks seen as fringe. Not a single change in party rule has been brought about by the party condemning those considered to be on the fringe. The Americans understand that both parties have a fringe. They only become concerned when such people get into positions of prominence.

Undoubtedly, some statements and positions cross a line. This past week, I took Idaho gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell to task for a joke about hunting down the president. Joking about harming the president of the United States is unacceptable. Racism and intentionally trying to incite violence also should be condemned.

However, one need not be a racist to question President Obama’s birth story. I don’t doubt President Obama’s citizenship, but I do wonder why he has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to avoid disclosing his long form birth certificate on a technicality rather than providing it and putting the matter to rest. The first president to have political opponents raise questions about his citizenship was Chester Arthur, and Mr. Arthur was most definitely white. This time around, Alan Keyes, an African American, is one of Obama’s chief critics on the birth certificate issue.

Erstwhile Buckley wannabes imagine that if only people didn’t ask embarrassing questions, we could have a conservative intellectual utopia. The reality is the intellectuals and the fringe exist on both sides of the political spectrum. Sometimes both are wrapped up in the same person. Dr. Thomas Sowell is undeniably an intellectual, with degrees from Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago, as well as being a defender of free market economics. However, on Rush Limbaugh’s program, with guest host Walter Williams, regarding President Obama’s speech to schoolchildren, Sowell said: “All the dictators want to get their hands on the kids. They get them early on — Stalin, Hitler, Castro, you name them.”

Sowell’s an intellectual, but the purgers would place his statements on the radical extreme end that must be isolated along with WorldNetDaily. However, paranoid nuts aren’t the only ones worried about this administration. With President Obama’s radical past and involvement with Jeremiah Wright, ACORN, other far left outfits, and his various racial statements, there’s enough reason to be concerned that Obama holds the office of the presidency. Add to this his decision to appoint an unprecedented number of unaccountable czars, his enormous ego, and willingness to accept praise as a demigod, and we’ve got a combination that’s proven deadly the world over.

I’m less disturbed by Glenn Beck’s paranoia than I am by those who, like an eighteen-year-old who thinks he’ll live forever, view the republic as an unsinkable ship that faces no threat other than an al-Qaeda dirty bomb. They ignore world history from Caesar to Hugo Chavez and imagine any fears of America losing its freedom from within to be unprecedented paranoia.

It is far more healthy to view government with suspicion than to assume each action innocuous. There’s nothing more traditionally American than distrusting the government. If our Founders had not distrusted the government, they would have welcomed the taxed British East India tea (because it was actually less expensive than what they paid for tea at the time) and not tossed the tea into Boston Harbor. However, the Founders understood the issue was not the price of the tea, but the ability of the British government to tax the colonies without representation. Similarly, the concerns of anti-federalists about the federal government overstepping its bounds led to the passage of the Bill of Rights.

Those who fear this administration undermining our republic are not rabble to be thrown under the bus. Rather, they are part of a healthy political ecosystem. This doesn’t mean they’re always right or that their skepticism can’t go too far, but it does mean their voices should not be shushed to comfort the political establishment.

World history chronicles how great civilizations lost their freedom because of a lack of vigilance against government encroachment. In the history of mankind, there is no record of a people losing their liberty because not enough of them trusted their government.