Aren’t They All Dead?
When I talk about my experiences inside the John Birch Society, people often tell me, quite emphatically, that the Birch Society has absolutely no influence contemporary politics. Republicans, in particular, can be really hostile when I suggest that GOP Senators, Representatives, and Governors sound very John Birch.
“No way,” they say, “Birchers are all dead, aren’t they?”
I try very hard to burst their bubble. I remind them that they have a very, very right-wing (I would say radical) majority in the House. The Senate has their own group of right-wingers on the GOP side of the aisle. The proof of their radical views is not hard to find. In fact, they’ve embraced so many John Birch policy ideas, I can hardly keep count.
Birch Ideas Embraced by the GOP
I’ve written extensively about the John Birch Society policy ideas that are now mainstream talking points for the Republican Party. Here are a few that define today’s right-wing GOP:
- Tax cuts and more tax cuts: everything will be perfect when government revenue is cut.
- The IRS is unconstitutional. All they do is rob the people of what they earn.
- Progressive legislation is socialism. It must be repealed if we want to be free.
- The right to bear arms is essential to protecting all of our other rights.
- Guns are the ultimate defense against a tyrannical central government.
- Abortion is wrong in all circumstances. Roe v Wade must be overturned.
- Public (government) schools brainwash children.
- Labor unions hurt workers and the economy by forcing employers to pay high wages for little work.
- Climate change is a hoax.
- The United States is a Christian nation.
- Most government programs should be given to the states to administer or privatized entirely.
- The free market works without government interference or regulation
Government Assistance Makes Poor People Lazy
In the last few election cycles, the Republican candidates have proposed dramatic cuts to programs that help poor people. Legislation to slash food stamps and reduce unemployment compensation, and reduce Medicaid has passed the House in each of the last few sessions. Paul Ryan has declared his own version of a “War on Poverty” which worries that assistance programs become hammocks that keeps able-bodied people from working enough to climb out of poverty.
Ryan embodies the principles that dominate Republican understanding of poverty:
- Poor people create their poverty by being lazy, uneducated, and morally irresponsible.
- Poor people will have more money when wealthy people have more money. Trickle down, as usual.
- Government programs don’t really work. Block-granting programs to the states and/or privatizing services are more efficient.
Ryan, and his GOP allies, insist that government programs have failed to move people out of poverty. But, they ignore the fact that they opposed, blocked, or refused to even consider the vast majority of legislation that would have increased assistance, created jobs, improved educational opportunity, and reduced childcare cost.
Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, sounds like a good Republican
Welch, who wrote extensively about American history (his version of it), heralded the turn of the 20th century (1900s) as the golden days of the United States.
He was delighted that in those great years, the US had not been poisoned by the abominations of the New Deal. Businesses could do as they pleased without those pesky labor unions or minimum wage laws. No one had ever heard of pollution, women’s rights or civil rights. And, best of all, the government was tiny and no one paid those dreaded income taxes.
Listen to Welch’s description of the first decade of the 1900s. “The spirit of growth, of adventure, and of opportunity permeated the very atmosphere which everybody breathed,” he wrote. He went on:
“There was still plenty of poverty in many areas, of course. But it was a HEALTHY KIND OF POVERTY, where every man took for granted that relief from dire want was entirely his own problem and responsibility. . .. And even the poverty was thus offset by the enormous blessing of freedom.” (John Birch Society Bulletin, July 1976).
The GOP Parrots Welch
Robert Welch called Social Security “a gigantic embezzlement.” His words are echoed today by such anti-social security men as Charles and David Koch, Rick Perry (GOP governor of Texas), Ron Paul (Libertarian darling and former GOP congressman from Texas). A whole gang of Republicans dream of privatizing Social Security–making the bankers happy and leaving Americans at the whim of Wall Street. As usual, the right-wing of the GOP is now parroting the views of Robert Welch and the John Birch Society.
In 1964, Robert Welch wrote about the necessities of life. “While food, shelter and clothing are necessities for an individual in a civilized community, the guarantee that he will always have them is not.”
Pay attention to drumbeat against assistance for those in need and you’ll hear Robert Welch. He’s Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump. Of course, these men will never need food stamps or unemployment compensation. They are, like most of our politicians, financially prosperous.
And, let’s not forget, these men take home big salaries and enjoy the best benefit package available. Some of these anti-government guys have spent most of their career working in the government.
Today’s GOPers are hell-bent on returning us to those glorious days when healthy poverty was everywhere and the government had no authority to do anything. In those halcyon days, the rich ruled and everyone else scratched whatever living they could.
Make no mistake: today’s Republicans are as radical as the John Birch Society and even more dangerous. This time around they have media support and corporate money–lots of it.
Find out more about poverty in the US and the way politicians talk about the problem . . .
Dave Johnson dives into GOP ideas to ease poverty. But, will they work? Check out his article here.
Coalition Against Hunger dispels myths about food stamps.
Joan Walsh looks at the GOP opposition to labor laws in her article “The Right’s Crusade Against Overtime Pay.”
Jane Mayer looks at the Kochs, their John Birch Society ties, and the right-wing opposition to minimum wage, unions, and labor laws. Plus, much more in this interesting New Yorker article that became the basis for her subsequent Koch Brother reporting and her new book, Dark Money.