I am confused by a recent post by John Batchelor on The Daily Beast. Batchelor derides White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for describing the President's very vocal detractors as descendants of Father Coughlin, John Birch Society members, and Richard Mellon Scaife. Batchelor says that Emanuel's claims are based on a misunderstanding of the modern conservative movement, but then backs his own claim up by citing three dead conservative leaders.
Here's what Rahm said:
"Father Coughlin called Roosevelt a socialist, the John Birch Society was created in reaction to Kennedy, Clinton has Scaife and others who went after him," Emanuel told The Washington Post for an article about the "right-wing noise machine." He continued, "And now they've come after Obama on Socialism and other things. This has always been a creed from those voices dealing with Democratic presidents. But yes, there's an intensity, given the time frame we're all under, that's different."
That, to me, says that President Obama, like Democratic presidents before him, faces loud rebukes from high-profile and politically extreme critics who hurl insults and conspiratorial charges. The difference today from years past is that we have a mounting urgency given two wars, a fragile economy, and rising competition from overseas that must be addressed immediately...oh, and we have the Internet, which amplifies voices like never before. Can anyone really argue with that?
Batchelor tries. He first launches into mini-histories of each of the character Emanuel mentions and confirms that they were, as Rahm implies, nutters.
Coughlin's tirades became ever more incoherent as he railed against both Wall Street and Communism. Coughlin was neither a Republican nor a conservative at any moment of FDR's presidency, nor is there evidence he spent a moment of his life as other than an obedient parish priest.
On the Birchers:
Did the Birchers oppose JFK? Kennedy was well down on [founder, Robert] Welch's list, since Welch defamed presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower as Soviet agents and named Milton Eisenhower as the president's superior in Moscow's secret chain of command in America. Welch did run unsuccessfully for Congress as Republican in 1950, and supported Robert Taft at the 1952 Republican convention, and later admired Joseph McCarthy.
So, Rahm may have been off in stating that the John Birch Society was founded in reaction to Kennedy's presidency, but there's little question that its ranks swelled during that administration and that it's anti-communist zeal turned its focus on Kennedy as some sort of Manchurian Candidate.
There is no record of Scaife having stable partisan beliefs other his funding of a hatchery of Clinton-bashers that produced the vile theory that Bill and Hillary Clinton were responsible for suicide Vincent Foster's death.
Ok...But then Batchelor tries to scold Emanuel for obscuring the point of conservative criticism of the president by focusing on these past extremist.
Adding these three bizarre examples of the right-wing opposition together produces a reluctant verdict that the President's right-hand political adviser, the man responsible for organizing the responses to the daily criticism of the Obama administration policies, is ignorant of both the Republican Party and modern conservatism.
And who does he cite as the founders of this "modern" conservative movement?
Edmund Burke (1729-1797) – Dead 212 years
Whittaker Chambers (1901-1961) Dead 48 years
James Burnham (1905-1987) Dead 22 years
William Buckley (1925-2008) Dead 1 year
Nevermind the point that Rahm was making (that the loudest, craziest voices get the most attention—as they always have), but Batchelor basically confirms that there is no serious, modern conservative movement. Even if we only focus on Buckley, while alive and contributing to the argument, his influence had clearly been dwarfed by the voices of haters like Rush Limbaugh and political opportunists like Rick Santorum. William F. Buckely's days as the leading voice of modern conservatism are at least 20 years behind us.
So, while Batchelor would like to give Emanuel an F for his historical understanding of modern conservatism, I am afraid we have to give Mr. Batchelor an Incomplete for the course as a whole.