What'll We Do About the Town Hall Screamers? Part 2: The More Things Change...:
"Sometimes they are referred to as the 'radical Right.' But the fact is that there is nothing radical about them. They offer no novel solutions to the problems that plague them; indeed, they offer no solutions at all. They are immensely discontented with things as they are and furiously impatient with almost everyone in public office who can in any way be held responsible for their frustrations. But it cannot be said that they hold any clearly stated objectives or have any specific program either in common or individuals. They are fundamentally and temperamentally 'aginners.' And perhaps the commonest characteristic among them is anger. They can fairly be called, if nothing else, the Rampageous Right."
That's from Alan Barth, writing in the New York Times Magazine on November 26, 1961, talking about, among other things, the rise in conservative activist anger about discussions of starting Medicare. Barth continued that to this group of right wingers, "socialism is an epithet applied indiscriminately to almost any form of collective endeavor. Thus, any governmentally operated insurance program to provide medical care for the elderly is denounced as Socialist." To them, welfare and "even the progressive income tax are all looked upon as satanically inspired deviations from capitalism." Also driving this anger were groups like the John Birch Society (which still exists) talking about Communist infiltration into the civil rights movement and the Democratic Party, a trifecta of a conspiracy theory. Barth mentions how well-funded the groups were by wealthy donors and corporations.
And here's one more tidbit: "Most frenetic of the fanatics is the group calling itself the Minutemen...They have actually organized themselves into armed bands of civilian guerrillas." President John F. Kennedy didn't say he understood how they felt. He mocked such extremism for being idiotic.
If you can, read the whole article. So many of Barth's observations hold true for today.
Of course, like most of us, Barth was a bit too optimistic in his conclusions: "Genuine conservatives devoted to the nation's traditions, values and institutions will be reluctant to identify themselves with the extremists or to make common cause with them." He saw them losing power. And then Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964, and they never looked back.
The Rude Pundit promised a solution today to the town hall phenomenon, but, frankly, he needs to see it for himself. So he's off to Fairview, New Jersey to witness it. This is for Democratic Congressman Steve Rothman, who has faced down crying, yelling people already. Back later with a report and hopefully some audio.