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Are Conservatives Any Crazier Today Than 50 Years Ago?

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Rick Perlstein suggests not in an excellent essay placing today’s wingnuts in context. A choice passage:

Over fifteen years of studying the American right professionally — especially in their communications with each other, in their own memos and media since the 1950s — I have yet to find a truly novel development, a real innovation, in far-right “thought.” Right-wing radio hosts fingering liberal billionaires like George Soros, who use their gigantic fortunes – built by virtue of private enterprise under the Constitution – out to “socialize” the United States? 1954: Here’s a right-wing radio host fingering “gigantic fortunes, built by virtue of private enterprise under the Constitution … being used to ‘socialize’ the United States.” Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, “fed up with elitist judges” arrogantly imposing their “radically un-American views” — including judges on the Supreme Court, whose rulings he’s pledged to defy? 1958: Nine Men Against America: The Supreme Court and its Attack on American Liberties, still on sale at sovereignstates.org.

Only the names of the ogres have changed — although sometimes they haven’t. Dr. Noebel’s latest project is to republish a volume he apparently finds freshly relevant, Dr. Fred Schwarz’s You Can Trust the Communists: To be Communists. Schwarz, an Australian physician who died three years ago, had his heyday in the early 1960s, when he would fill municipal auditoriums preaching his favorite gospel: that the Kremlin dominated its subjects by deploying “the techniques of animal husbandry,” and harbored “plans for a flag of the USSR flying over every American city by 1973.” The new version, updated by Noebel – it comes with raves from grateful Amazon.com reviews, like this: “Just as important as it was 50 years ago”; and this: “Should be required reading for every American,” and “This book made me a conservative” – is titled You Can Still Trust the Communists: To be Communists, Socialists, Statists, and Progressives Too.

This is fundamentally true. The difference between 2012 and 1962 isn’t that conservatives are crazier, it’s that liberals are far weaker and thus it is much harder to fight back. Perlstein also pushes back against the idea developed by people like Jonathan Chait that the demographics suggest a more liberal future, suggesting that this is just another argument liberals have made for a half-century without it ever really happening.

The upshot: We have to prepare for a decades-long fight to the death. That’s the nation’s only hope.

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