From Birchers to Birthers?

An excerpt from Heather Hendershot‘s new book, What’s Fair on the Air:  Cold War Right-Wing Broadcasting and the Public Interest (Chicago, 2011). 

Hendershot, a professor at Queens College and CUNY Graduate Center, will be reading from What’s Fair TONIGHT, Friday, September 23 at 5 pm at the NYU Bookstore.  Our founding editor, Jeff Sharlet, will be there to talk with Hendershot about her book.  Click here for more details.

Two recurring arguments of this book have been that the broadcast ultras were the embarrassing nuts who had to be left behind for a more legitimate and effective conservative movement to emerge in the 1970s and ’80s, and that contemporary conservatives, while sharing some of the anxieties and presumptions voiced by the cold war extremist broadcasters, are generally much better at couching right-wing ideas in more moderate-sounding rhetoric. The first claim would be hard to deny, but the latter contention may seem a bit more open to debate, especially in the wake of the election of President Obama in 2008 and the ensuing rise of “Tea Party” conservatives in 2009. The Tea Party, a most immoderate (and certainly not unified) group, initially grabbed headlines by marching with picket signs portraying President Obama as Hitler (or the Joker, or a Muslim), calling for a new American “revolation,” and decrying abortion as an American “Hollowcost.”

Angry, white, and mostly male and over forty-five years old, this group—egregious spelling errors aside—has somewhat higher education and income levels than the average American. Tea Party supporters are adamantly opposed to government bailouts specifically, and federal spending in general, although by hollering things like “keep your government hands off my Medicare check!” they sometimes reveal a shallow understanding of what federal spending actually encompasses. There are, of course, also people involved in this grassroots uprising who know how to organize, strategize, and fundraise. This new movement is no laughing matter: it is potentially a powerful force to be reckoned with. Continue Reading →