In his history of National Review, former NR senior editor Jeffrey Hart notes one consequence of the 1964 election at the magazine. “The odor of the John Birch Society had been so strong and so intolerable, and so damaging to Goldwater,” Hart recalls, “that National Review decided that for the future of American conservatism, decisive distance had to be laid down irrevocably between the magazine and the society.”
That distance had originally been marked off in a 1962 editorial, “but that had not been enough. The distinction would now have to be made, once and for all, between a viable conservatism and the fantastic theories that energized the leadership of the JBS.” Among the JBS’s “fantastic theories” was the proposition that Dwight Eisenhower had been a Communist agent.
NR sought to separate the JBS from the conservative movement with a “root-and-branch attack” in October 1965. That month NR published a special section of the magazine denouncing the JBS in contributions by Buckley as well as NR senior editors James Burnham and Frank Meyer, along with endorsement letters by leading conservative figures including Goldwater himself. Hart describes the opening of the special section (“The Background”) as “an act of war” that “takes no prisoners.”
Bill Buckley provided his own account of related events in Flying High: Remembering Barry Goldwater, excerpted here by Commentary. The JBS responded in its inimitable style here.
The annual Conservative Political Action Conference is a great event attended by just about everybody who is anybody in the conservative movement. It also attracts a lot of college students who aspire to make a contribution to the movement.
ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that this year’s CPAC event was co-sponsored, unbelievably to me, by the John Birch Society. Karl quotes some of Buckley’s characteristically vibrant denunciations of the JBS. “Two years after Buckley’s death,” Karl observes, “the John Birch Society is no longer banished; it is listed as one of about 100 co-sponsors of the 2010 CPAC.”
Karl reasonably asks: “Why is the Birch Society a co-sponsor?”
“They’re a conservative organization,” according to Lisa Depasquale, the CPAC Director for the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC. “Beyond that,” she told Karl, “I have no comment.”
Additional comment is required, and if Depasquale will not provide it, I will. This is a disgrace.
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