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It is time to get very afraid: Extremists, authoritarians now run the GOP — and no one can stop them

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tags: GOP, Boehner, McConnell



Heather Cox Richardson is the author of "To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party," amongst several other books, and a professor of history at Boston College.

Movement Conservatives just claimed the head of House Speaker John Boehner. His political death was the price of preventing a catastrophic government shutdown after Movement Conservatives in Congress tied the very survival of the United States government to their determination to defund Planned Parenthood. Movement Conservatives are gunning for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell next. We should be very afraid. Boehner and McConnell are not wild-eyed lefties. They are on the very far right of the American political spectrum: fervently pro-business, antiabortion, opposed to social welfare legislation. But they are old-school politicians who still have faith in the idea of American democracy.

Movement Conservatives do not. They want to blow up the government and remake America according to their own radical ideology.

Since the 1950s, Movement Conservatives have set out to destroy the form of federal government that came out of the New Deal. After the Great Crash and the ensuing Depression, most Americans believed that the government must regulate business and protect labor in order to create a stable, prosperous society. But businessmen hated the very same New Deal regulations most Americans liked. The captains of industry believed that government meddling in their affairs would disrupt economic laws. This would cripple their enterprises and, in turn, cripple the American economy. But the New Deal consensus was enormously popular, and actually made for a stable economy in which most Americans enjoyed security. Business interests could not fight this consensus on the merits, or they would continue to lose.

In 1951, a young William F. Buckley, Jr., came up with a blueprint for destroying the American consensus. Rational argument was a losing strategy, Buckley wrote in “God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom.’” If voters were presented with facts, said Buckley, they would choose government regulation. So a new breed of Movement Conservative leaders must start from the premise that what Buckley called “individualism”—that is, an economy in which individual action was untouched by the state—was as sacrosanct as the Ten Commandments. Buckley gave this same untouchable status to Christianity, another fundamental that could not be questioned. People could quibble about the details of society based on an unregulated economy and Christianity, he allowed, but those bedrock principles could not be compromised. Individualism and Christianity were under attack, he insisted, from New Deal apologists and secular thinkers who had wormed their way into all levels of government and education. The secular New Dealers, Buckley claimed, threatened America’s very survival.

In the same year Buckley wrote “God and Man at Yale,” Eric Hoffer, a former San Francisco dockworker-turned-philosopher, examined the nature of authoritarian government. Having watched the rise of both fascism and communism, the former San Francisco dockworker thought those who wrung their hands over the ascent of a charismatic leader like Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin were missing the point. There could be no leader without a mass movement, Hoffer argued. ...

Read entire article at Salon


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