White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel demonstrates earthy zeal in his job as scoutmaster of the President’s political bureau, and it is therefore a fresh puzzle that he is apparently uninformed of the true nature of the opposition to the Obama administration’s policies.
“Father Coughlin called Roosevelt a socialist, the John Birch Society was created in reaction to Kennedy, Clinton has Scaife and others who went after him,” Emanuel told The Washington Post for an article about the “right-wing noise machine.” He continued, “And now they’ve come after Obama on Socialism and other things. This has always been a creed from those voices dealing with Democratic presidents. But yes, there’s an intensity, given the time frame we’re all under, that’s different.”
Rahm Emanuel, the man responsible for organizing the responses to the daily criticism of the Obama administration policies, is ignorant of both the Republican Party and modern conservatism.
Before addressing the true nature of Republican conservative opposition to the Obama administration’s melodramatic policies of the stimulus the budget, cap and trade, healthcare reform, and national defense, it is necessary to correct the record on Emanuel’s Archie Bunker tour of American political debate since FDR.
• Lloyd Grove: Rahm’s Precedent for Meddling Rahm Emanuel could not be familiar with the facts of Father Charles Coughlin (1891-1979), a gifted, Canadian-born Catholic priest who served greater Detroit at the famous Shrine of the Little Flower Church and took up a spectacular career as a pioneering radio preacher on WJR after 1926. Coughlin endorsed Franklin Roosevelt for the 1932 election with the ringing phrase, “Roosevelt or ruin,” and whole-heartedly backed FDR’s dynamic 100 Days and the first years of the administration, declaring, “The New Deal is Christ’s Deal.” When Coughlin did turn away from FDR, it was to denounce the president as servant of Wall Street and to admire the utopian promises of the populist hero Huey Long of Louisiana. Coughlin’s National Union for Social Justice was a sticky Irish stew of state owned industry, state redistributed wealth, and state guaranteed income. Later, after Long’s murder, Coughlin’s tirades became ever more incoherent as he railed against both Wall Street and Communism. Coughlin was neither a Republican nor a conservative at any moment of FDR’s presidency, nor is there evidence he spent a moment of his life as other than an obedient parish priest.
Emanuel’s disdainful declaration that “the John Birch Society was created in opposition to Kennedy,” is wrongheaded and deserves an F for never having cracked a book. The candy manufacturing millionaire Robert Welch (1899-1985), famous for Sugar Babies, gathered a handful of pals to form the clubby John Birch Society at Christmastime, 1958. The Birchers attracted many more thousands with a fevered fear of Communism and then with the creative paranoia of discerning a worldwide “Master Conspiracy.” Did the Birchers oppose JFK? Kennedy was well down on Welch’s list, since Welch defamed presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower as Soviet agents and named Milton Eisnhower as the president’s superior in Moscow’s secret chain of command in America. Welch did run unsuccessfully for Congress as Republican in 1950, and supported Robert Taft at the 1952 Republican convention, and later admired Joseph McCarthy. Then again, William Buckley and other conservatives showed Welch and his cronies the exit door from the Republican party after the Goldwater defeat in 1964. Welch lived another 20 years in a swamp of conspiracies that denounced Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, and the Trilateral Commission and every American politician of note.
Emanuel’s mention of the Pittsburgh philanthropist and published Richard Mellon Scaife (1932-) seems as sentimental as it does trite. Scaife’s career is that of a Mellon Bank silver-spoon-born playboy (tossed out of Yale for drinking), whose chronically unprofitable Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was used to knock President and Mrs. Clinton in the 1990s. Otherwise, Scaife’s money has been lavished on all manner of philanthropies, and his older sister Cordelia Scaife May (1928-2005) was a longtime supporter of Planned Parenthood. The last media notice Scaife received involved a peculiar feud with his second wife “Ritchie,” who took with her the family dog during the divorce proceedings. There is no record of Scaife having stable partisan beliefs other his funding of a hatchery of Clinton-bashers that produced the vile theory that Bill and Hillary Clinton were responsible for suicide Vincent Foster’s death.
Adding these three bizarre examples of the right-wing opposition together produces a reluctant verdict that the President’s right-hand political adviser, the man responsible for organizing the responses to the daily criticism of the Obama administration policies, is ignorant of both the Republican Party and modern conservatism.
All the politics that Coughlin, Welch, and Scaife have in common is that they each at one point in their lives believed in warning the country of evil plots that only they could see. It is impossible to find credible opposition to Democratic presidents separate from opposition to parochial authority based upon impenetrable personal superstitions and delusions.
The Republican conservative disputes with the Obama administration follow closely the remarks of historical and politically adroit writers and thinkers such as Edmund Burke (1729-1797), who might have reminded the president’s counselor, “The people never give up their liberty but under some delusion”; and Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), who might have reminded the chief of staff, “Ignorance never settles a question.”
Since the Second World War, the best of the best are William Buckley (1925-2008), James Burnham (1905-1987), and Whittaker Chambers (1901-1961). Emanuel would do well to read carefully through this lot before he again whispers to his Chief Magistrate about the “creed” of the right’s opposition.
My favorite conservative writer, Whittaker Chambers, would most enjoy corresponding with Emanuel to help him understand the 20th century struggles between American capitalism and Soviet socialism, the so-called Communist Party.
Chambers made a lot of right-wing noise in his day and moved Washington politics from a fear of the ghoulish Stalinists to a confident defeat of the exhausted Russians under Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Chambers knew how propagandists could seize upon toxic cranks such as Coughlin, Welch, or Scaife and brand the American conservatives as crackpot. “Of McCarthy as politician I want no part,” Chambers wrote William Buckley in August 1955, after watching a TV speech by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. “He is a raven of disaster, and an irresponsible, headstrong bird, to boot… Think of it: in this great power, the Right can find no voice to speak for it except Sens. McCarthy and Knowland. And in all the rest of the world, half a dozen old men, if so many, tottering toward their graves. This is a chart of the abyss.”
It is a tribute to the tottering conservative posse of the 1950s that today we enjoy a volatile legion of writers from the Right, not one of whom ever spoke aloud on the radio, as did Coughlin, “God is directing President Roosevelt,” or whoever speechified, as did Welch, that Eisenhower was a “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy,” or whoever put a sign on a lawn, as did Richard Scaife, “Wife and dog missing—reward for dog.”
John Batchelor is radio host of the John Batchelor Show in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.