Though we don’t hear much about them these days, the John Birch Society was quite the controversial outfit in the late 1960s. Much like the Tea Party or the Occupy Wall Street, one’s position on “the Bircher question” was a sort of political shibboleth. Answer correctly, and you were deemed on the side of the angels. Answer incorrectly and, well…you know.
Like other candidates of his time, Reagan was expected to take a suitable position on the Bircher issue. As mentioned in previous posts, however, there were some who either legitimately found his answers unsatisfactory, or sensed a fruitful opening for political attack. Though not a JBS member himself, Reagan was by nature hesitant to alienate an entire group of people—regardless of how strongly he might disagree with that group’s leadership.
During an appearance on Meet the Press, Reagan was asked why he refused to denounce the Birch Society, when he had no problem condemning groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Communist Party. Reagan replied:
…they [the Klan and the Communist Party] are listed as subversive organizations. The FBI says it found nothing subversive about the John Birch Society. I am not a member of the John Birch Society, nor am I going to join. I have been very critical of some of the statements of its founder, Robert Welch, some of which are ridiculous. I think that in order to clear the air, Washington should investigate the John Birch Society.
This reminds me just how much the world has changed and grown more cynical. Consider, for example, if the Democratic Congress had conducted an “investigation” of the Tea party movement. What do you suppose the findings would’ve been? Would any conservatives or libertarians have given such findings any credibility? Conversely, if the current Republican House were to conduct a hearing on the Occupy Movement, how would you expect it to be reported upon by the mainstream media, or received by the political left?
I did not live in Governor Reagan’s America. Perhaps there was good reason for him to place such trust in the government. However, in the second decade of the 21st century, I’m saddened to know that the conduct of our government has been so deceptive and haughty for so long that a Congressional finding of “subversiveness” against any group would almost surely redound to that group’s benefit in the public eye.