The Establishment’s attacks on Sharron Angle have a familiar ring.
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“Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard ‘round the world?”
Crazy guy, that Reagan! In fact, the Times and the foreign policy Establishment not only believed private citizen Reagan was crazy to believe things like this in 1965 — the paper and the Establishment it so portentously symbolized still believed it in 1985, even as President Reagan was busy bringing the Soviet Union crashing to the ground and ending the Cold War. Who looks crazy now?
• Reagan had participated in an unsuccessful “conservative” (the paper’s description) anti-Establishment effort to defeat California’s Republican liberal U.S. Senator Thomas Kuchel in 1962. Kuchel was an Establishment icon, a RINO (Republican in Name Only) then serving as the Senate Republican Whip. Times Translation: Reagan is so far outside the mainstream of not just the California electorate but of the California Republican Party itself he couldn’t possibly be nominated let alone get elected. Hanging out with right-wing extremists who thought they could dump Tom Kuchel shows just how politically stupid Reagan is. Tom Kuchel is One of Us. Reagan, clearly, is not. The guy is an idiot. Case closed.
• By 1965 Reagan has made the same speech he made on television for Goldwater to hundreds of different groups in person. For years. Yet the Times noted but two, both serving as the Establishment boogeyman designed to scare voters. The first was Dr. Fred Schwarz’s Christian Anti-Communist Crusade. The second was a campaign appearance for former California Congressman John Rousselot, pointedly identified by the Times as “now a leader in the John Birch Society.” Times Translation: Reagan actually speaks to groups that are infamous for far right-wing extremism. Everybody we know realizes these people are dangerous wackos. Reagan says he disagrees with some of their views, but, get this (says the Times): “He does not, however, see anything subversive” about the two groups. Amazing. What an ignorant man. Everybody we know in Our Crowd realizes the Birch Society is plotting to overthrow the government. Boo! Reagan is not just a fool — he’s a scary fool.
• “Republican organization sources” in California say there are too many “obstacles” for Reagan to win a GOP primary, says the Times. What are they? He hasn’t been a longtime party activist, has no organized base of support, and, “the Goldwater wing’s influence” in the California Republican Party has “greatly diminished.” Times Translation: The nuts are still out there and Reagan is one of them. No one of any seriousness in the party Establishment takes him or them seriously.
A week had not gone by since the reporting of this story containing the above nuggets when the Times was breathlessly reporting another: that “the right-wing” in California had chartered a new group devoted to — can you believe it?!! — individual liberty and the Constitution!!! It was formed by a group of far-right millionaires and — gasp! — Ronald Reagan! The mere presence of the new group, said the Times, was offending GOP moderates and emphasizing again what a loser Reagan was.
One week after that, the Times was back. This time reporting that the “right wing” had frighteningly tightened its grip on California’s youth — which is to say the state’s Young Republicans. Many of the delegates to the state YR convention were for Reagan. Particularly galling to the Establishment was a resolution that criticized then-Chief Justice Earl Warren, a liberal icon. Why? Warren had served as Attorney General and Governor of California during World War II and it was he who had enthusiastically supported packing up Japanese-Americans who were California residents and sending them to internment camps.
This resulted in the famously racist Korematsu v. United States decision that was a direct violation of the Fifth Amendment, as many legal scholars have now repeatedly pointed out. Warren had not only never apologized for his actions, as Alfred Regnery reminded in Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism, Warren had blithely “opposed internment for Germans and Italians, because ‘they were no different from anybody else.’” The YR’s, zeroing in on the liberal racism of the matter, had pounced. Times Translation: The cheeky young conservatives supporting Reagan had the nerve to demand an apology from a liberal idol of the day for abject racism and a violation of the constitutional rights of people who were nothing more or less than American citizens. And Reagan is supported by these people? The nerve.
Now it was becoming a pattern with the Times. Looking back at the succession of Reagan stories in early 1965, the word “obsessive” comes to mind. The Times is writing constantly, after all, about a man who hasn’t yet declared himself a candidate for anything and holds no office whatsoever.
Barely another week went by when the news was in that a California poll showed Ronald Reagan was a “poor choice” for Republicans because, unlike the Establishment choice, the Republican ex-Mayor of San Francisco, Reagan would “antagonize” too many voters with his conservative beliefs. A week later, another poll showed the moderate ex-Mayor, George Christopher, could beat the liberal Establishment Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown (father of today’s Jerry Brown) while Reagan was a sure loser by almost ten points. Times Translation: If California Republicans are crazy enough to nominate this loon he will lose — big time.
And so it went. One story followed another. “Reagan Upsets Unity” of California Republicans, headlined another one, citing a lack of “palatability” and Reagan’s willingness to address the conservative California Republican Assembly, whose meeting had been opened by a Bircher. This was soon followed by a story reporting that moderate Establishment Republicans were becoming “alarmed” at Reagan’s popularity in straw polls. Reagan is identified in this story as a “representative of the ultra-conservative wing” and a “successful money-raiser” for Goldwater. Times Translation: These nuts have money and could actually nominate Reagan. OMG! What if…like…he actually wins???!!!!
The Establishment narrative about Ronald Reagan — and the growing conservative movement — had begun. Actually, it has been laid foundationally with Goldwater, but with Reagan’s arrival it was set in concrete. It would follow Reagan for the rest of his life. And conservatives like Sharron Angle until this day. A life for Reagan which included two landslide elections as governor of California (he would beat Jerry Brown’s incumbent governor-father Pat by almost a million votes) and two more as president. Beating the Establishment every single time except with his fight against President Gerald Ford for the 1976 GOP nomination — which he lost by a whisker. Over the years the Establishment was represented by both Democrats and Republicans, a list that included Pat Brown, California Democratic Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh, Ford, George H.W. Bush, Howard Baker, Bob Dole, John Connally, Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.
The anti-Reagan Establishment narrative, always illustrated by personal or policy anecdotes that were said to show Reagan and his followers were some combination of dumb, ignorant, stupid, racist, bigoted, anti-woman war mongers, is by now a standard. So too is the use of a boogeyman, a supposedly scary group designed to scare the pants off prospective voters. This tactic is to the Establishment what marching onto the battlefield in formation was to the British when they fought the colonists at Concord and Lexington in 1775. Which is to say: it is a narrative designed as a weapon of psychological intimidation. (Famously, the un-awed colonists had their own tactic. They fought back from behind the trees and rocks of their home turf and sent the dumbfounded British scurrying back to Boston in a humiliating defeat for the ruling Establishment of the day. It would not be the last time, either.)
This scare-tactic of yelling “Right wing! Right wing!” was brandished by one “Establishment’ after another as they battled Reagan over the years, the only consistent accuracy in every battle turning out to be that Ronald Reagan was indeed decidedly not a member of whatever Establishment he had taken on. In fact, Reagan was busily building a new “anti-establishment Establishment” that from the earliest days of his nascent campaign for Governor of California to this moment has managed to become a major expanding force inside not just the Republican Party but in the modern anti-Establishment Virtual Newsroom that is talk radio, Fox News and the Internet. The Tea Party is the very epitome of a Reagan anti-establishment movement.
Of all the invective hurled in the direction of the current anti-Establishment by the Establishment candidates and media organs, there is little that wasn’t thrown at Reagan during his career.
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