The 24/7 newsosphere was busy on Saturday night dealing with the fact that former "Morning Zoo"-figure Glenn Beck was about to make a nationally televised address courtesy of the Conservativaloosa festival known as CPAC, when a jarring new piece of info came in. The CPAC conventioneers had held a straw poll on the 2012 race for president. And the winner of that straw poll was Ron Paul.
You remember Ron Paul, right? Texas congressman. Libertarian with a capital "L." 2008 presidential candidate. Wants to abolish the Fed, eliminate most taxes, and end the wars (hey, how did that get in there?) Oh, one more thing: Big-time supporter of the far, far, far, far, far-right John Birch Society. Well, to be fair, Paul's association with the notorious Birchers was in his past.
If you consider 2009 to be the past, anyway. Here's some of what Paul said just last year, speaking to the society in October to mark its 50th birthday:
Dr. Paul made evident his affection for the JBS by stating at the outset, "I am delighted to help celebrate this birthday." And when he moved on to talk about his first successful campaign for Congress in 1976, he said, "I'm sure there are people in this room who probably helped me in that campaign, because I know that so many of you have over the years." He then described his first press conference at the Capitol Hill Club, during which an antagonist from Houston asked him, "Mr. Paul, are you a member of the John Birch Society? Have you ever been a member of the John Birch Society?"
Dr. Paul recalled his response: "No, I am not a member of the John Birch Society but many members of the John Birch Society are friends of mine and they have been very helpful in my campaign."
Throughout his speech, Dr. Paul kept referring to "the remnant," which he described as those who remember and respect the values upon which the United States was founded: self-reliance, personal responsibility, limited government, sound money, the gold standard, etc. He claimed that the important role the JBS has played was to nurture that remnant and added, "The remnant holds the truth together, both the religious truth and the political truth."
The 45th president of the United States there? OK, probably not. But it's appalling (no pun intended) that a U.S. congressman would honor the 50th anniversary of the group that gave us some of the wackiest and also ugliest ideas in modern American history. The legendary founder of the John Birch Society, the late Robert Welch, believed that Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman were the agents of a Communist plot as well as D-Day hero Dwight Eisenhower, who Welch famously called a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy,” while adding that the government of the United States was “under operational control of the Communist party.”
The John Birch Society also opposed major civil rights bills like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and not surprisingly it also believed that...Martin Luther King was an agent of Communism. Did that change much over the years? When the state of New Hampshire signed a bill recognizing the Martin Luther King holiday in 1999, it was a member of the John Birch Society who showed up to hold aloft a sign that read, "MLK WAS A COMMUNIST."
And what does the John Birch Society -- which has reemerged as a noteworthy group since the election of Barack Obama as president -- believe today?
This so-called North American Union, it asserts, is part of a larger plot by an amorphous, amoral group of powerful elite — including but not limited to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission and the Rockefellers — to take over planet Earth. Call it the New World Order.
Some of these theories may sound like cable television chatter, or the synopsis of a Dan Brown bestseller. But Birch leaders say this plot is real, with roots going back more than 200 years to a secret, insidious brotherhood called the Illuminati, and with most American presidents among its many dupes and abettors.
“We’ve always referred to it as a Satanic conspiracy,” said Arthur Thompson, the society’s chief executive, sitting beside an American flag.
Did I mention that these comments appeared in the New York Times just four months before Ron Paul spoke to the society? Look, the point is this. Ron Paul will never be president, but there was a time when hanging around with a conspiracy-minded and often hateful group could be hazardous to your career. Today, such a man is hailed as a winner at a major national political event that was covered aggressively by every major news outlet. Not so aggressively, though, that any of the reporters on the straw poll story mentioned, or likely knew of, Paul's ties to the JBS. The fact a politician can address the Illuminati-watchers one day and take a seat on center stage of the race for the White House on another is something we should all find alarming -- and the fact that we don't is one more warning sign that our politics may be rolling straight for the gutter.