In Sunday’s Washington Post, historian and journalist Rick Perlstein offers up an insightful historical perspective on the teabaggers, birthers, and deathers who’ve been thrust to the forefront by the media, claiming to speak for all Americans in opposition to everything from health care reform to President Obama’s citizenship.
One parallel: When the 1964 Civil Rights Act was introduced, opponents said that it would “enslave” whites. Those claims don’t sound much nuttier than the allegations that a health care provision to help senior citizens who want to write a living will would actually have created “death panels.”
When John F. Kennedy entered the White House, his proposals to anchor America’s nuclear defense in intercontinental ballistic missiles — instead of long-range bombers — and form closer ties with Eastern Bloc outliers such as Yugoslavia were taken as evidence that the young president was secretly disarming the United States. Thousands of delegates from 90 cities packed a National Indignation Convention in Dallas, a 1961 version of today’s tea parties; a keynote speaker turned to the master of ceremonies after his introduction and remarked as the audience roared: “Tom Anderson here has turned moderate! All he wants to do is impeach [Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl] Warren. I’m for hanging him!”
Before the “black helicopters” of the 1990s, there were right-wingers claiming access to secret documents from the 1920s proving that the entire concept of a “civil rights movement” had been hatched in the Soviet Union; when the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act was introduced, one frequently read in the South that it would “enslave” whites. And back before there were Bolsheviks to blame, paranoids didn’t lack for subversives — anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists even had their own powerful political party in the 1840s and ’50s.
We’ve all heard the saying that history repeats itself. Perlstein’s analysis is, without a doubt, a must read.