American Society

Friday, December 05, 2008


The John Birch Society turns 50 this week. Yup, they're still around. Historian Allan Lichtman takes us back to the beginning and JBS president John McManus says the Society is as relevant now as it was during the Red Menace.

Comments [14]

chuck thompson from Anchorage

As a general rule, once I've have my say, I usually shut-up and let others have theirs.
I make rare exceptions when persons directly comment on myself or my comments, however... such as that by Jim Sandman [5] above.

Now, Jim doesn't know my party affiliation, my background or my political persuasion but if he did, he would know that I happen to BE a Constitutional strict-constructionist.

There seems to be a pervasive and faulty assumption by many of those on the political right that they alone are the only, true Constitutional defenders, while the great mass of those unwashed "others" are busily trying to subvert it. Aside from the wrong-headedness of this assumption, there's an arrogance in it that I find rather disquieting.

Reality check: There are elements of both constituencies -- on the right AND the left -- who dislike aspects of the Constitution for whatever reason or agenda.
Freedoms of speech, religion, assembly, association, war powers, gun rights, the entire panoply.... has detractors somewhere.

Rare, it seems, is the man who actually, as I, embraces the entire package, warts and all: gun rights, civil rights, 4th amendment rights, everything.

Perhaps what's most ironic about this discussion of the Constitution, particularly those coming from the right wing, is that worst eight years of having the constitution trampled upon was done by a man from the right. Warrantless searches, illegal spying, signing statements, treaty abrogations, war powers ... I mean, if you want a Constitutional constructionist, Bush ain't your guy, by George.

I'm more than ready for a real constitutional strict-constructionist to give them back to me. Maybe a professor who knows something about the Constitution -- and perhaps has even READ -- is in order.
Whatever his color.

I miss my civil rights.
Please give them back.

Dec. 15 2008 02:32 PM
Lew Howell from Santa Maria

Re Sue's comment: point 1 (strict Constitionalists) If no one knows what a constitution (anyone, anywhere) means, what is the use of having one? There is hardly any question what it means when specifies that only Congress can declare war. Point 2 ("totalitarian oligarchy" it seems to me we may already have one enhanced and abetted moreover by loose construction of the Constitution. How many wars since 1946? Which ones were declared by Congress pursuant to the Constitution? I don't recall any bankers or arms manufacturers demonstrating against the Viet Nam War for example. Cui Bono? the rule of political reality.

Dec. 15 2008 01:06 AM
Rob Fiorendino from Minneapolis, MN

I enjoyed the piece, thank you for the update on the JBS. However, the best thing about the story was the Chad Mitchell Trio music! The CMT (and the song you played in the story) was the whole reason I got so interested and involved in politics and history. I grew up in the 70s listening to folk music at my friends house and we loved the idea that people could have so much fun making political points.

As a side note, the CMT re-recorded the song as "The George Bush Society" in 2008. The lyrics were originally re-written with the group by Congressman David Obey and performed on Sep 8th, 2006 (with the Congressman) in his district in Wisconson. He's not a bad singer...

I found the song online here:

Dec. 11 2008 11:02 AM
Eric Rose from New York, NY

McManus: "The solution is to get back to the Constitution. And if you go to the Constitution, you will find no authorization for federal aid, for federal involvement in housing, education, welfare, medicine, transportation, da-dah, da-dah, da-dah"

US Constitution: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare..."

That sounds pretty explicit to me.

Dec. 10 2008 11:09 AM
Will Martin from St. Louis, MO

I listen to OTM each week on KWMU, St. Louis, MO, and I
really enjoyed this segment. However, I wish that you had asked Mr. McManus to compare the JBS viewpoints with
those of the Libertarian and Constitution political parties.
What he expressed sounded mostly like what a
libertarian would say, but the religious references would
align the JBS more with the Constitution party's platform.
If there are larger similarly-believing groups, wouldn't the
members of the JBS have more influence by combining
with those?

Dec. 10 2008 11:08 AM
Hal Shurtleff from Boston, MA

The first comment made a reference to the KKK. The gentleman from Alaska needs to know that The John Birch Society has always welcomed people from all races into its organizations.

Professor Lichtman's comments about Robert Welch and The John Birch Society were full of eros of fact. Robert Welch and The John Birch Society never called Eisenhower a communist nor did wit beleeve that the "commies" were taking over America. Robert Welch wrote an extensive and throughly documented essay of Eisenhower and concluded that he was either "stupid, a willing opportunist" or a conscious instrument of the communist conspiracy." Affable Old Ike took a key role in one of the U.S' most shafeful acts-Operation Keelhaul and he topped it by his betrayal of the Hungarian Freedom Fighters. This certainly doesn't made Ike a hard core conservative.

Professor Lichtman must live in an ivory tower if he thinks that all of the social and political ills that we have faced since the end of WW II were just mistakes or bad policy.

Check out The JBS website

Dec. 09 2008 03:53 PM
Fred Marshall from Tennessee

I'm afraid Sue (above) missed the boat. Human and individual rights cannot exist without property rights. And those rights are God-given birth rights, not rights or privileges "guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence." The "Declaration" is just that, a declaration, it declares the state of affairs at the time it was written, but it guarantees nothing, nor does it purport to guarantee anything. Sue would be well advised to read the Federalist Papers and learn a little about property rights.

Dec. 08 2008 07:24 PM
Roger Deevers from Tucson, Arizona

In the 1960s I thought I was living in a nation that gone absolutely insane. When I encountered member of the John Birch Society in 1968 I got answers to my questions and discovered there were others who had many of my same concerns: declining patriotism and the decline of morality in general.

Dec. 08 2008 05:03 PM
SouthernDave from Atlanta, Georgia

The JBS is still strong in North Georgia, a legacy of the late Congressman Larry McDonald, who was JBS President when he was killed onboard KAL 007 in Sep 1983. The JBS version of that tragedy, of course, is that the Soviets shot the plane down in order to kill McDonald, their greatest enemy.

Actually McDonald was an ineffectual congressman who was a real laughingstock to everyone except his supporters, who worshiped him. He was the best friend Communism had because he made anti-Communism ridiculous. Just like the JBS.

Dec. 08 2008 03:46 PM
Jim Sandman from Lascassas, TN

Great comments from John McManus, President of the JBS. Mr. Thompson's comment above, that the JBS is "opposed to anything progressive, like electing a black President maybe" is unfortunate. The JBS is opposed to anything unconstitutional...and so were the Constitution's authors. The problem with "progressive" policy is that it's often just a nice term for "to heck with the Constitution." If a black (or white, or any color)candidate espoused getting back to following the Constitution, this country would be a lot better off.

Dec. 08 2008 03:45 PM
Dan McBride from Los Angeles, CA

The John Birch Society opposes government subsidized (and thereby controlled) radio because it is unconstitutional. Like the 'mainstream' media, NPR historically has had a very liberal bias and it shone thru loud and clear in this interview. I urge listeners to thorougly examine the JBS ( and try and disprove what they are saying. It can't be done. Go ahead. You owe it to your kids and the next generation.

Dec. 08 2008 03:35 PM
Sue from Santa Cruz, California

I believe this statement during the McManus interview attributed to ALLAN LICHTMAN was actually a statement of McManus:

"The solution is to get back to the Constitution. And if you go to the Constitution, you will find no authorization for federal aid, for federal involvement in housing, education, welfare, medicine, transportation, da-dah, da-dah, da-dah, and all of the alphabet agencies that are regulating America and driving American businessmen out of business."

The problem with the strict Constitutionalists is 1) nobody knows what the constitution actually means; it is always subject to shifting interpretations, and 2) In order for the world to not become a totalitarian oligarchy of the rich with the rest of us in slavery fighting their wars, capitalism must be regulated. Lack of enforced regulation is why we are facing the prospect of another depression. Property rights must take a back seat to human rights to fulfill the rights guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence, rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Citizens do not have these rights if they cannot find food, shelter, medical care, etc. The government must provide the basics to those who can't work and be the employer of last resort to those who can. Still we have much to learn from the Birchers, like NOT dumping sodium fluoride into the drinking water, or undertake any other population reduction program. That the JBS is paranoid does not mean there are not evil forces at work.

Dec. 08 2008 03:13 PM
Ben from AZ

Not very accurate job by the professor, but what would you expect from NPR?

Dec. 08 2008 03:03 PM
chuck thompson from Anchorage, AK

Great story and quite enlightening.

I remember hearing much about the Birchers back in my high school days, but just like the antics of the KKK eventually became non-stories, I had assumed the Birch Society had just, well, faded away.

Who knew they were still alive and, what?, bitchin'?

To my mind, they went from being the highest-profile components of the disgruntled right to being just another banging of the can in the cacophonic dissonance coming from those "patriotic" zealots opposed to anything progressive, like electing a Black President maybe.

Bob treated the interview with John McManus deftly and with great charm. It's part of why I love listening to -- and supporting -- OTM.
Good job, nicely done.

Dec. 06 2008 01:00 PM

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