As I was knee-deep in researching our book Over The Cliff, where we examine how the Tea Party was created and by who, I came to understand how vitally important it was to understand our political history. I've written some pieces on C&L that reflect some of what I found out.
I also learned which historical politician had the strongest influence among modern-day conservative operatives. You might think it was Barry Goldwater, since he got the ball rolling as the New Right was born to follow him, but in reality it was Richard Nixon who set the tone for our current state of politics with his 'dirty tricks" and "the ends justify the means" tactics. If you need an example of his influence and how far it goes back, just read up on Karl Rove and Alan Dixon back in 1970:
In the fall of 1970, Karl Rove, current Bush Administration Deputy Chief of Staff, used a false identity to enter the campaign office of Alan J. Dixon, who was running for Illinois State Treasurer, and stole 1000 sheets of paper with campaign letterhead. Rove then printed fake campaign rally fliers promising "free beer, free food, girls and a good time for nothing," and distributed them at rock concerts and homeless shelters, with the effect of disrupting Dixon's rally (Dixon eventually won the election). Rove's role would not become publicly known until August 1973. Rove told the Dallas Morning News in 1999, "It was a youthful prank at the age of 19 and I regret it."
Rove has continued on this path of ratf*&king his opponents ever since. By extension we then had the Lee Atwater-Willie Horton ad, Swift Voters For Truth's smear of John Kerry, and the latest version, the O'Keefe videos. The slime continues along on its merry way to destroy people.
Rick Perlstein writes an excellent piece for Mother Jones which outlines the history of the GOP's Fact Free Nation:
Reagan rode into office accompanied by a generation of conservative professional janissaries convinced they were defending civilization against the forces of barbarism. And like many revolutionaries, they possessed an instrumental relationship to the truth: Lies could be necessary and proper, so long as they served the right side of history.
"We ought to see clearly that the end does justify the means," wrote evangelist C. Peter Wagner in 1981. "If the method I am using accomplishes the goal I am aiming at, it is for that reason a good method."
This virulent strain of political utilitarianism was already well apparent by the time the Plumbers were breaking into the Democratic National Committee: "Although I was aware they were illegal," White House staffer Jeb Stuart Magruder told the Watergate investigating committee, "we had become somewhat inured to using some activities that would help us in accomplishing what we thought was a legitimate cause."
Even conservatives who were not allied with the White House had learned to think like Watergate conspirators. To them, the takeaway from the scandal was that Nixon had been willing to bend the rules for the cause. The New Right pioneer M. Stanton Evans once told me, "I didn't like Nixon until Watergate."
Though many in the New Right proclaimed their contempt for Richard Nixon, a number of its key operatives and spokesmen in fact came directly from the Watergate milieu. Two minor Watergate figures, bagman Kenneth Rietz (who ran Fred Thompson's 2008 presidential campaign) and saboteur Roger Stone (last seen promoting a gubernatorial bid by the woman who claimed to have been Eliot Spitzer's madam) were rehabilitated into politics through staff positions in Ronald Reagan's 1976 presidential campaign. G. Gordon Liddy became a right-wing radio superstar.
"We ought to see clearly that the end does justify the means," wrote evangelist C. Peter Wagner in 1981. "If the method I am using accomplishes the goal I am aiming at, it is for that reason a good method." Jerry Falwell once said his goal was to destroy the public schools. In 1998, confronted with the quote, he denied making it by claiming he'd had nothing to do with the book in which it appeared. The author of the book was Jerry Falwell.
Direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie made a fortune bombarding grassroots activists with letters shrieking things like "Babies are being harvested and sold on the black market by Planned Parenthood." As Richard Nixon told his chief of staff on Easter Sunday, 1973, "Remember, you're doing the right thing. That's what I used to think when I killed some innocent children in Hanoi."...read on
And so the lying liars were born. Today they continue on their path of corruption -- one sanctioned even by their supposed men of God, because their hearts were in the right place when they lied. Most Americans don't live their lives this way, so it's kind of foreign to them to even think about such things, but there is no excuse for the Beltway media being as complicit as they are. Then again, they do love their access. But the corrosive nature of the right wing oppo-men has had a truly corrosive affect on our entire political system.
This history provides an important foundation for my ongoing quest to understand the right's ability to operate without the constraints of hypocrisy or consistency in an environment of epistemic relativism so extreme that we end up believing that wrong is right. It's literally mind-boggling.