New Yorker discussing the intellectual roots of the Tea Party movement. As Wilentz makes clear, the ideas behind what appears to be a new movement are far from new. For example, Glenn Beck is recycling ideas promoted by John Birch Society during the 1950's. In particular, Beck has been peddling the works of right wing radical Willard Cleon Skousen. In fairness, I should probably read some of this guy's writings before commenting, but for now I'll just accept Wilentz's summary. For example, in the book that Glenn Beck apparently was responsible for rocketing back to best sellerdom, Skousen attempted to prove that the U.S. Constitution was divinely inspired and based on the Bible, instead of being the product of 18th Century Enlightenment thought. If you're not buying that, Beck would say you've been too thoroughly brainwashed by generally acceptable historical scholarhip. But if you are buying that, I would say you probably need to do some more research and check out Skousen's sources. Skousen's ideas have apparently been pretty thoroughly discredited by other scholars, which is one reason his works have been buried for decades.
In their time, people like William F. Buckley had a lot to do with making conservative thought more respectable, and Buckley did it by helping to de-legitimize Birchers and other fringe elements on the right. Wilentz says it is a shame there are no powerful conservative intellectuals out there today who are strong enough to keep such wacky ideas out of circulation. If Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich are the best the Republicans can come up with to keep conservative thought respectable, their movement may be in trouble, even as it appears headed for a measure of electoral success this fall.
The American Future by Simon Schama, an optimistic look at the historical context of the Obama campaign, in contrast to the hysterical backlash of Tea Partiers. In that book, Schama demonstrates that some of the issues that still preoccupy us--such as immigration, the role of the military, civil rights, and resource allocation--have been with us our entire history. Why not continue the debate over these issues in a civil tone, without all the alarmist and hateful rhetoric, recognizing that we are not about to end these debates anytime soon? And why not try to avoid being taken in by the latest fads in conspiracy theories and revisionist history, seeing as these new ideas may actually have been trotted out and disproven a half-century ago?