Frank Rich: John Birch 'Radical Right' Is Now the GOP Base

Liberal columnist Frank Rich claimed on Monday's Piers Morgan Tonight that the "radical right" which began during the Kennedy administration is now the base of the Republican Party. Both he and CNN's Piers Morgan also drew parallels between the environment which led to Kennedy's assassination and the politically-charged atmosphere now.

Rich's most recent column – which NewsBusters has dissected – asserts that the same "hate" which fueled the assassination of President Kennedy is now alive and well in the Obama era.

Rich expounded on his article on Monday, claiming that the fringe John Birch Society – which was then denounced by conservative leader Bill Buckley – morphed into the movement to elect conservative Barry Goldwater in 1964, and that now the very base of the Republican Party accepts such "extreme right-wing views."

"In 1963, the year that Kennedy died, there was polling that showed 5 percent of Americans supported the extreme right-wing views of the John Birch society. Now we have a major political – major political party, the Republicans, where that's the base," Rich absurdly claimed.

Not to be outdone, Morgan excoriated the "intransigence" of the present-day political environment – a word he has used in the past to describe Tea Partiers and the Washington atmosphere to which the well-intentioned President Obama fell victim.

"But the level of intransigence in Washington right now seems so contrary to the national need in the sense that nothing seems to be getting done," Morgan lamented.

Towards the end, Morgan also complained that the liberal media's favorite Republican candidate, Jon Huntsman, is not gaining in the polls. Rich rightly observed that Huntsman's biggest constituency is within the media – which has repeatedly buttered him up to no avail.

"His main constituency is within the press," Rich responded, before tearing into Republicans once more.  "[H]e's running as a man of sanity in a crazy situation with this perpetual sort of 'American Idol' version of American politics that is the Republican sweepstakes this year."

A transcript of the segment, which aired on November 28 at 9:16 p.m. EST, is as follows:

[9:16]

PIERS MORGAN: On the day Barack Obama took office, the comparisons to John F. Kennedy began immediately. Both young, both groundbreaking in their own ways, both with attractive families. There's something else, something surprising that the two leaders may have in common. And Frank Rich who compared their presidencies in an article in "New York Magazine" joins me to explain what it is.

Frank, a fascinating piece.

FRANK RICH, columnist, New York Magazine: Thank you.

MORGAN: And the parallels are pretty obvious. I mean 1963 seems a long way away, but actually in terms of racial tension, of economic inequality, a lot of parallels there.

RICH: There are a lot of parallels there. And also there – the early '60s during the Kennedy administration was really the birth of the radical right as we know it today. The John Birch society, what would become the Goldwater movement and, famously of course, Kennedy went to Dallas against the advice of people close to him right into that nutty atmosphere where people were accusing him of treason. Sort of like the birther craziness today that people thought he was an illegitimate president. A communist possibly. A – as a Roman Catholic, there was a lot of discrimination then in the United States. And so it was a sort of savage atmosphere that Obama has inherited today.

MORGAN: So in your experience, I mean, is Obama facing anything new here in terms of the level of viciousness and the level of partisan disapproval, partisan fury, if you like? Is this new or does it just seem new?

RICH: It seems new. First of all, there's been partisan fury in this country since the hallowed Founding Fathers. That's always been the case. People like Thomas Jefferson were despised and ridiculed in some quarters. So of course was Lincoln later on. But this particular flavor, it's not new, but the genesis of it was about 50 years ago coming out of the Eisenhower years when this new radical movement that really was so unalterably opposed to government took charge and started to organize and the centerpieces of it back then were Orange County, California, and Texas.

Now it's a much bigger movement. In 1963, the year that Kennedy died, there was polling that showed 5 percent of Americans supported the extreme right-wing views of the John Birch society. Now we have a major political – major political party, the Republicans, where that's the base. There's a – much more than 5 percent subscribing to these extreme views and reflecting it in ways like shouting out "you lie" when Obama speaks before Congress.

MORGAN: I mean, it seems to me, who obviously I'm not an American, I've come into this from Britain where we have a lot of nonsense between politicians. But the level of intransigence in Washington right now seems so contrary to the national need in the sense that nothing seems to be getting done.

RICH: It's this complete disconnect between Washington and the rest of the country. And I think if there's anything that even has polarized America that both political parties or voters of both parties agree about – not to mention independents – is that Washington is a cesspool.

Congress has a 9 percent approval rating in a recent poll. And that tells – and that was before the breakdown of this so-called Super Committee that was anything but super. And not really a committee actually. And so you have a country that's in enormous economic distress, that is still fighting a major war, arguably several, which is heating up. And you have a dysfunctional – dysfunctional is too weak a word. You have a nonfunctional government in Washington that now has essentially adjourned until Election Day 2012 because certainly nothing positive is going to happen during this campaign season.

(...)

MORGAN: I mean the one who's always impressed me but doesn't get much traction is Jon Huntsman. Why does he not get more attention?

RICH: I think most people don't know who he is. He's someone with actually a distinguished record of public service, moderately conservative but quite conservative views, you could argue, more consistently conservative than Romney if you look at his whole career, but he doesn't really have a constituency within that party.

His main constituency is within the press. Everyone who's interviewed him – and I've done that –  likes him, finds him smart. I may not agree with all of his views. But this is – you know, he's running as a man of sanity in a crazy situation with this perpetual sort of "American Idol" version of American politics that is the Republican sweepstakes this year.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014