A new generation of conservative activists has come forth, and many of the newcomers have never experienced the kind of nastiness to which liberals are inclined, falsely labeling them as racists, even Nazis.
Many of the new activists worry that liberals' smears will be effective. But the old-timers among conservative activists have a message for the newcomers: Don't worry. We've heard these smears throughout our political lives. Even in the old days, the smears rarely worked.
It is, to paraphrase Nathan Detroit in "Guys and Dolls," the oldest established permanent floating crap game in American politics.
The upside of the influx of new people into the ranks of political activists is that it gives conservatives the chance to rebuild their movement in the aftermath of the Bush disaster. The downside is that new activists must relearn lessons and, sometimes, relive the experiences of those who came before.
Prominent Democrats and liberals characterized the Tea Party/Town Hall protesters as "unruly mobs," as Ku Klux Klan types, as white supremacists. Frank Rich of The New York Times said they were creating a political environment similar to that in which President Kennedy was killed. (Note: The assassins of John and Bobby Kennedy were leftists.) Nancy Pelosi wrote that people causing "disruptions" at Town Halls were "un-American." (During Iraq War protests, she proclaimed herself a "fan" of Town Hall disruptors.) Former President Jimmy Carter said that opposition to President Obama is based on "racism": "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president."
Never mind that the same type of working class and small business class Americans who rose up against Obama and his healthcare plan also rose up against Bill Clinton and his healthcare plan. Never mind that most of the Tea Party people also opposed the expansion of government under President George W. Bush, and that, at the protests, Bush and the Republican Party are booed almost as loudly as Obama and the Democratic Party.
These charges of racism and un-Americanism are not part of any serious discussion of the issues. They are intended to shame people into silence, to shut them up, to make them reluctant to take a stand.
In the dawn of the conservative movement, in the late '50s and early '60s, liberals could slime conservatives to their hearts' content without fear of being contradicted in the media. Conservatives were usually ignored in the media, and when they weren't ignored, they were depicted as bigots and fascists.
In 1964, when Republicans gathered in San Francisco to nominate conservative Barry Goldwater for president, CBS correspondent Daniel Schorr suggested on the air that Goldwater's upcoming trip to a U.S. military installation in Germany was part of an effort to hook up with likeminded Nazi sympathizers. George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO, said he saw "a parallel between Senator Barry Goldwater and Adolph Hitler." Drew Pearson, the leading investigative columnist of the day, noted that "The smell of fascism has been in the air at this convention," and California Governor Pat Brown detected the "stench of fascism" in the air, adding: "All we needed to hear was ‘Heil Hitler.'"
Goldwater's candidacy was doomed from the moment President Kennedy was assassinated. A country in mourning was not going to toss out its new president. But liberals, convinced that their smears had sunk Goldwater, kept using the tactic.
In 1966, Governor Brown called conservatives "the shock troops of bigotry, echoes of Nazi Germany, echoes of another hate binge that began more than 30 years ago in a Munich beer hall." Thomas Kuchel - the second-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate - called conservatives "a fanatical, neo-fascist political cult, overcome by a strange mixture of corrosive hatred and sickening fear." That year, the principal target of the smears was a gubernatorial candidate named Ronald Reagan. Reagan won in a landslide.
And the "conservatives-are-Nazis" attacks didn't stop when Reagan won the White House. In 1984, a group of leading scientists declared that they detected "the scent of fascism" in President Reagan's re-election campaign. In 2003, four scientists published a paper in an American Psychological Association journal likening Reagan's ideology to Hitler's (and the ideology of Stalin and Castro, whom they classified as "conservatives").
If the smears didn't work in the days when liberals had a monopoly on the major media, they certainly won't work today. Obama defenders can wallow all they want in this kind of politics, attempting to paint their opponents as outside the mainstream. But conservatives have their own media now, from blogs to talk radio shows to programs on cable news channels, reaching tens of millions of people every day. In today's climate, false charges against conservatives serve only to motivate them - and, believe us, they are motivated to a degree we've never seen before.
A recent Gallup poll found conservatives with pluralities over liberals in 50 of the 50 states. Liberals are desperate, and the best measure of their desperation is that they have turned to the "racism" page in their playbook.
So, liberals, keep yelling that opposition to Obama is racism. When Obama-ism ends up on the ash heap of history, at least you'll have something to blame.
Viguerie, who pioneered the use of direct mail in politics, has been called "one of the creators of the modern conservative movement" by The Nation magazine. Dr. Allen, a journalist and political analyst, is the creator of the satirical comic strip "The Gentleman from Lickskillet."