Say, Fred, I heard Lyndon is forming a new Federal agency.
Yeah? What’s that?
It’s going to be called the Poverty Relief Agency.
Oh, that’s nothing new, Bobby Baker’s headed that department for years.
Down in Havana, 90 miles from our shore
Lies an army of Commies and Fidel Castro
We were going to remove them, the plans were all made
We’d help with the airplanes on invasion day
But you know the Liberals and the CIA
They agreed with Adlai, take the airplanes away
So the brave freedom fighters were destined to fall
’Cause we didn’t answer when we heard their call
—the Goldwaters, “Down in Havana”
Conservative culture was shaped in another era, one in which conservatives felt marginal and beleaguered. It enunciated a heady sense of defiance. In a world in which patriotic Americans were hemmed in on every side by an all-encroaching liberal hegemony, raw sex in the classrooms, and totalitarian enemies of the United States beating down our very borders, finally conservatives could get together and (as track twelve of the Goldwaters’ Folk Songs to Bug the Liberals avowed) “Row Our Own Boat.”
But now conservatism has grown into a vast and diverse chunk of the electorate. Its culture has become so dominant that one can live entirely within it. Shortly after the Republicans took over Congress in 1994, a Washington activist could, if he so chose, attend nothing but conservative parties, panels, and barbecues; a recent Pew Research Center study suggested that partisan divisions are increasing at the community level. And yet, far inside these enclaves, conservatives still rely on the cultural tropes of that earlier period: At one living room “Party for the President” in 2004, a woman told me, “We’re losing our rights as Christians. ... and being persecuted again.” The culture of conservatives still insists that it is being hemmed in on every side. In Tom DeLay’s valedictory address, as classic an expression of high conservative culture as ever was uttered, he attributed to liberalism “a voracious appetite for growth. In any place or any time on any issue, what does liberalism ever seek, Mr. Speaker? More. ... If conservatives don’t stand up to liberalism, no one will.”
How to explain these strange continuities? And what does it say about the politics of our own time? Kirk offers no answers, because what holds the movement together isn’t its intellectual history but its cultural one. Folk Songs to Bug the Liberals is this mystery’s Rosetta Stone.
Bugging liberals, you see, being bugged by liberals, is not incidental to conservative culture, but rather is constitutive of it—more so than any identifiable positive content. Seeing Republicans appropriate liberal-sounding rhetoric on immigrants and education and getting credit for it—even while their policies corrode public education and also stoke an anti-immigrant backlash—bugs the hell out of the liberals. Which is, for Karl Rove no doubt, part of the calculation. Rove knows that the pleasure of watching liberals’ heads explode is the best way to keep his team rowing in the same direction.
Two things struck me, reading this: first, of course, appropriation isn’t only done to fuck with
our the other side’s heads. When you start to believe your own bullshit, that you really are beset on all sides by an implacable foe, when you’re out there fighting dragons every day, you start to ask yourself what it is they’ve got that you don’t; you start to wonder if maybe you shouldn’t become a little draconic yourself. You say things like, “They have Joan Baez, who do we have?”
It was Dr. Fred C. Schwarz of the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade (CACC) who acted as [Janet] Greene’s “Col. Parker” and molded her into his very own Anti-Baez. As reported in The Los Angeles Times, on October 13, 1964, Schwarz unveiled his new musical weapon against Communism at a press conference at the Biltmore Hotel in LA. With Greene at his side, Schwarz stated to the assembled press that he had “taken a leaf out of the Communist book” by adding a conservative folk singer to his organization. “We have decided to take advantage of this technique for our own purposes.” He then added, “You’d be amazed at how much doctrine can be taught in one song.”
The second thing was how old the conservative schtick is. They were hating on the Clenis back in 1964.
Say I saw a new a great new play on Broadway last night, it’s called The Doll House.
Is that the Rodgers-Hammerstein show?
No, it’s a Profumo-Baker production.
Must have been quite a comedy!
Might call it a farce!
Rimshot, motherfuckers. Rimshot.