Perhaps the people at National Public Radio are worried that a new Republican Congress could threaten the lavishness of its federal subsidies again. Or maybe NPR is just a sandbox for the Left. But on Wednesday, the show Fresh Air spent most of its hour suggesting the Republican Party was dangerously infested with extremists. The guest was socialist Princeton professor Sean Wilentz, who has written that George W. Bush practiced "a radicalized version of Reaganism." Host Terry Gross was promoting Wilentz's article in The New Yorker on Glenn Beck and the Tea Party:
GROSS: Can you think of another time in American history when there have been as many people running for Congress who seem to be on the extreme?
WILENTZ: Not running for Congress, no. I mean even back in the '50s.
This is par for the course, since Gross promoted a New Yorker piece by Jane Mayer just a few weeks ago (on August 26) on how the Koch brothers were funding the Tea Party as part of a "war" on that secular saint, President Obama. What stuck out in this interview was the use of "extreme" labels for the conservative movement and the GOP -- twelve of them. In Sesame Street lingo, the hour was brought to you by the letter E for Extreme. Most of them came in Gross's restate-the-thesis (or in this case, restate-the-attack-ad) "if you're just joining us" reintroductions.
Glenn Beck has described himself as restoring history, but my guest, historian Sean Wilentz, says that Beck and the Tea Party movement are reviving ideas that circulated on the extremist right half a century ago, especially in the John Birch Society....
Wilentz has an article in the current edition of the New Yorker titled "Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War Roots." He asks why current Republican Party leaders have done virtually nothing to challenge extremist ideas in their party and a great deal to abet them...
If you're just joining us, my guest is Sean Wilentz. He's a professor of history at Princeton University, and he has a piece in the current edition of the New Yorker called "Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War Roots." And he says in this piece that both Glenn Beck and the Tea Party's beliefs are rooted in extremist groups and thinking from the Cold War period....
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Im Terry Gross back with historian Sean Wilentz. We're talking about his article in the current edition of The New Yorker, in which he writes that Glenn Beck and the Tea Party Movement are reviving ideas that circulated in the extremist right half a century ago, especially in the John Birch Society. Wilentz is a professor of American history at Princeton University. His books include "The Rise of American Democracy" and "The Age of Reagan." His new book is called "Bob Dylan in America." Wilentz is the historian in residence of Dylan's official website. Wilentz's article in The New Yorker is titled "Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War Roots."
So a question that youre asking in your article is how is it that the Republican Party managed to hold this kind of extremism at bay for decades.
GROSS: And now that extremism is getting expressed in voting-booth politics.
GROSS: We hear candidates expressing these views. What's changed in the party that has opened the door to this kind of extremism?...
GROSS: So flash forward to today and to the midterm election of 2010.
GROSS: What role do you see extremists playing now in the Republican Party, and do you see an equivalent of a Buckley character saying this extremism is going to be bad for the party?...
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Sean Wilentz. He's a professor of history at Princeton University. In the current edition of The New Yorker, he has an article called "Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War Roots." And he writes about how the Tea Party and Glenn Beck's version of history are rooted in what he describes as extremist ideology that came out of the Cold War in the 1950s. One of the things I find really fascinating about Glenn Beck is that he has a kind of anti-intellectual stance.
GROSS: At the same time he's always standing professorially in front of a blackboard. (Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: And he's telling you that, you know, the historians have lied to you but he's appointed himself, you know, America's truthful historian who is going to teach you the real story, so the whole thing seems to be rooted in such paradox, like intellectualism is bad but I'm here to be the professor.
GROSS: Historians don't know what they're talking about but I'm here to be a historian....
GROSS: If youre just joining us, my guest is Sean Wilentz. He's a professor of history at Princeton University. In the current edition of The New Yorker, he has an article called "Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War Roots." He's also the author of a new book called "Bob Dylan in America." And now I will ask you to make the connection between your piece... (Laughter) in The New Yorker and your Bob Dylan book, and that connection is a song by Bob Dylan that satirizes the John Birch Society...
WILENTZ: Right. Right.
GROSS: ...a group on the extreme of the right, which weve been talking about.