Extremist Liberals? Say What?

10/21/2010 10:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Eric Alterman Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York

A Nutty New Poll Finds Voters Think Democratic Party Has More Radical Influence

Below I've assembled a small collection for you of some of the new thinking that Tea Party advocates are bringing into the political process in case you've not been paying attention:

"Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?"

- Christine O'Donnell, Republican candidate for Senate, Delaware, October 18, 2010

"You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason, and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said, it's good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that's not where we're going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around? I'll tell you, the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out."

- Sharron Angle, Republican candidate for Senate, Nevada, January 2010

CNN's John King: "But how about an American born tomorrow or born the day after Joe Miller was sworn in in Washington? Would that person perhaps grow up in an America where there is not a federal Social Security program if you got your way?

Joe Miller: "Absolutely."

- Joe Miller, Republican candidate for Senate, Alaska, September 1, 2010

[On Social Security]: "I don't know whether it's constitutional or not. ... yeah, it's the same thing. It's gonna go up through Texas, I guess, all the way to Montana. So, it's a real thing, and when you talk about it, the thing you just have to be aware of is that, if you talk about it like it's a conspiracy, they'll paint you as a nut. It's not a conspiracy, they're out in the open about it. I saw the YouTube of Vincente Fox talking about the Amero. So, it's not a secret. Now it may not be [inaudible] tomorrow, but it took 'em 20 or 30 years to get the Euro, and they had to push people kicking and screaming into the Euro. But I guarantee you it's one of their long term goals to have one sort of borderless, mass continent."

- Rand Paul, Republican candidate for Senate in Kentucky, 2008

His response when asked why people should vote for him: "Because I do not wear high heels. She [Jane Norton] has questioned my manhood, and I think it's fair to respond. I have cowboy boots, they have real bullshit on them. And that's Weld County bullshit, not Washington, D.C., bullshit."

- Ken Buck, Republican candidate for Senate, Colorado, July 17, 2010

"There's a reason Greenland was called Greenland," he said. "It was actually green at one point in time. ... it's a whole lot whiter now."

- Ron Johnson, Republican candidate for Senate, Wisconsin, August 23, 2010

I suppose it is possible to agree or disagree with any of the above sentiments and possibly even disprove a few of them. But it would be hard to argue that they do not constitute departures from the sorts of comments one generally hears in election campaigns -- particularly for a body that one typically hears called "the world's greatest debating society."

The intellectual sources of these unfamiliar sounding notions, of course, are not exactly new. (Not much in life ever is, alas.) Princeton historian Sean Wilenz traced some of the intellectual roots of the Tea Party politicians and their supporters in a recent New Yorker article.

Particularly influential in Wilenz's view is Willard Cleon Skousen, an American author and political theorist whose self-published books like The Naked Communist and The Naked Capitalist have played a major role in shaping the ideology of the Tea Party movement. This is in no small measure thanks to the reverence with which the books are treated by the influential cable and radio host Glenn Beck.

According to the former work, Communists were creating "a regimented breed of Pavlovian men whose minds could be triggered into immediate action by signals from their masters." According to the latter work, the Ivy League Establishment formed "the world's secret power structure" to control the actions of all of us through the Federal Reserve, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Rockefeller Foundation. This particular conspiracy commenced, he explained, when President Woodrow Wilson's close adviser Col. Edward M. House helped to create the Federal Reserve to institute the graduated income tax.

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