Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.
By: Will Nelligan
I hate to admit it, but I watched much of last week's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and starting with Mitt Romney's joke about Lindsey Vonn ceding her gold medal to President Obama (he's apparently going downhill faster than she is) and ending with the California Insurance Commissioner's comment about "Obama's socialism," I haven't been this disgusted by the conservative movement in a while.
I'm also left seeking some broader historical relevancy; asking myself the question, "Is this all for real?" I found the answer in a strange place: my high school history class.
In my junior year history class, after what felt like an educational eternity studying the Civil War, we finally got to sink our teeth into something slightly more fresh: the 30's. They were the most formative of times for our country. A dark storm was brewing in Europe, and another economic maelstrom had already made landfall here at home.
Unlike CPAC in the age of Obama, FDR's arguably most prominent - and clearly most fanatical - enemy actually came from within. Father Charles Coughlin was 'for' FDR before he was 'against' him; he supported the New Deal and its policies of equity and justice, and took to the radio airwaves in 1932 with "Roosevelt or ruin." Soon though, his message started to change, becoming one of revulsion over New Deal and Democratic policies, of hatred towards ideas he labeled "socialist" or "communist," and of racism towards ethnic minorities. Wielding an extraordinarily large radio audience and radical opinions to share with them, he became one of the most effective - and one of the most well known - anti-Roosevelt pundits.
And then, he all but disappeared. His views became more radical and repulsive. His radio show lost viewership, his newspaper lost readership, his parish lost parishioners. In the span of a decade, Father Coughlin traveled the political spectrum from respected to reviled, and never made it back. By 1979, he died the man he started - a virtual unknown. By 2009, during my junior year of high school, he was reduced even further, to an insert in a textbook.
In our time, we see a new generation of Father Coughlins, of radio and television hosts (and as last week indicated, politicians) who promote ignorance, hatred, and fear. In their regard, we face a fundamental choice; we can lend their message credence by discussing it and challenging it, or we can let them yell their way into oblivion on their own, which like Coughlin, they most assuredly will do.
As their viewpoints get more radical and nonsensical, and as long as we don't continue to pay them any great measure of attention, the likes of Mr. Beck and Mr. Romney will start to disappear from our political landscape. Listeners, readers, and viewers alike will begin to realize that the positions these men and their ilk espouse are fundamentally contrary to those of the American public, and fundamentally dangerous to the American way of life.
Eventually, when public attention fades and their arguments prove fallacious, today's conservative pundits will drift along the spectrum that Father Coughlin quickly traveled: one of political and intellectual irrelevance.
It's a lot like another thing I learned in school. When the bully can't get a rise out of you any longer, he'll start to drift back into the corner of the class, and eventually give up altogether.
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