12/10/2013 05:14 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

50 Years of Hysteria: Heathen Communist Presidents, Then and Now, in the Minds of the Far Right

A flyer accusing President Kennedy of communism, starting an illegal war, alienating allies, befriending enemies, and promoting a non-Christian secular government circulated in Dallas days before the President arrived. The flyer was designed like a wanted poster and naturally sparked the curiosity of law enforcement after Kennedy was assassinated. Authorities identified the author as Robert Surrey, a member of the John Birch Society and friend of John Birch Society leader, the retired WW2 general, Edwin Walker. The irony is that Lee Harvey Oswald was a socialist sympathizer who had earlier tried to assassinate Walker because of his ardent anti-socialism.


The remarkable thing about the 1963 wanted poster of Kennedy is that so many of the same claims have been placed on Obama.

However, unlike the bygone days of the Cold War, there is an exception. Russian commentary has significantly fed the right on their belief that Obama shares Kennedy's alleged communist leanings. Pravda -- a Russian newspaper -- reported that Christianity was under attack in America as it was during the Leninist Era of the Soviet Union at the hands of the "communist" American president. Conservative commentators like Glenn Beck were quick to jump on the bandwagon in upholding the axiom that if the Russians call Obama a Communist it must be true. The accusation trickles down into more mainstream media: Peter Ferrara wrote in Forbes that Obama doesn't treat the rich fairly "because he is Marxist." The only explanation of Marxism Ferrara gives is this:

To a Marxist, the fact that the top one percent earn more income than the bottom 99 percent is not fair, no matter how they earn it, fairly or not. So it is not fair unless more is taken from the top one percent until they are left only with what they "need," as in any true communist system.

It's obvious that socialism, Marxism, and communism are words with derogatory connotations in the collective mind of the United States; the evil United Socialist Soviet Republic did, after all, influence the bulk of 20th century U.S. rhetoric. But is Obama really trying to reduce the one percent to the 50th percentile as Ferrara suggested? It's an extreme claim to say the least and Ferrara bases it on Obama's insistence that "the rich" pay a little more in tax. But instead of arguing that Obama's tax incentive is truly intended to reduce "the top one percent" to the 50 percent he instead leaves it as a simple declaration to be taken on faith and then argues that the problem with Obama's policy is that "redistribution" is not conducive to economic growth. The implied definition of Obama's "Marxist" motivations is that he wants to do away with wealth inequality in its entirety by redistribution. It's hard to imagine that Obama would think this tenable even in his most private thoughts.

It is, of course, extremist to believe that it's entirely right or wrong to be either purely anarchic-capitalistic or socialistic-communistic. Either proposition seems untenable to the moderate. But to even enter the argument risks belief in a false dichotomy with the assumption that it truly applies to the United States of America in the current. China labels itself socialist but Sweden is clearly a market economy. Yet the Nordic states have some of the most robust public welfare programs: universal healthcare and education among them. The Nordic states also have some of the highest standards of living plus strong market economies. If the Nordic model is an example then it's clear that welfare doesn't equal communism, which is public ownership of enterprise. In the United States, however, public welfare of any kind is deemed an all out coup on liberty by the right rather than social justice and responsibility as some see it.

Though the right doesn't seem to really know what socialism is, they are content to define it as absolute evil. Tea Party activist Larry Klayman organized an "independence" protest in Washington D.C. where he imagined millions of people camping out until the administration resigned (maybe a hundred showed up). Klayman promoted his protest on The Alex Jones Show where he elaborated the need to remove Obama on the proposition that Obama is an outright "traitor" just as Robert Surrey of the John Birch Society said about John F. Kennedy in his Dallas handout 50 years ago. Klayman elaborated on the Alex Jones Show "you can't teach a white man, how you going to teach a black man." Alex Jones, a new word order conspiracy theorist, happily glossed over the racial undertones to promote Klayman's occupation movement on the belief that socialist "Obama is evil."

Ultimately it seems far-right liberty paradoxically means fundamentalist Christian without tolerance for difference. Just as Edwin Walker's flyer accused Kennedy of being anti-Christian, the far right seems content to follow Pravda's lead with the proposition that Christianity is under attack by President Obama. This is despite the fact that American democracy has a tradition of secularism that dates back to the founding fathers with some of the most famous having been some of the most robust supporters for the separation of state and church. In the Treaty of Tripoli John Adams wrote, "The Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion." James Madison wrote, "Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history." Notwithstanding the Constitution's secular foundations there are surely agnostics, humanists and atheists that cringe every time Obama ends a speech with "God bless America."