Monday, April 28, 2014

Grover Norquist and the John Birch Society – Part 1

When the workers at Volkswagen’ Tennessee plant began organizing, with the acquiescence, if not outright encouragement of management, they knew there would be some amongst the workforce that felt differently than the UAW leadership and many other of their coworkers about unionization, and that having the union represent the workers was not a given.

What they couldn’t have anticipated was the resistance from the Governor of the state, Bill Haslam and one of the state’s Senators, Bob Corker, both Republicans. Considering that the management of VW was more than okay with the idea of the workers organizing (in fact, they consider it vital that their workforce be organized in some fashion) and that one of the Republican tenets is ‘local control’, why would organizing be a problem for anyone?

When it started to look like the union would get voted in, both Haslam and Corker sprung into action to thwart the effort, despite the Republican party’s position on ‘less government interference’.

But they weren’t alone. Grover Norquist, he of the ‘No Tax Pledge’, decided that the workers in Tennessee were having trouble deciding for themselves whether they wanted to be represented by the UAW or not. Because, after all, what did those workers know? None of them were the President of any lobbying groups.

An odd development, I thought, since this had nothing to do with raising taxes – because management at VW were going to have their workforce organized in some fashion no matter what anyone else thought about it (and the worker’s panel may insist that no future plants be built in the southern U.S. because of the efforts of Haslam, Corker, and Norquist)

Research into Norquist made it clear: Norquist is, perhaps not officially, but definitely in spirit, a Bircher – as in the John Birch Society. His philosophy mimics the Bircher’s exactly.

No, not really. You see, one of the guiding principles the JBS claims to adhere to is ‘individual liberty’, and Norquist definitely doesn’t believe in that – at least not when it comes to workers joining a union that is. No matter. The Birchers don’t believe it either. What they do believe, regardless of what they claim to believe, is individual liberty only for those they deem worthy – big money interests.

Like the Koch brothers. Their father Fred was a founding member of the JBS and both brothers were members, at least for a while. Charles resigned at one point over the Vietnam war. But he rejoined, at least in spirit (the JBS doesn’t publish the names of its members).

Koch money, and Norquist’s leadership may not have created the Tea Party (don’t count it out), but Koch money has supported the nascent movement and Norquist provided strategy. And it’s always been that way with the JBS.

The JBS was active in the Goldwater presidential campaign in 1964 (Goldwater’s famous quote about ‘extremism is no vice’ was a shout-out to the Society) and Ronald Reagan’s victory in California[i]. When Reagan took the White House in 1980, he had Norquist nearby and asked the young promising extremist to start what became Americans for Tax Reform.

Norquist has stated many times that he'd like America to return to the good old days of the 1880's. No Social Security, No labor laws, no safety net, no unions. He'd probably like to see only landowners voting as it once was, or some of us being declarred 3/5's of a person. Norquist marches in lockstep with JBS ideology, and it'd be damn hard to be more rabidly conservative than that.

The Society seemed to have gone dormant for years, particularly after William F. Buckley, Jr.’s denouncement of the group. But they’ve never gone away completely. For years, no one heard the name of the group, but that’s has changed.

End of Part 1

[i] James Phalen “Mutiny In The John Birch Society” Saturday Evening Post, April 8, 1967.