In Rick Perlstein’s excellent article The Long Con: Mail-order conservatism, the author of the classic Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America discusses the odd world of mail order conservative fundraisers who prey on gullible older people, parting them from their pensions by agitating them with nonsense.
This revealing text of a 1970s conservative fundraising pitch originated from Heritage Foundation founder Paul Weyrich’s “Free Congress Research and Education Foundation”:
Do you believe that children should have the right to sue their parents for being “forced” to
Should children be eligible for minimum wage if they are being asked to do household
Do you believe that children should have the right to choose their own family?
As incredible as they might sound, these are just a few of the new “children’s rights laws” that could become a reality under a new United Nations program if fully implemented by the Carter administration.
If radical anti-family forces have their way, this UN sponsored program is likely to become an all-out assault on our traditional family structure.
Perlstein’s analysis of this sort of goofy vintage mail order entreaty is, uh, right on the money, so to speak…
Following the standard scare-mongering playbook of the fundraising Right, Weyrich launched his appeal with some horrifying eventuality that sounded both entirely specific and hair-raisingly imminent (“all-out assault on our traditional family structure”—or, in the case of a 1976 pitch signed by Senator Jesse Helms, taxpayer-supported “grade school courses that teach our children that cannibalism, wife swapping, and the murder of infants and the elderly are acceptable behavior”; or, to take one from not too long ago, the white-slavery style claim that “babies are being harvested and sold on the black market by Planned Parenthood”).
Closer inspection reveals the looming horror to be built on a non-falsifiable foundation (“could become”; “is likely to become”). This conditional prospect, which might prove discouraging to a skeptically minded mark, is all the more useful to reach those inclined to divide the moral universe in two—between the realm of the wicked, populated by secretive, conspiratorial elites, and the realm of the normal, orderly, safe, and sane.
Weyrich’s letter concludes by proposing an entirely specific, real-world remedy: slaying the wicked can easily be hastened for the low, low price of a $5, $10, or $25 contribution from you, the humble citizen-warrior.
These are bedtime stories, meant for childlike minds. Or, more to the point, they are in the business of producing childlike minds. Conjuring up the most garishly insatiable monsters precisely in order to banish them from underneath the bed, they aim to put the target to sleep.
OUCH. He nailed it. And this sort of practice continues thirty years later, not that the come-on message has become any more intellectually sophisticated, because it hasn’t…
From Fox News, to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Glenn Beck on the radio, not to mention Internet conspiracy theorists like Breitbart.com and the lowest of the low, WorldNetDaily, the reichwing mediasphere is all about keeping people ill-informed, stupid and fearful.
Having a large audience who doesn’t know shit from shinola is a big plus when you’re flogging exorbitantly over-priced gold coins, half-priced Ann Coulter books and prepackaged food rations that require no refrigeration and remain edible for up to four decades in your nuclear bomb shelter.
Like Rick Perlstein, I subscribed to a number of far-right mailing lists myself when the Tea party movement first exploded onto the scene (Obviously these emails provide great fodder for a blog like this one to poke fun at). The best ultra-conservative daily emails, by far, I think, come from WND, mainly because editorially speaking, it’s probably the dumbest and most comically paranoiac of all the major reichwing blogs—and yet, conversely, WND is the best organized from a business and e-commerce standpoint.
There’s a comically formulaic structure to the WND emails—I get about a dozen per day—they’re as strict and singsong as limericks, usually posing the subject line’s topic in the form of a burning question like “Guess which one of Obama’s Commie BFFs will be named Secretary of Assassinating Conservatives? Michael Savage spills the beans!” or some bullshit like that. (As I’ve been typing this, a new one has come in: “HOW OBAMA CAN BE STOPPED IN ELECTORAL COLLEGE Exclusive: Judson Phillips offers constitutional means to put Romney in office Jan. 21”)
And then there are some links to a new “Bible Codes” book revealing the identity of the Antichrist (who can this mysterious “BO” character be???), an “explosive” DVD expose about Barack Obama being a homosexual crackhead or pricey dietary supplements that you can take and then throw away your insulin shots forever!
The Long Con: Mail-order conservatism (The Baffler)