Review of Claire Conner’s Wrapped in the Flag

I recently posted a review at Amazon of Claire Conner’s Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right. (The paperback edition changed the subtitle to What I Learned Growing Up in America’s Radical Right, How I Escaped, and Why My Story Matters Today.) The review begins below. It unfortunately is buried within a stack of over a hundred favorable reviews at Amazon. But anyone who wants to read the review there can go here. Then if you find it worthy, you can click the button that says the review is helpful and move it up in the queue:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book despite myself. The author, Claire Conner, entertainingly interweaves a personal story of her growing up with parents who were avid and prominent members of the John Birch Society with a history of the Birch Society itself. I am only four years younger than Conner, and my own story has many intriguing parallels to hers. My parents never joined “the Society,” as its members referred to it, but they (particularly my mother) became what could be called Birch Society “fellow travelers,” involved in right-wing politics after the election of 1960. Many of their friends were Society members. I therefore imbibed much of the same literature as Conner, listened to similar public lectures, and was taken to and participated in similar events. She and I both, for example, were peripherally involved in the 1964 Goldwater campaign.

Our similar backgrounds even influenced both Conner’s and my choices of college. In her case, she was required by her parents to attend the Catholic University of Dallas, at a time when Willmoore Kendall (who had previously been one of Bill Buckley’s mentors at Yale) was teaching there. I chose to attend the Presbyterian Grove City College, studying economics under Hans Sennholz (who wrote for the Society’s magazine, American Opinion, for a span of years) and history under Clarence Carson (a frequent contributor to the Foundation for Economic Education’s Freeman). Finally, she and I eventually grew up to reject the Society’s conspiratorial worldview.

But there the similarities end. I drifted from conservatism to libertarianism, whereas Conner became a leftwing, progressive activist. Her narrative is filled with many fascinating tidbits and anecdotes about Birch Society activities and luminaries. But unlike me, she had parents who were domineering and dogmatic to the point of being abusive. Thus, she is unable to separate fully her wrenching childhood from the ideas and opinions of those she generally identifies as right wing. While there is always a note of tenderness in her writing about her parents, their fanatical harshness becomes the template for her damning of not only all Birchers but also most conservatives and even libertarians.

This makes her utterly oblivious to the extent to which she is still trapped in a conspiratorial worldview, but one of the Left rather than of the Right. She has graduated from her parents’ belief that America was threatened by a giant left-wing conspiracy, in which every liberal was either a Communist or a Communist fellow-traveler to a belief that America is threatened by a giant radical-right conspiracy, stretching from the 1950s to the present. She lumps together with the Birch Society in this gigantic, ongoing, and diffuse conspiracy such disparate individuals and organizations as Bill Buckley and his conservative National Review; politicians such as Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, and Ronald Reagan; Ayn Rand and her Objectivist followers; the libertarian Cato Institute; the modern Tea Party; and white supremacists of the Klan.

To support this portrayal, Conner engages in the same kind of guilt by association that Birchers employed to charge, for instance, that Martin Luther King was a secret Soviet agent. Thus, the fact that Fred Koch, the father of Charles and David, was a founding Council member of the Birch Society (who ultimately left because of opposition to the Vietnam War) implicates every person and organization associated with him and his sons. Although she honestly reports that Buckley eventually denounced the Birch Society, this cuts no ice for her. She recognizes no significant difference between the racist, anti-Semitic Revilo Oliver (kicked out of the Birch Society for those very reasons), who became virulently anti-Christian, and Jerry Falwell’s Christian Moral Majority, which was unabashedly pro-Israel. Indeed, nearly anyone who thinks that government has become too intrusive and extensive is somehow involved, wittingly or unwittingly. Most disgraceful and bizarre of all, the book’s introduction slyly tries to insinuate that the radical right somehow contributed to the Kennedy assassination, yet while fully accepting that Lee Harvey Oswald was actually the assassin as well as a Communist.

An occasional, slight acknowledgment that her parents or others she wishes to expose were correct about a few things slips into Conner’s story. Thus, only in a footnote to her memories about her parents indoctrinating her in the 1960s about how “the ultimate fiend was Mao Zedong” (p. 43), worse than Hitler, does she concede, “My parents were right about Mao” (p. 225). Late in the book she admits “I never would have guessed, not in a hundred years, that the John Birch Society would be as critical of President Bush and the fiasco in Iraq as I was” (p. 212). But none of this can soften her blanket denunciation of everything her parents advocated or embraced. As stated above, there is much fascinating historical detail in this readable book. With a little more nuance, balance, and objectivity, it could have been far more compelling and credible. Conner’s account of how her parents mistreated her, in particular, is in many places heartbreaking. Which makes it all the more sad that her scarred upbringing has turned her political landscape into the exact mirror image of that of her parents.

McCloskey Review = Leftist Rhetoric in Tatters

Deirdre McCloskey has an excellent review of a new book focusing on the immorality of capitalism. An excerpt:

The poor have benefited the most from capitalism. The sheer, first-act, unanalyzed equality that Sandel advocates would have killed the modern world and kept us in the appalling poverty of the human condition down to 1800. In fact in some countries it did, such as India after 1947, under Gandhi-plus-London-School-of-Economics egalitarianism, the “License Raj” and “the Hindu rate of growth,” as the Indians themselves bitterly described their communitarian economy. When I talk to friends who think like Sandel I worry that their dispositions will kill, quite unintentionally, the only chance for the world’s poor to achieve the scope for a full human life.


Sandel worries properly that the market can crowd out the sacred. A corporate market in, say, instruction in elementary classrooms can crowd out unbiased teaching about capitalism. Yet Sandel does not tell his own classroom that state schools can crowd out unbiased teaching about, say, the environment.

Do read the whole thing. McCloskey is an expert writer and a prestigious scholar, so be sure to grab a cup of coffee before you settle in. (h/t Jason Brennan)

The Minimum Wage and Stupid National Public Radio

Two things on my mind this Bastille Day 2012. The first is who is more stupid, French leftists or American liberals? I have life-long knowledge of both tribes. At this point, I think French leftists are smarter but more dishonest that their American cousins. In general, there is a certain artlessness about deception in ordinary Americans. The French are often artful; can’t take that away from them.

The second matter on my mind is that constant struggle to avoid using nasty epithets in connection with liberals’ statements. One that keeps coming up is the simple “stupid.” I scrupulously avoid the word on this blog and in my other writings. Yet, there are informational events that sort of self-label with no escape possible. Here is one, below.

It’s shortly after 5 pm on Sunday July 10th 2012. I am in my pick-up truck listening to National Public Radio. (I know the combination is jarring.) There an in-depth discussion of the minimum wage. That’s always interesting. Conservatives make an apparently impeccable theoretical argument against: Minimum wage laws create unemployment among the most vulnerable categories of the work force. Liberals sometimes make sophisticated arguments for the minimum wage. Behind those, however, I always find the usual combination of mindless jeremiads of “sad” and “unfair.” But, it seems to me that the empirical evidence supporting the conservative position against minimum wages is on the thin side. Listening to a relaxed radio show from the Left could be a good way to find out more. Continue reading

Liberal Authoritarianism: Independence Day, the Sequel

This is Part Two of a report on my American Independence Day (Part one is “An Eventful American Independence Night.” It was posted on July 5th 2012.)

The best beach in Santa Cruz was cordoned off for the evening with plastic netting, and illuminated by powerful projectors. There were only a small number of narrow entry points where beach-goers were inspected individually for contraband. I don’t know if anyone was frisked but younger people were intimidated into answering questions they should not have to answer routinely according to my understanding of the Constitution. (I think law enforcement officers may not stop you at all without cause or probable cause.)

There were two kinds of contraband, possibly three. The first was obviously alcohol. Alcohol is outlawed on that beach at all times. I regret to admit that I think it’s a good policy. In the days before the prohibition, I had the feeling that the same beach was more dangerous to children. The “maybe” contraband would be weapons although I don’t understand by what authority a quasi-municipality, the harbor, and a county could jointly or separately restrict the citizens’ right to bear arms. Incredibly, it being the Fourth of July, Independence Day, the second kind of contraband was… fireworks.

Local government entities routinely ban fireworks for the Fourth of July. They ban fireworks in the towns were many houses are made of wood. They ban fireworks in brush and forest areas, reasonably enough. They also ban fireworks in the sand and on the water. Public safety specialists in the Santa Cruz area apparently believe that sand can burn and that the sea can go up in flames. Note that even the most fanatical local greenie will no affirm that the local seawater is so polluted that it will catch fire. (In fact, it ‘s not polluted at all, except very segmentally and only by concentrations of seabird shit. Bird dropping being natural, greenies should love them and not fear breathing them while swimming or swallowing them accidentally. But I digress in the most disgustingly self-indulgent manner!)

The local prohibition of fireworks makes me wonder how thousands of French villages, many quite a bit smaller than Santa Cruz, manage to offer a beautiful, complex fireworks to their citizens on Bastille Day, year after year. It makes me wonder why France has not yet been burned down to the tree roots and French beaches sand melted into glass. Of course, the French often have their fire department take charge of fireworks, even volunteer fire department. The system seems to work for everyone.

Someone will object that involving fire departments would cost money and that this is not a good time given that so many local entities are in dire financial straights. I don’t know about that. They did not rely on that obvious situation when they thought, and we thought, they were rich. And I don’t believe paying locally employed law enforcement officers time and half or more is economical. That’s not counting the private security employees hired for the occasion of this every labor-intensive endeavor. Why does the uncharitable thought cross my mind that providing overtime for public employees is one of the motivation behind the fireworks ban, possibly not a conscious one?

Later in the evening, leaving the scene in my truck was like moving across a city under martial law. There were law enforcement officers in the fog under the street lights at every crossroad directing traffic into unnatural patterns. One sent me into an eternal loop I could only escape by cheating. The police occupation continued much after the crowds had left the area.

A harbor guy I won’t name because it would be bad for this career confided to me that the real issue occasioning this vast deployment of armed force was concerns with possible mass rioting. I know a little the guy who said this. He strikes me as a reasonable person. He was not putting me on. This raises the question: Who would riot?

Santa Cruz is Silicon Valley’s beach town. Directly as my informer stopped talking I conceive visions of hordes of rowdy India-born hoodlums descending on my city, their pocket protectors bristling with non-pens pens of unknown usage. I could just see them in my mind’s eye sowing wi-fi havoc on our rudimentary 2010 !phones.

Or, maybe, just maybe, political correctness being what it is in this left-liberal region, this bastion of 1970s political culture, another fear underlaid the ban and the security measures. I don’t know that what came to my mind is true. It may just be speculation. Is it possible that the local authorities are afraid that the gangs from nearby towns such as Watsonville and Salinas would seize the opportunity of lose revelry to transform the beaches into battlefield where to continue their deadly wars ? Is it possible the same local authorities don’t have the internal fortitude to name the object of their fears? The problem is that upward of 99% of violent gang members seem to have Spanish surnames. Could it be that stating that they, the authorities close the beaches to contain gangs would be considered the sin of sins, racial profiling?

PS I like Santa Cruz Harbor a great deal. It’s this extreme rarity: a public entity with quasi-municipal powers that does not rely on taxes. It’s long overdue for my complimentary essay.

Guns and Truth

I have stayed away from this blog too long. I wasn’t cruising the South Pacific on my McGregor 26, as you might expect. I was just editing my memoirs; I was trying to be thorough. (It’s called: “I Used to Be French: An Immature Autobiography.” There are excerpts of it on this blog.)

On my last radio show, I made the subject of gun control come up. I did it because I had heard one of my colleagues, a liberal talk-show host on the same station make a statement that sounded bogus to me. (The station is KSCO A.M. In Santa Cruz; it’s available on-line. My show is called “Facts Matter.” It’s every Sunday 11a.m. – 1p.m.)

The statement that caught my attention was this:

For every time a gun is used in legitimate self-defense, a gun is used nineteen times for illegitimate or illegal purposes.

The figure was just too pat. It was calculated to be remembered by regular folks who are assumed by the Left to have no head for numbers. It sounded like pure propaganda. I thought it might also be trivially true, correct but without any meaning.

I called the liberal host during his show and challenged him to produce a source. He could not. We had eleven email exchanges. The other guy says he gave me the references. I say he did not.

If you insist on you shoring up your argument with figures – a good thing- you had better be prepared to explain where they come from. I think the Left is forever quoting imaginary numbers and numbers they misinterpret. Some just cheat and make up facts. Others are just conveniently loose with numbers, making mistakes always in the same direction.  Continue reading

The Curious Case of the Bourgeois Bubble Boy

Since Ron Paul’s fantastic, spontaneous, incredible 2008 presidential campaign libertarianism has become a hot topic among the brightest people throughout the world. This is not a coincidence or an act of God, I think. The recent peak in interest of libertarian alternatives has to do with the sometimes sorry state that our world always seems to be in.  As somebody who came from the hard, anarchist, collectivist Left, I can assess that the libertarian alternative has been given a fair shake by a broad swathe of the American public.  However, on the hard Left, there has been bitter hostility towards anything remotely libertarian in American political discourse.  Most of this is envy, I think; a primitive form of envy that always forms when competition arises to challenge the orthodox opinions and mores of a society.

More on this is just a minute, but first: although there are indeed many problems facing the world today, we are living in a time of great abundance and peace. Furthermore, the periodic mass starvations in East Africa and the short, intense outbursts of small wars are both relatively simple to fix and uncommon (which is why they make the news). These are facts that we would do well to remember. Back to the hard, bitter Left.
Continue reading

Left-Liberal Hypocrisy and Bad Taste

Leftists always let their real soul slip through, somehow.

I know a young woman who lives in a country other than the US. She is not American. What she has in common with Santa Cruz, California liberals is, well, everything she says. (I can’t really know what she actually believes.) She says the world is fast coming to an end because of fossil fuels. She says, in so many words, that governments should take their money from the rich to give it to the poor (as defined by herself, of course). She says socialism is more fair than capitalism. (She has no idea what capitalism means.) Of, course, she talks as if the US government were a far worse terrorist than say, Osama Bin Laden. By the way, she does not want to talk about who was responsible for 9/11. I think she likes to feed ambiguity without paying the price deniers of terrorism pay in intelligent society.

This young woman also holds a responsible position in the service of a NATO government. She received an education from one of the very best schools in her country. Personally, I think that one-on-one, she is quite likable. At least, I like her in most respects.

Recently, I had a chance to look at her wedding pictures. They showed the bride in her bridal splendor, laughing guests, parts of a dinner party. Nothing more natural there. However, included in the set of published pictures was one of an expensive Mercedes convertible.

Why was the car treated as prominent member of a wedding party?

Weddings are about two individuals joining their lives together, in part, to rear children. It’s about their friends celebrating. It’s about people, isn’t it? Should be, especially among liberals who always act holier-than-thou in matters of material consumption, liberals who see themselves as are more spiritual than selfish, narrow-minded, gross conservatives like me.

What’s the flashy, environmentally unsound, insulting-to-the-poor, imported car doing in the middle of the wedding party? Do I detect such mind-boggling hypocrisy that the hypocrites don’t even recognize what they are?

By the way, no sour grapes here. I don’t care much about cars, never did. I only ask of a car that it protect me against highway drunks and that I don’t have to think about it. Conservatives are simplistic, for sure! I think expensive cars are the poor man’s art (and, I don’t mean financially poor! Wow, what a bitch I am!) The Mercedes in the picture did look good, not $100,000-good though. Think about how much you could do with that kind of money, for others, and even to cultivate your own self.

How utterly vulgar; how infantile; how astonishingly self-centered, how amazingly incoherent; how so very left-liberal!

The Cold in California, in Europe, and in Liberal Hearts (Updated)

Note: This is a replay.

It’s been an unusually cold and rainy month of May in northern California. Thousands of miles to the east and north, in Paris, France, a May cold record held for sixteen years was beaten recently according to Le Figaro of 5/11/10. I don’t know if any of this means anything in terms of so-called “ global warming” ( a few points don’t make a trend). I am certain however that the climate duffuses would be clamoring if the month of May had been especially warm in either part of the world. Al Gore is speaking in Santa Cruz this week. He is a rich man with no sense of ridicule. He became rich by selling imaginary protection against an imaginary ill, global warming, while living in a giant house and flying in executive jets with his entourage, Hollywood-style. Meanwhile, my wife and I dry our laundry on the line, in the backyard, like both of our grand mothers used to do. I wonder how many climate activists forgo an electric or gas dryer, to help save the planet. I have not found one yet though I keep asking.

Here is a micro story about how liberals think, a slice of life. Last Saturday, I go by a young friend’s of mine who is holding a garage sale. I may find something to buy from her in spite of my wife’s warning that she will divorce me if I bring anything else into the house (except the beautiful quilts I get for her at the flea market, of course). At least, I will bring my friend cheerful moral support. I know I am in enemy territory there, ideologically. It matters not because likability does not follow strict ideological lines and because those who are meritorious by conservative standards are not all conservatives. (A reason for hope, by the way.) Continue reading