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Profile: Kevin Drum

Kevin Drum was a participant or observer in the following events:

American Liberty League logo.American Liberty League logo. [Source: David Pietrusza]Prominent Democrats and Republicans join together to form the American Liberty League (ALL). The organization, according to the founders, exists “to combat radicalism, preserve property rights, uphold and preserve the Constitution.” ALL spokesman Jouett Shouse says ALL will fight to preserve “traditional American political values.” According to the Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, ALL was organized by “disgruntled business conservatives, Wall Street financiers, right-wing opponents of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, and defeated rivals within Roosevelt’s Democratic Party.” ALL is financed by, among others, industrialists Pierre, Irenee, and Lammot du Pont; former Democratic Party chairman John J. Raskob; financier E.F. Hutton; and executive Sewell Avery of the department store chain Montgomery Ward. Most of the politicians in the organization are Republicans, but these are joined by anti-Roosevelt Democrats such as Alfred E. Smith, who ran for president in 1928. Many ALL members were once part of the Association against the Prohibition Amendment, which fought to re-legalize the US liquor industry. ALL unsuccessfully fights to block federal regulations and additional taxes on business, the creation of public power utilities, pro-labor barganing rights, agricultural production controls and subsidies, New Deal relief and public jobs programs, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Social Security, and other Roosevelt-era programs and initiatives. According to the Encyclopedia, “critics effectively lampooned league members as champions of privilege, ungrateful critics of an administration that had saved capitalism, and vindictive and selfish individuals seeking revenge on a president for betraying his social class.” ALL works diligently, but unsuccessfully, to unseat Roosevelt in 1936, backing Republican contender Alfred M. Landon. After Landon loses in a landslide to Roosevelt, the organization fades in prominence. The Encyclopedia concludes that ALL’s “legacy of fund-raising tactics, ideology-driven issues research and public education, and coordination with partisan legislative and electoral campaigns foreshadowed today’s political action committees and independent-expenditure organizations.” (New York Times 8/23/1934; Encyclopedia of the Great Depression 1/1/2004) In 2003, columnist Ralph De Toledano will write, “The Liberty League was laughed out of existence by New Yorker cartoonists, who depicted its members looking out over Fifth Avenue and snorting that doomsday was here and Josef Stalin lurked in the bushes.” (De Toledano 9/2/2003) In 2010, writer Kevin Drum will compare the American Liberty League to the tea party movement (see September 2010). (Drum 9/2010)

Critics of the Bush administration, and of the reporters who helped push its narrative regarding the Iraq invasion, lambast Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward for failing to reveal himself as a recipient of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see June 13, 2003, November 14, 2005, and November 16-17, 2005) while himself attacking the Plame Wilson investigation (see December 1, 2004, July 7, 2005, July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, July 31, 2005, and October 27, 2005). Joshua Micah Marshall writes that while the story of Woodward’s involvement remains “sketchy,” it appears “that Woodward—who has long been publicly critical of the Fitzgerald investigation—has been part of it from the beginning. Literally, the beginning.… At a minimum, though, Woodward seems to have some explaining to do, at least for the fact that he became an aggressive commentator on the leak story without ever disclosing his own role in it, not even to his editors.” (Marshall 11/15/2005) The Washington Monthly’s Kevin Drum calls Woodward’s behavior “bizarre,” and says, “I can’t begin to make sense of this.” (Drum 11/17/2005) The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz asks, “Who was this Shallow Throat, and why is this the first we’re hearing about it?” (Froomkin 11/16/2005) Liberal author and blogger Jane Hamsher is particularly caustic in her criticism, writing: “Woodward stopped being a ‘journalist’ in the true sense of the word long ago—when he decided celebrity status and book sales meant more than the truth. He has gone from being—well, whatever he was, to something much worse: an official peddler of lies told by powerful people to whitewash their criminal activities.” (Jane Hamsher 11/15/2005) And John Aravosis of the liberal AmericaBlog writes: “It’s also beginning to sound a lot like Bob Woodward is becoming our next Judith Miller (see October 16, 2005). His repeated rants in defense of this administration, and against the special prosecutor, certainly take on a very interesting edge considering Mr. Woodward didn’t bother disclosing that he was quite involved in this story, and was hardly the impartial observer his silence suggested he was. Not to mention, he knew all along that HE TOO had received the leak, suggesting that a clear pattern of multiple leaks was developing, yet he still went on TV and said that all of these repeated leaks were just a slip of the tongue?” (Emphasis in the original.) (John Aravosis 11/15/2005)

Some media outlets pick up on a claim made by Attorney General Michael Mukasey on March 27, 2008, when he said that the US intercepted a call to a 9/11 hijacker in the US from an al-Qaeda safe house in Afghanistan (see March 27, 2008). This was possibly a garbled reference to an al-Qaeda hub in Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001) mentioned by several administration officials since the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping story was exposed (see December 17, 2005). The San Francisco Chronicle notes that Mukasey “did not explain why the government, if it knew of telephone calls from suspected foreign terrorists, hadn’t sought a wiretapping warrant from a court established by Congress to authorize terrorist surveillance, or hadn’t monitored all such calls without a warrant for 72 hours as allowed by law.” (Egelko 3/28/2008) Salon commentator and former civil rights litigator Glenn Greenwald will attack Mukasey over the story, commenting, “These are multiple falsehoods here, and independently, this whole claim makes no sense.” (Greenwald 3/29/2008; Greenwald 4/4/2008)
9/11 Commission Comment - In response to a query from Greenwald, former 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow comments: “Not sure of course what [Mukasey] had in mind, although the most important signals intelligence leads related to our report… was not of this character. If, as he says, the [US government] didn’t know where the call went in the US, neither did we.” (Greewald 4/3/2008) (Note: the 9/11 Commission report may actually contain two cryptic references to what Mukasey is talking about (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004).) (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 87-88, 222) Former 9/11 Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton initially refuses to comment, but later says: “I am unfamiliar with the telephone call that Attorney General Mukasey cited in his appearance in San Francisco on March 27. The 9/11 Commission did not receive any information pertaining to its occurrence.” (Greewald 4/3/2008; Greenwald 4/8/2008)
Other Media - The topic will also be covered by Raw Story and mentioned by MSNBC host Keith Olbermann, who also attacks Mukasey: “What? The government knew about some phone call from a safe house in Afghanistan into the US about 9/11? Before 9/11?” He adds: “Either the attorney general just admitted that the government for which he works is guilty of malfeasant complicity in the 9/11 attacks, or he’s lying. I’m betting on lying.” (Edwards and Kane 4/1/2008; MSNBC 4/1/2008; Kane 4/3/2008) The story is also picked up by CBS commentator Kevin Drum, who appears to be unaware that information about some NSA intercepts of the hijackers’ calls was first made public by the Congressional Inquiry five years previously. However, Drum comments: “[T]his deserves some followup from the press. Mukasey has spoken about this in public, so if he’s claiming that FISA prevented us from intercepting a key call before 9/11 he also needs to defend that in public.” (Drum 4/3/2008; Drum 4/4/2008) A group of Congressmen also formally asks the Justice Department for an explanation of the matter (see April 3, 2008).

Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer publishes an article on one Washington, DC-area “study group” of the Constitution as sponsored by a local “tea party” organization. Such “study groups” have “mushroom[ed]” in number across the nation, according to Mencimer’s fellow Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum. The study group Mencimer examines was held in Woodbridge, Virginia, “a hotbed of tea partiers and anti-immigration Minutemen,” Mencimer writes. The group is led by Rick Dalton, a volunteer from the National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS). Dalton travels the country lecturing and leading “study groups” about the Constitution for tea party organizations around the country. Mencimer writes: “Many tea partiers believe the country’s economic and political woes are a direct result of Washington abandoning the Constitution, which they believe calls for an extremely limited federal government that does not concern itself with matters like bank failures or health care reform. They’ve turned to the founding document with the fervor of evangelicals seeking inspiration from the sacred texts of the past.” (Mencimer 5/2010; Drum 9/2010)
Connection to Radical Reinterpretation of Constitution, Fox's Beck - Many tea partiers, including Dalton, look to a radical reinterpretation of the Constitution as espoused by the late W. Cleon Skousen, a Mormon who told people he was an aide to then-FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. In 1981, Skousen published a controversial book, The 5000 Year Leap, a controversial reinterpretation of the Constitution that in recent months has been promoted by Fox News talk show host and tea party icon Glenn Beck; Beck wrote the foreward to the new edition of the book, which has achieved bestselling status. Skousen is the original founder of NCCS. Dalton is a graduate of George Wythe University, an unaccredited institution founded by Skousen protege Oliver DeMille, and a teacher at the unaccredited Heritage Academy charter school in Mesa, Arizona, a school largely attended by formerly homeschooled children. Dalton’s instructional presentation at the Woodbridge seminar is largely derived from Skousen’s teachings; some of the participants are clearly conversant in Skousen’s works and can recite from his workbook The Making of America, which Dalton uses in the presentation.
Constitution a Divine Instrument - According to Skousen, the material in the Constitution stems directly from information given by God to Moses. That, according to Skousen, makes the Constitution something of a divine work. Skousen taught that Northern Europe was settled by one of the “lost tribes of Israel,” and that the Anglo-Saxons, the descendants of this “lost tribe,” kept the teachings of Moses alive for thousands of years until their descendants emigrated to America and incorporated Moses’s wisdom into the Constitution. Mencimer calls Skousen’s “lost tribes” teaching “a piece of historical poppycock that has long held traction in the white supremacist movement.”
Racist, 'Capitalist' Teachings of NCCS - NCCS has gotten into trouble in the past over imparting pro-slavery and other racist ideology in its works; Skousen’s The Making of America incorporates material from a 1934 essay by slavery apologist Fred Albert Shannon, who wrote in part, “If the pickaninnies [a racial slur referring to African-Americans] ran naked, it was generally from choice, and when the white boys had to put on shoes and go away to school, they were likely to envy the freedom of their colored playmates.” In his Woodbridge seminar, Dalton criticizes slavery, but skips the Constitutional amendments referring to slavery and civil rights for minorities. Instead, he teaches that the Constitution protects the capitalist “free market,” and “proves” his contention by saying that the early Jamestown settlers starved because they were “Communists” until a new “HDIC—head dude in charge” took over and saved the settlement by using Biblical and free-market capitalism to provide a new and distinctly American direction. Dalton tells the participants that Karl Marx invented the income tax (Mencimer notes that it was actually first proposed by William Pitt the Younger, a conservative British lawmaker). According to Dalton, the federal government is subverting the Constitution by spending federal monies to buy or build any structures outside of forts, magazines and arsenals, dockyards, and post offices. “What about national parks?” he asks. “Think of all that land that could be put on the rolls and generating taxes!”
Interviews - Mencimer interviews a number of participants during the lunch break. Construction inspector Robert Jeffery tells Mencimer that he does not believe in gun law restrictions, saying that the Second Amendment is all the “concealed carry permit” he needs. He says Dalton’s teachings prove to him that the nation must return to “the founding principles to understand where the country had gone off track.” Ken Vaughn, who leads the Northern Virginia branch of the 9/12 Movement (see March 13, 2009 and After), says he became interested in the Constitution study groups after the Obama administration began “bailing out firms that had no right to be bailed out. I think that made people wake up and look at our debt and think, ‘Maybe we need to make changes.’” Ann Hardt, a Mormon, has three of her homeschooled children in tow, and tells Mencimer that she uses Skousen’s educational materials to teach her six children history. She is a veteran of the NCCS seminars and a tea party member. (Mencimer 5/2010)

Mother Jones columnist Kevin Drum compares the “tea party” movement to earlier organizations, each formed, he writes, to oppose Democratic presidencies. “[T]oo many observers mistakenly react to the tea party as if it’s brand new, an organic and spontaneous response to something unique in the current political climate,” he writes. “But it’s not. It’s not a response to the recession or to health care reform or to some kind of spectacular new liberal overreach. It’s what happens whenever a Democrat takes over the White House. When FDR was in office in the 1930s, conservative zealotry coalesced in the Liberty League (see August 23, 1934 and After). When JFK won the presidency in the ‘60s, the John Birch Society flourished (see November 1963). When Bill Clinton ended the Reagan Revolution in the ‘90s, talk radio erupted with the conspiracy theories of the Arkansas Project. And today, with Barack Obama in the Oval Office, it’s the tea party’s turn.” While differences between the various groups are substantive, Drum writes, the similarities are overwhelming. Drum notes that industrialist Fred Koch, an early backer of the Birchers (see 1940 and After), gave way to his sons, David and Charles Koch, who helped launch the organization that would become FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, both of which are major funders and organizers of the tea party movement (see 1979-1980 and 1984 and After). Tea partiers rely on a 50-year-old radical reinterpretation of the Constitution, W. Cleon Skousen’s The 5000 Year Leap; Skousen’s anti-Communist polemics were popular with the Birchers. And Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), believed that the 17th Amendment, which affirms the direct election of US senators, was what Drum calls “a poisonous concentration of power in the federal government.” Tea partiers and Fox News hosts hawk this same theory today (see October 16, 2009, April 8, 2010, and June 11, 2010). Drum writes that, far from being motivated by personal economic hardship (tea party supporters tend to be more affluent and less affected by the economic downturn than the average American—see April 14, 2010) or even because of a dislike of President Obama because of his race, the tea party exists because “[e]ver since the 1930s, something very much like the tea party movement has fluoresced every time a Democrat wins the presidency, and the nature of the fluorescence always follows many of the same broad contours: a reverence for the Constitution, a supposedly spontaneous uprising of formerly nonpolitical middle-class activists, a preoccupation with socialism and the expanding tyranny of big government, a bitterness toward an underclass viewed as unwilling to work, and a weakness for outlandish conspiracy theories.”
Constitutional 'Purity' - One similarity is the focus of each group on what they term the “purity” or “sanctity” of the US Constitution, even as they apply their sometimes-radical reinterpretations of constitutional mandates. “The Liberty Leaguers… spoke of it with ‘worshipful intensity,’” Drum writes. “The John Birch Society—which is enjoying a renaissance of sorts today (see July 22, 2007, August 4, 2008, October 10, 2008, April 13, 2009, April 19, 2010, and August 24, 2010)—says of itself, ‘From its earliest days the John Birch Society has emphasized the importance of the Constitution for securing our freedom.’ And… study groups dedicated to the Constitution have mushroomed among tea partiers” (see May 2010).
Fear of 'Creeping Socialism' and Tyranny - Drum writes: “Other shared tropes include a fear of ‘losing the country we grew up in,’ an obsession with ‘parasites’ who are leeching off of hardworking Americans, and—even though they’ve always received copious assistance from business interests and political operatives—a myth that the movement is composed entirely of fed-up grassroots amateurs” (see 1984 and After, Late 2004, January 2009 and After, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, July 3-4, 2010, and August 30, 2010). Above all, though, is the recurring theme of “creeping socialism and a federal government that’s destroying our freedoms.” The American Liberty League fought to stop the Roosevelt administration from establishing Social Security, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and what Drum calls an “alphabet soup of new regulatory agencies.” In the 1960s, the John Birch Society (JBS) felt the government was being overrun by Communism and “collectivism.” Drum notes that JBS founder Robert Welch’s mantra, “Less government and more responsibility,” echoes central tenets of tea party beliefs. In the 1990s, then-Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA) became House Speaker in large part because of his opposition to the Clinton administration and his leadership in the right’s battle to defund federal social-net programs. Today, tea partiers echo the JBS in their insistence that Obama is a closet Marxist or socialist, and echo fears from earlier groups that Obama, the Democrat, intends to turn American democracy into a tyranny.
Conspiracy Theories - Drum echoes conservative writer Jonathan Kay by noting the tea partiers’ “insatiable appetite for conspiracy theories” (see February 4-8, 2010). Welch argued that the federal government was bowing to Communist manipulation by fluoridating the water supply (see 1945 and After), but more importantly, promoted the idea that a mysterious group of “insiders” had been running the world since at least 1776, when the Illuminati took over most European governments. The “insiders” continued their influence, Welch avowed, through the years, taking over France after the French Revolution, Russia and other nations after the advent of Communism, and continued to exercise control through such organs as the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission. The same groups are at the center of many conspiracy theories embraced by numerous tea partiers. Drum points out the fondness of the “anti-Clinton zealots” for their “colorful and ever-growing bestiary of shadowy plots,” most surrounding their belief that Clinton was a rapist, a murderer, and a drug peddler. Similar conspiracy theories were promulgated by the JBS about John Kennedy. “Today’s conspiracy theories are different in detail but no less wacky—and no less widespread,” Drum writes. The “birther” conspiracy theory, which holds that Obama is not a natural-born citizen, is quite popular with tea party supporters, and many more believe that Obama intends to place conservatives such as themselves in internment camps, a theory peddled by the JBS in the early 1960s. And many believe that ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the now-defunct community service organization, somehow took control of the Democratic Party, destroyed banks by forcing them to make loans to indigent minorities, crashed the economy, and installed Obama into power.
Effectiveness Improving over Time - Drum writes that each iteration of this right-wing phenomenon is more successful than the last. The Liberty League made no impact whatsoever on President Roosevelt’s 1936 re-election attempt. In 1964, the JBS succeeded in helping right-wing libertarian candidate Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) win the Republican presidential nomination. In the 1990s, Gingrich rode the wave of far-right activism to become speaker of the House, and the activism culminated in the impeachment of President Clinton and the election of President George W. Bush. Drum predicts that the latest wave, the tea party movement, will for all intents and purposes take over the Republican Party. In each iteration, moderate Republicans resisted the wave of right-wing change, but, Drum believes, not enough moderate Republicans exist in any position of power to resist the tea party transformation. The GOP has been shifting ever rightward since the 1970s, Drum notes, and the tea party movement has profited from a transformed media environment, where it can present its ideology almost nonstop on Fox News and rely on social media such as Facebook to connect with new recruits. Drum calls the paradigm shift “the mainstreaming of extremism.” In 1961, Time magazine disparaged the JBS as “tiresome” (see March 10, 1961); in 2009, it hailed Fox News personality Glenn Beck as “gifted.” Moderates have virtually no chance in today’s environment of pushing back against the tea party’s rightward surge. “Unlike the Birchers, or even the Clinton conspiracy theorists, the tea partiers aren’t a fringe part of the conservative movement,” Drum writes. “They are the conservative movement.” Drum believes that even with all the tea party’s current success, it will eventually burn itself out, “while its broader identity becomes subsumed by a Republican Party that’s been headed down the path of ever less-tolerant conservatism for decades. In that sense, the tea party movement is merely an unusually flamboyant symptom of an illness that’s been breeding for a long time.” (Drum 9/2010)

Liberal columnist Joan Walsh uses a recent op-ed by authors and researchers David Campbell and Robert Putnam (see August 16, 2011) to ask why the media portrays the “tea party” movement as a powerful new force of non-partisan advocates of small government, when research shows that the movement is, as Walsh and others have long argued, largely formed of right-wing social conservatives. Walsh writes: “It’s great to have data, but this is something a lot of us believed all along—the tea party was the Republican base dressed up in silly costumes. Why was the media so quick to declare them a vital new force in politics?” Walsh points to the early involvement of the billionaire Koch brothers (see July 3-4, 2010 and August 30, 2010), lobbying groups such as FreedomWorks (see April 8, 2009 and April 14, 2009) and Americans for Prosperity (see Late 2004), and Fox News, whom she says did early and “energetic publicity for… tea party rallies” (see March 23-24, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 8, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 28, 2009, September 1, 2009, September 12, 2009, September 18, 2009, Early November 2009, and May 22, 2011). Former Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck helped start one of the earliest nationwide “tea party” organizations, the “9-12 movement” (see March 13, 2009 and After). The first “tea party” rally Walsh attended, in San Francisco in April 2009, was sponsored by right-wing talk radio station KSFO and featured speakers such as Melanie Morgan, who, Walsh recalls, “whipped the crowd into an anti-government frenzy that day.” Many “birthers”—people who insist that President Obama is not the legitimate president because he is not an American citizen—were on hand. Race is a big issue for many “tea party” members, Walsh writes: while Obama’s race is a bone of contention for many “tea partiers,” “it’s worth noting that these are the same people who’ve been fighting the Democratic Party since the days of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the beginning of the War on Poverty, almost 50 years ago. They associate those long overdue social reforms with giving folks, mainly black people, something they don’t deserve. I sometimes think just calling them racist against our black president obscures the depths of their hatred for Democrats, period.” (Walsh 8/17/2011) Walsh is echoing similar claims made by Mother Jones columnist Kevin Drum almost a year ago (see September 2010).


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