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Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party

Max Blumenthal's new book traces the rise of the Radical Right and how it captured control of the GOP and turned it into the party of Sarah Palin.
 
 
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The following is the transcript of an interview by Democracy Now's Juan Gonzalez with author Max Blumenthal about his new book, Republican Gomorrah. It has been edited for length.

Juan Gonzalez: Fifty years ago, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower issued a warning against the rise of extremist movements within his own party. During his presidency, Eisenhower had endured attacks by Senator Joseph McCarthy, the radical right John Birch Society and others. In a 1959 letter to a World War II veteran, Eisenhower wrote, quote, “Many prominent officials, possessing no standing or expertness as they themselves claim it, attempt to further their own ideas or interests by resorting to statements more distinguished by stridency than by accuracy.”

Half a century later, in a summer of town hall disruptions and birth certificate controversies, what Eisenhower had warned against has come true: that the Republican Party has been captured by its extremist wing. At least that’s what award-winning journalist Max Blumenthal argues in his new book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party .

The book examines the transformation of the GOP from the party of Dwight Eisenhower to the party of Sarah Palin and how this sets the stage for the future of American politics. Max Blumenthal is a Puffin Foundation writing fellow at the Nation Institute. He joins us today for his first extended interview about his book, Republican Gomorrah . .. [Max,] you had an op-ed piece in the Times this week citing that Eisenhower quote. Can you talk about that warning of Eisenhower and your sense of how true it rings today?

Blumenthal: I actually discovered that Eisenhower letter while doing some research for my book, Republican Gomorrah . You know, for the past six years I’ve covered the radical right. I’ve gone to their conventions. I’ve interviewed their leaders. I’ve gone to their houses of worship. And I’ve gotten a sense of what conservatism has become, how radical it’s become, and the extent to which the Christian right has taken over the Republican Party. So when I found this letter by Eisenhower to a military veteran who was dying at the time -- and he didn’t really have to respond to his letter -- I was really riveted by it, by this prophecy, and I found it even a little bit eerie. I think that his warning about the rise of extremist movements should be as memorable in history as his warning about the military-industrial complex, because he saw what was happening to his Republican Party.

Eisenhower really believed in the big tent philosophy of the Republican Party, that in order to be a national party, you had to have a broad constituency. Today, the Republican Party is a one-ring circus, and it’s controlled by people like Sarah Palin, who are warning of death panels, that Barack Obama’s healthcare plan will decide who lives and who dies. It’s controlled by people like Representative Paul Broun, this born-again Christian who was recently elected, who’s comparing Barack Obama simultaneously to Hitler and Stalin. It’s controlled by -- it actually has no leadership. It’s controlled by the movement that I say shattered the party, which is substantially the Christian right.

And the conservatism that defines it is not an ideology or a set of ideas; it’s really a sensibility. It’s a social psychology that I think is best summarized by a quote by Newt Gingrich, who’s also supported Sarah Palin’s claim about death panels. Newt Gingrich said, “I think you can write a psychological profile of me that says I found a way to immerse my insecurities in a cause large enough to justify whatever I wanted it to.”