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National Federation of Democratic Women in Kansas City – June 12, 2014 (June 13, 2014)

Claire Conner: ….I have a unique story. One that you haven’t heard before, probably. I was raised in the heart of the radical right. It took me twenty-five years to figure out that virtually everything I had learned from my father and my mother I didn’t agree with. But living that long with a true, pure radical taught me a lot of things.

And he taught me the thing I most want to share with you tonight. There’s a reason why they win. The reason is so hard to grasp. It’s a simple reason, but we can’t grasp it. My father, thirty-two years, never changed his position on anything. Not once. He was driven by rage, anger, hatred and a supposed devotion to the flag and the Constitution.

I called my book “Wrapped in the Flag” because that is one of the biggest problems we face. We face a movement that wraps itself in such patriotic bull, bull it is astounding.        

But here’s what we don’t get, on the left. We get all that, but here’s what we don’t get. These people aren’t kidding. what they say is what they mean. When they talk about their plans and they talk about their philosophy they’re not kidding. And you can’t wrap your arms around it and I can’t either. Why? Because it’s stunningly impossible to think that you are dealing with a whole group of people, currently running, by the way, the House of Representatives, who do not believe in government. That was the biggest shock to me with my father. It took me years to grasp that. He loved the Constitution, but hated the government. Now that’s nuts, but it’s true. If you listen, you listen to the gang running the House that’s what you hear. They love the Constitution, but they hate the government. They have done such a wonderful job selling the American people on this problem, they started, by the way, with Reagan, Reagan took the idea that the biggest problem you have is the Federal Government and turned it into an eight year administration.

They have done such an excellent job selling us on the idea that our most serious problem is that the Federal Government is out to get you and you and me that right now sixty-three percent of Americans think the biggest problem they have is the Federal Government. Let me say this, not everybody appreciates it when I say this, but the liberals have failed to stand up and defend the idea that the United States has a Federal Government and that Federal Government has legitimate and essential functions. [applause]

Now let me be clear, I don’t love the NSA. I don’t love everything President Obama did or didn’t do. I don’t agree with everything the Federal Government has done. But, I do not believe that turning the United States back to something precolonial times is in any way an answer to our problems. To make America back into the image that the right has is to change us to something not one person in this country ever lived in or ever thought they wanted.

I figured this out in nineteen seventy-six. I was a slow learner. But in nineteen seventy-six I got it. I was born in nineteen forty-five, so, yes, I was a slow learner. Here’s what happened. I went up to see my mom and dad. We lived in the same town in Wisconsin and I had been pulling back from doing any Birch stuff for years. I kept saying. I’m not doing this, I am not participating, don’t call me. But it’s very hard to say no to your mom and dad, they were very persuasive. anyway, I was, at that time, involved in the pro-life movement, which is another interesting and important learning experience for me. I was on the national, on the state board, spoke all over the state. I believed, in nineteen seventy-six, that every person of good will would understand that the only way you stop abortion is by caring for mothers and children in need. That was evident to me. It was evident to me. It was absolutely crystal clear to me, not only as a christian woman, but as a human being that you cannot say anything if you’re not willing to help those people in need.

Okay. So, at the time in Wisconsin we had this governor and this re, Republican group in the legislature who were in the business of cutting all the funding for what we called WIC, women, infants and children. Now, I was on the board of Wisconsin Right to Life. I was speaking all over the state. I couldn’t get Wisconsin Right to Life to stand up and say no to the WIC cuts. And I couldn’t understand it. I simply couldn’t grasp that. I couldn’t understand that you would say, you cannot abort your child and we won’t do anything to help you feed that baby. It was, it gave me a headache. It gives me a headache talking about it now.

So, anyway, I was up at my mom and dad’s house and I was talking to them because I thought even though we didn’t agree on politics we certainly agreed on abortion, ‘kay. So I’m saying to them, you need to stand up with me and help this legislature stop these WIC cuts. My mother goes into her, her office comes back with the most recent John Birch Society bulletin. Every month the John Birch Society read a book, practically, to their members saying, this is what you’re gonna do, this is what you do, this is what we believe in, this is why. This particular bulletin was longer than usual because it was sort of an analysis of American history in time for the bicentennial, okay. So this is July nineteen seventy-six. And she starts reading from this bulletin written by Robert Welch, the founder of the Birch Society. He goes through American history and he says, in nineteen hundred, this was like the apex of American history, in nineteen hundred we had this wonderful economy, people were discovering all kinds of possibilities, uh, the free enterprise system was in full bloom. Nineteen hundred, folks, ‘kay. And then he went on and said, and this is a quote, there were pockets of poverty, however [laughter], but, even the poverty was offset by the blessings of liberty, thus it was a healthy kind of poverty, healthy poverty, because every man understood that relief from dire want was entirely his own  responsibility. I said, what the hell are you talking about? what are you talking about? Healthy poverty? I said, so you’re answer to the pro-life movement is healthy poverty? Now we laugh about this, but let me tell you something, did you hear [Representative] Paul Ryan and the House of representatives when they cut food stamps last year?

I actually, my parents did a lot of things for me, and one of the things they did is turn me into a policy wonk. Because you couldn’t have a conversation with them if you didn’t know more than they knew [laughter], okay. But that was a good thing. So I’m kind of a brainiac about that kind of stuff. So, I actually turn on C-SPAN, I know I’m one of the only weirdos who does, but I do. So, when they’re debating on the food stamps I turned it on. And I said, I was so sad and so angry, but I also realized every last one of those people sounded just like the people who came to dinner at my house who were the leadership in the emerging radical right.

Paul Ryan, Paul Ryan sounds like every John Birch yapper who I ever met. Paul Ryan, John Boehner, the whole gang of these people, Eric Cantor, defending. And in Kansas you guys have Chris Kolbach. Poverty’s good for you. I love that. Don’t you love that? People who are millionaires who stand up with their absolutely hideous arrogance and say, poverty’s good for you people. Now we have to give every rich corporation a tax break, we have to cut taxes in Kansas for everybody who is wealthy, but, oh my god, those poor people, they’re gonna do better if we keep ’em poor. They’re gonna work hard, ’cause you know they’re lazy, you know they’re lazy. That’s why they’re poor. Now this is a crock on every level. But, it works. It works, it works, it works for a couple reasons.

Number one, they appeal to people who think, gee, you know, if the government stops giving my, my lazy neighbor help, in the morning I’m gonna be rich. So, there is that. I used to say to my dad, you know, the reason you’re a conservative is because inside of you you think you’re going to win the Irish lottery as long as the poor people don’t get any help. And there is that.

But there’s another thing. We don’t call them out for this. We let them get away with it….