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Remembering 'La Stupenda': Opera Singer Joan Sutherland.

From the late 1950s up until her last stage appearance in 1990, Australian soprano Dame Joan Sutherland was one of the world's most admired and celebrated opera stars. She died Sunday at age 83. Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz looks back at the life and work of the singer known as "La Stupenda."

07:18

Other segments from the episode on October 13, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 13, 2010: Interview with Sean Wilentz; Obituary for Dame Joan Sutherland.

Transcript

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How 1950s Extremist Ideology Influenced Glenn Beck

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Glenn Beck has described himself as restoring history, but my guest, historian
Sean Wilentz, says that Beck and the Tea Party movement are reviving ideas that
circulated on the extremist right half a century ago, especially in the John
Birch Society.

Wilentz has an article in the current edition of the New Yorker titled
"Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War Roots." He asks why current
Republican Party leaders have done virtually nothing to challenge extremist
ideas in their party and a great deal to abet them.

Wilentz is a professor in American history at Princeton University. His books
include "The Rise of American Democracy" and "The Age of Reagan." He's also the
author of the new book "Bob Dylan in America," and there actually is a
connection, a musical one, between his Tea Party article and Dylan, which we'll
hear later.

Glenn Beck is now presenting American history through his new Beck University,
an online series of lectures and discussions, which he describes as a unique
academic experience, bringing together experts in the fields of religion,
American history and economics. Here's the opening of his university website
video.

(Soundbite of video)

Mr. GLENN BECK: Hi, I want to tell you a little bit about Beck University. This
is something that I've been working on for a while. I don't know when we
started devaluing people who are self-educated.

I know people that are going to college, getting their doctorate in history,
who – they don't even really know history. They know what history professors
want to be taught, but that is so unbelievably incomplete.

I was just with a - somebody who is getting their doctorate in - at Columbia,
and I asked him about – do you know about Black Tom, the Black Tom explosion?
It was the largest explosion, the largest terrorist attack on U.S. soil,
continental U.S. soil, prior to 9/11. It happened almost where 9/11 happened.
In fact, it registered a five on the Richter Scale.

I read about it. This history professor didn't know anything about it. Most
people don't know about this man, Colonel House(ph). This is the intimate
papers of Colonel House. If you want to understand Woodrow Wilson, FDR or
Obama, you have to know about Colonel House.

GROSS: That's Glenn Beck from his Beck University website. Sean Wilentz,
welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. SEAN WILENTZ (Author, "Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War
Roots"): It's great to be here.

GROSS: So from your perspective as an historian, what interests you about Glenn
Beck's history lessons on his show and through his new university?

Mr. WILENTZ: Right. Well, Glenn Beck is trying to give you a version of
American history that is supposedly hidden. Supposedly, all we historians -
left, right and center - have been doing for the past 100 years is to keep true
American history from you. And that true American history is what Glenn Beck is
teaching.

What interests me as an historian, is how Glenn Beck's version of American
history, it isn't new. It isn't hidden. It's been out there for 50 years. It's
pretty much what the John Birch Society - that they've been teaching for 50
years.

It's a version of history that demonizes the progressive era, particularly
Woodrow Wilson, sees it as the beginnings of America's going down the road to
totalitarianism, which ends in Beck's version, with Barack Obama.

It's a version of history that is beyond skewed. One history professor said
that, you know, it's not worth a pitcher of warm spit. But of course, that's
what Beck expects us to say. He lives in a kind of, you know, Alice in
Wonderland world, where if people who actually know the history say what he's
teaching is junk, he says that's because you're trying to hide the truth.

GROSS: So he referred to Colonel House in what we heard, and he said in order
to understand Woodrow Wilson, FDR or Obama, you have to know about this guy. So
who is Colonel House?

Mr. WILENTZ: Colonel Edward House was a very close advisor of Woodrow Wilson's,
and Beck has been on him for a long time. He wrote novels. He did all kinds of
things. But he was a close advisor of Wilson's, and he had a lot to do with the
installation, particularly, of the Federal Reserve system in 1913. He was
pushing for that, a way to try and put a break on financial panics, which had
ravaged the economy, American economy, the end of the 19th and the beginning of
the 20th century.

He was also interested in the graduated income tax, which came in under Wilson.
These are the things, actually, that Beck doesn't like. But it has nothing to
do with totalitarianism. It has to do with the kinds of reforms that were
coming in, and Edward House is in the middle of all of that.

GROSS: So what are some of the historical claims that you've heard Glenn Beck
make that you think are just, you know, distortions of history?

Mr. WILENTZ: Well, Beck has all kinds of tricks, though, and he's interested in
all kinds of things, again with the idea that there is something hidden out
there that he is going to expose.

So on one of his shows, for example, he pulled out a mercury dime, you know,
the old mercury dimes with – on the back of it, it has a head fasces on it, has
fasces on it, which is the symbol of fascism, right? So he says aha, and who
brought the dime in? It was Woodrow Wilson. We've been on the road to fascism
for a long time.

So it's all of these, you know, symbols out there - neglecting the fact, of
course, that fasces didn't become a fascist symbol until well after that dime
was made – designed. And that the man who designed it – designed it – the
fasces as a sign of war and then balanced it off with an olive branch.

That's - those are the facts. It has nothing to do with the coming of American
fascism under Woodrow Wilson. But he has a talent, really, for this kind of
pseudo-history and then blowing it up into something that seems to be terribly
diabolical.

GROSS: Last year, Glenn Beck turned a new edition of a book by W. Cleon Skousen
into a bestseller, a bestseller that included Glenn Beck's introduction. Glenn
Beck talked about it on the air. He talked about how you have to know this
guy's writing, and on Amazon, it shot up to number one. It sold, what, over
250,000 copies in the first half of last year.

So who is W. Cleon Skousen, the man Glenn Beck says we need to know about?

Mr. WILENTZ: Yeah, Cleon Skousen's a wild character. He's very much a part of
the, you know, ultra-right of the 1950s and 1960s. He was not formally a member
of the John Birch Society, although he did work with the Birch Society's
speaker's bureau.

He came out of Utah. Well, he was born in Canada but transplanted - Mormon
missionary, taught for many years at Brigham Young University; spent a short
term and contentious term as the police chief of Salt Lake City.

But he was on the extreme right, and in many ways, his views track those of
Welch's. He begins by writing a book called "The Naked Communist," which was a
kind of boilerplate survey of Marxism, Leninism around the world, but has some,
you know, odd passages in which, for example, he accuses one of Franklin Delano
Roosevelt's closest aides of having sold uranium to the Russians, basically
being a traitor, as well as the Russian Sputnik having been stolen from
American plans. Sheer fantasy, but it's in there.

He then writes a book called "The Naked Capitalist," which is tracking some of
Welch's later conspiratorial ideas about the Eastern elite and how it's really
in control.

And then he goes on to write "The 5,000 Year Leap," the book that made it to
number one on Amazon, and a later book, which tries to take American history
and gives you, in a very anodyne-sounding kind of way, tries to root the
American Constitution and American politics in the Bible, in religion, not in
the Enlightenment; and then also in sort of free enterprise economics, you
know, no regulation, no nothing, the free market.

He says that that's what the Constitution's all about. So it's a very right
wing vision, backed up with a conspiratorial idea of who is taking the country
over.

GROSS: And who is taking the country over, in his view?

Mr. WILENTZ: Well, I mean, it begins with Welch, actually. Let's go back to
Welch, rather than Skousen.

GROSS: And Welch is the founder of the John Birch Society.

Mr. WILENTZ: Welch is the founder of the John Birch Society. In 1958 – and
remember, he founded the society in 1954 - 1958, rather, just after Joe
McCarthy's fall in 1954. And Joe McCarthy had talked about a conspiracy so
immense - a domestic communist conspiracy.

Well, he fell in '54. In '58 Welch founds this society and is speaking to that
same fear, the fear that, you know, not so much about the Soviet Union or about
communist China but rather that inside the government there are forces that are
taking the country over, that are sinister, that are communist.

And in 1958 he publishes a tract that he hands out to various people in and
around his society called "The Politician," in which he says that Dwight David
Eisenhower is a dedicated and conscious agent of the communist conspiracy and
has been so for his entire adult life. In other words, the president's a
communist, and we are in the clutches of a conspiracy.

Now, later on he expands that conspiracy out. Actually, the communists aren't –
are just the tools of an even more sinister force led by the Council of Foreign
Relations and the Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberg Group and this group
that's been trying to assert its domination of the world. That conspiratorial
view is really at the heart of what Welch is talking about.

Skousen has it too. It's this idea that - and he picks up on the later stuff in
particular. It's this idea that the communists are out there, and almost
anything that you can name, including objections to the Mormon Church not
having black clerics, all of this is inspired by – all these attacks are
inspired by the communist conspiracy. He's very conspiratorial-minded.

So the two are always there, in Skousen as well as in Welch.

GROSS: So exactly what was the John Birch Society when it was founded? Like did
it have, was it a membership organization? Did you pay dues to belong? How many
people were a part of the group? How powerful was it? And what were the core
principles it stood for?

Mr. WILENTZ: The John Birch Society was founded in 1958 at a meeting in
Indianapolis in which Robert Welch presided for a couple of days, actually, and
you know, read his manifesto of what's going wrong, which later became known as
the Blue Book of the John Birch Society.

And it was a membership organization, very much so, with Welch as – I mean, in
some ways – he doesn't say this explicitly - in some ways it's a kind of parody
or imitation of, you know, a Marxist-Leninist group, insofar as you had the
founder, Robert Welch, who was the man in charge of everything. He had a board
of advisors, which was publicly known, people knew who they were, who were his
advisors - kind of, I don't know, his politburo or something. And they would
advise him on policy, but he would have the last word on what the John Birch
Society would do.

Then there would be local - the only word for them is cells that were secret.
You would join this little group, and in your local group, which always had a
person who was the head of it, who was directing it, you know, who was a
connection to the higher-ups, the idea was that the John Birch Society was
going to influence local politics.

I mean they saw the country as having been taken over by the totalitarians, the
communists. So they were going to try and undo that. And Welch says in the Blue
Book, quite explicitly he says: You know, it hasn't come to a military conflict
yet. We don't have to overthrow these guys with a violent revolution.

So there's still a possibility for political action. And that's what the John
Birch Society was devoted to: education and political action, so that their
people would get involved in local politics to make sure that, for example, the
right people, the correct people - and the right people - got elected to the
school board, which was very important in terms of deciding what kinds of books
students would be reading in public schools.

Candidates for office, they wanted to make sure that, you know, that the right
kinds of people were running and getting elected. So it was that kind of
political organization.

It was estimated – you know, they never, at the height of their popularity it
would be asked how many members they had, and Welch was always very coy about
that. But you know, somewhere by the early '60s it was estimated that they had
as many as 100,000 members around the country, but many, many more sympathizers
and acolytes, as I say.

So it was there. It was real. It was not a figment of anybody's imagination.

GROSS: Now, what about racial and ethnic issues? Were they on the agenda?

Mr. WILENTZ: Well, it was the early '60s, so of course they were. And the John
Birch Society itself actually denounced racism or rather separated itself. It
wanted to have nothing to do with segregation, wanted nothing to do with any of
that, as an expression of white supremacy.

However, they did oppose all of the civil rights laws because they saw it as an
overweening federal government taking charge of people's lives, of overstepping
its boundaries. So they opposed all of that, much as Rand Paul, actually, has
said that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, quite apart from what it does about
racial justice, is an interference with people's right to choose who they want
to sell things to.

GROSS: So Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society, he was a very
wealthy man. How did he make his fortune?

Mr. WILENTZ: He made his fortune as a candy manufacturer, Welch's Candies in
Belmont, Massachusetts.

GROSS: So he's not Welch's grape juice?

Mr. WILENTZ: No, no, he's Welch's Candy. You know, is it Sugar Daddy? Sugar
Daddies.

GROSS: Oh, I remember Sugar Daddies.

Mr. WILENTZ: Yeah, Sugar Daddies, yeah. That's what he did.

GROSS: My guest is Sean Wilentz. He's a professor of history at Princeton
University. His article in the New Yorker is titled "Confounding Fathers: The
Tea Party's Cold War Roots." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Sean Wilentz. He's a professor of
history at Princeton University, and he has a piece in the current edition of
the New Yorker called "Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War Roots."

And he says in this piece that both Glenn Beck and the Tea Party's beliefs are
rooted in extremist groups and thinking from the Cold War period. And Sean
Wilentz is also the author of the new book "Bob Dylan in America.

Now, do you see Glenn Beck and the Tea Party as being directly connected to the
ideas of the John Birch Society?

Mr. WILENTZ: Well, you know, I mean, Beck is one among many. Beck is not the
only conservative, right-wing conservative out there these days, any more than
Welch and Skousen were the only right-wing conservatives out there in the '50s
and '60s.

But what Beck has is a megaphone via Fox News that's, you know, a million times
bigger than anything that Welch or Skousen could have imagined having.

So insofar as the Tea Party looks up to Beck, and there are polls that show
that Tea Party members really do respect Beck more than anybody else, more even
than Sarah Palin, and that they consider him not as an entertainer, the way
that they describe Rush Limbaugh, but as an educator.

I mean, the act that we talked about before, it's coming across, and people are
believing that he is really trustworthy. So you know, insofar as Beck plays
that role, Beck's stuff, not all of it, but a lot of it, comes right out of
that world, right out of the world of the extreme right of the 1950s and 1960s.

So you know, so it's out there again. The real question is why is it out there
again. I mean, the Republican Party had held this at bay right from the '50s
on, and now it's exploding again.

GROSS: Before we get to that question that you just raised, give us an example
of an idea or a conspiracy theory that you've heard Glenn Beck discuss that you
think connects to the John Birch Society of the '50s.

Mr. WILENTZ: Well, I mean, quite directly, I mean, he has accused Woodrow
Wilson. Woodrow Wilson is his great historical boogeyman, alright? He has a
newspaper, I think it's a Boston newspaper, with the headline: Woodrow Wilson
is dead. And he smiles and he says: Yes, Woodrow Wilson is still dead, and I'm
glad he's dead.

The conspiracy theory is a historical conspiracy theory, which is that when
Wilson took power, he ran roughshod over the Constitution. He did so
consciously. He despised what America was, that he was trying to centralize
power in such a way as to make it a kind of – you know, a centralized
totalitarian state.

He was the ur-version of all of that. He was the beginnings of all of that. And
there was a conspiracy that consisted of a small group who got this legislation
through during the Wilson administration - that is to say the Federal Reserve
system and the graduated income tax.

And from there on in there have been forces that have continued to push that
line, and that Barack Obama – and he hasn't filled in all of the dots, but then
again, maybe he has, I haven't heard all of his seminars – but Barack Obama
stands as the culmination of this decades-long, indeed almost centuries-long,
conspiracy to turn America away from the Constitution and away from God, he
often says, and to create a kind of soulless totalitarian state.

The idea that Woodrow Wilson, you know, who sent American troops over to fight
the Bolsheviks, to help the white army in 1917, the idea that Woodrow Wilson is
a totalitarian is crazy, and it's not just because I'm a Princeton professor
that I'm saying that.

I mean, Woodrow Wilson believed in breaking up large concentrations of wealth
in corporations, restoring a kind of free enterprise system. There's a
quotation in the piece in the New Yorker where he says if America can't have
free enterprise, then it can't have freedom.

That's what Woodrow Wilson was about. Turning him into a totalitarian forebear
of, you know, Stalin and of Hitler and then leading that kind of thing to
Barack Obama is a pretty twisted road.

GROSS: So another thing that you say that Robert Welch, the founder of the John
Birch Society, believed was that government is always and is inevitably an
enemy of individual freedom. Do you hear echoes of that today?

Mr. WILENTZ: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, getting rid of the income tax,
getting rid of government, basically. I mean, the only legitimate function of
the government, according to some, is to protect us from foreign enemies. Other
than that, the government should just not exist, and it should be starved into
– just starved to death.

This is an idea of government that is fundamentally anti-American. You know, I
mean, as James Madison said, if men were angels, there would be no need for
government. But men are not angels, so we need government to do the kinds of
things that unangelic, fallen people can't do for ourselves. And that involves
a lot more than just, you know, having an army to defend us from foreign
enemies.

So you know, it's just an idea of America that is tied to, you know, the
attacks on all kinds of reforms, going back to the progressive era, but it's
taken to a kind of almost paranoid but extreme view of the government as
inevitably, always a threat to liberty.

So what are we left with? We're left with no government at all. It's basically
- it would end up with a kind of dog-eat-dog world, mitigated, I suppose, by
religious charity. It's a view of America that is just un-American.

GROSS: Sean Wilentz will be back in the second half of the show. His article in
the New Yorker is titled "Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War Roots."
He's a professor of history at Princeton University but is currently on leave
and is a fellow at the Huntington Library in San Marino. I'm Terry Gross, and
this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross back with historian Sean Wilentz.
We're talking about his article in the current edition of The New Yorker, in
which he writes that Glenn Beck and the Tea Party Movement are reviving ideas
that circulated in the extremist right half a century ago, especially in the
John Birch Society. Wilentz is a professor of American history at Princeton
University. His books include "The Rise of American Democracy" and "The Age of
Reagan." His new book is called "Bob Dylan in America." Wilentz is the
historian in residence of Dylan's official website. Wilentz's article in The
New Yorker is titled "Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War Roots."

So a question that you’re asking in your article is how is it that the
Republican Party managed to hold this kind of extremism at bay for decades.

Mr. WILENTZ: Right.

GROSS: And now that extremism is getting expressed in voting-booth politics.

Mr. WILENTZ: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: We hear candidates expressing these views. What's changed in the party
that has opened the door to this kind of extremism?

Mr. WILENTZ: Right.

GROSS: So let's get back to the 1950s and '60s, in the early days of the John
Birch Society.

Mr. WILENTZ: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What was the Republican Party's reaction then?

Mr. WILENTZ: Well, I mean the Republican Party had to figure out a way to
handle all of this. I mean it was coming out of McCarthyism, it was coming out
of the earlier 50's, but McCarthy had been disgraced so what was the party to
do? And the Republican Party in those days was much more diverse ideologically
than it is now. I mean you had Jacob Javits and Ken Keating in New York and you
had Everett Dirksen in Illinois, a centrist, as well as, you know, very
conservative figures like Barry Goldwater. So, you know, what was the
Republican Party going to do to respond to the hard right?

The interesting character, actually, in the piece and in my way of thinking
about all this wasn’t a politician at all but was an extremely influential
conservative intellectual, William F. Buckley, the editor of the National
Review, the founder and editor of the National Review who was very
conservative. I mean he always defended Joe McCarthy. He always attacked the
New Deal. He was not moderate in his conservatism.

But he looked at the John Birch Society as a great threat to the conservative
movement, to what he thought of as the practical conservative movement that
actually wanted to gain and exercise power. He saw, you know, anyone who was
accusing Dwight D. Eisenhower of being a communist or any group that was doing
so, as a threat not so much to the country as to the right, as to his movement
because if conservatism was brushed or tarred with this kind of loony extremism
then it could never, you know, hope to get a shot at real power.

And so - and he also thought that they were intellectually corrupt. I mean that
they could not draw the essential moral distinction between and liberal and a
communist. That is a, to Buckley, that wasn’t just a matter of political
positioning, that was an essential moral distinction. As conservative as he
was, he knew the difference. And so he uses his good offices in his magazine
and as an adviser to various conservative Republican aspirants to office, to
try and, you know, to read the John Birch Society out of the conservative
movement. And...

GROSS: How? How did he try to do that?

Mr. WILENTZ: Well, he writes editorials. He urges politicians. There's a famous
meeting at, well maybe not so famous, but there was a meeting in Palm Beach in
Florida in early 1962, where Buckley and Goldwater are together and Goldwater
is the, you know, rising hope of the conservative Republicans. And Buckley
urges Goldwater to denounce the John Birch Society, to distance himself
explicitly from the society because it would really harm the movement. Now,
Goldwater took the position of well, there are some nuts in there, it's true,
but there are some nice guys as well and we don’t want to alienate these people
as a group so I will not attack them as a group. He did criticize Welch but he
didn’t criticize the John Birch Society whereas, Buckley was very, very clear
about all of that and he continued - even when he writes an editorial about the
John Birch Society and, you know, subscriptions to his magazine go down, he
gets letters of complaint, financial backing falls away. I mean there was a
price to pay...

GROSS: Because he criticized the John Birch Society and wanted them distanced
from the party, he loses subscriptions and he loses...

Mr. WILENTZ: Exactly. He loses subscription. But he was willing to take that
hit because he knew that, you know, there was more - there were bigger stakes
out there than simply pleasing other conservatives. I mean he wanted to, you
know, he wanted to take over the country, if you will. He wanted to win
election. He wanted what eventually Ronald Reagan would do, that's what was his
plan. But they had to learn this lesson that - well, in the '64 election
actually, you see it played out very well.

Goldwater kind of played footsy with the Birchers and with the extreme right,
he gives his famous acceptance speech in San Francisco, in which he says, you
know, extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in defense of
- in the pursuit of justice is no virtue, which is a kind of wink, you know, to
the Birchers.

You know, Buckley could, although he certainly supported and worked hard for
Goldwater, he could see what was coming. And the Democrats retort - the
Goldwater forces had a slogan that year which was: in your heart you know he's
right. To which the Democrats responded: in your guts you know he's nuts. The
point being look, they did exactly what Buckley feared, which was to taint or
to tar the Goldwater candidacy with a brush of the extreme right. And, you
know, I don’t happen to think that Goldwater was going to win that election
anyway, but it really did hurt him. And it hurt the conservative movement for a
while.

GROSS: So flash forward to today and to the midterm election of 2010.

Mr. WILENTZ: Yeah.

GROSS: What role do you see extremists playing now in the Republican Party, and
do you see an equivalent of a Buckley character saying this extremism is going
to be bad for the party?

Mr. WILENTZ: Right. Well, I don’t see a figure like that. But back up a little
bit. After Reagan left office there was nobody really to replace him of that
stature, with his combination of political savvy conservative principles.
People, conservatives, the right, the extremists who had never gone away,
thought they saw that in George W. Bush but they also thought that he betrayed
him by failing to win the war in Iraq, by having a moderate view on immigration
and by - with TARP at the end, of giving all that federal money to bail out big
business as they saw it. So they thought of Bush as a traitor.

The only gesture coming out of the Republican Party that I've seen has come
from Karl Rove, of all people, an unlikely dissident but there he is, who on
primary night, pointed to one of the Tea Party candidates in Delaware and said
that some of her statements were nutty and that she might not prevail in
November. After which he was set upon by Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, the whole
blogosphere out there and, you know, and told to get back in line, which he did
a couple of days later, coming back on Fox News and saying that he's great fan
of the Tea Party and thinks that Christine O'Donnell, you know, is a great
candidate and should be supported. So, you know, they were whipped back into
line.

I think what's happening is the Republican Party is willing to chase after
whatever it can to get party back - to get power back and, you know, this is
what’s happening to the Republican Party. So instead of drawing lines, people
are jumping over fences in order to look like they're in the good graces of
these - of the Tea Party types.

GROSS: Can you think of another time in American history when there have been
as many people running for Congress who seem to be on the extreme?

Mr. WILENTZ: Not running for Congress, no. I mean even back in the '50s, '60s
there were Birchers around in Congress. John Schmitz from California who
actually ended up running against Nixon in the '72 election, you know, they
were always out there but not with this kind of unified national movement, not
with this kind of media blitz, not with a figure like Glenn Beck. There were
lots of local right wing radio hosts out there but this is on a different
order.

So I think that this is unprecedented as a phenomenon in its size, not in what
it's saying, not in its ideas but in its sheer magnitude. And I do think that,
you know, in part because of that if - well, we don’t know in November quite
yet, but if the Republican Party, a Republican Party that has been unstinting
in trying to appease these people, enjoys the kind of victory, a strong
victory, let alone smashing victory that people are predicting, then I believe
extremist Republicans will have attained more power in the Congress and in the
party than at any other time in modern history.

GROSS: My guest is Sean Wilentz. He's a professor of history at Princeton
University. His article in The New Yorker is titled "Confounding Fathers: The
Tea Party's Cold War Roots." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Sean Wilentz. He's a professor of
history at Princeton University. In the current edition of The New Yorker, he
has an article called "Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War Roots."
And he writes about how the Tea Party and Glenn Beck's version of history are
rooted in what he describes as extremist ideology that came out of the Cold War
in the 1950s.

One of the things I find really fascinating about Glenn Beck is that he has a
kind of anti-intellectual stance.

Mr. WILENTZ: Yeah.

GROSS: At the same time he's always standing professorially in front of a
blackboard.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILENTZ: Right.

GROSS: And he's telling you that, you know, the historians have lied to you but
he's appointed himself, you know, America's truthful historian who is going to
teach you the real story, so the whole thing seems to be rooted in such
paradox, like intellectualism is bad but I'm here to be the professor.

Mr. WILENTZ: Exactly.

GROSS: Historians don’t know what they're talking about but I'm here to be a
historian.

Mr. WILENTZ: Right. Well, it's a paradox that goes way back in American
political culture, Terry. There have always been these characters who come
forth. I call them the village explainers, right? They are the cracker barrel
philosophers who will come along and say look, these experts from Harvard and
Yale and Princeton and the Council of Foreign Relations and you name it, the
Eastern elite, they are not really interested in educating you. They're
interested in themselves. They're interested in deluding you. So I'm going to
come along and explain the truth. That is the pose he's taking. He's just in
his comic way - semi-comic way he plays the role of professor at once, as you
say, absolutely mocking them, you know, with his pipe and his, you know, trying
to talk like a professor talks, all of that, but at the same time he's going
to, you know, raise the curtain and say here's the truth. And...

GROSS: So - yeah.

Mr. WILENTZ: But I'm not one of those, you know, pencil neck geek historians -
progressives, as he puts it, I'm the real thing and I have the facts.

And then he's also very clever. I mean he'll say don’t believe me, read for
yourself, right? You know, it's in the facts. It's in the documents themselves.
Don’t take my word for it. Go read them yourselves. Well, sure, but they're
reading them via his textbooks and his, you know, the things that he's giving
out as the truth, which are just as wacko as what he's talking about.

GROSS: You know, Glenn Beck is into that there's nothing wrong in being self-
taught, in fact, that that's a really good thing.

Mr. WILENTZ: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And it's a way of saying, you know, those expensive elitist...

Mr. WILENTZ: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Ivy League universities, like the one that you teach at...

Mr. WILENTZ: Right.

GROSS: You know...

Mr. WILENTZ: Especially the one that I teach at because Woodrow Wilson was the
president of the bloody place so, yeah.

GROSS: Right. Okay.

Mr. WILENTZ: Right.

GROSS: So like you don’t need to go there to understand the way the world
works. In fact, if you go there they might leave out important things about how
the world works.

Mr. WILENTZ: Yes. Yes.

GROSS: Do you feel like you can understand that point of view in a way, because
there have been - I mean there have been secrets that we find out only decades
later when the Freedom of Information Act files are open. We find out about
lies the government taught us, secrets they kept from us.

Mr. WILENTZ: Right. Right. Right. Right.

GROSS: So it's...

Mr. WILENTZ: Right. No, I - yeah.

GROSS: ...like, why wouldn’t you believe that there are secret conspiracies
operating and things that historians and the government, the leaders just
aren't telling you?

Mr. WILENTZ: Well, I think there's two elements to this, Terry, that you’re
talking about. One is an old fashioned anti, you know, elitism. You know, that
if you go to Harvard, Yale, etcetera, you’re part of a class. I mean that may
have had a germ of truth to it - more than a germ of truth to it - back in
1920, '30, '40. But those institutions are much more diverse, much different
than they were. I mean it's not a small interlocking ruling class that sends
their kids to these schools and there are many other schools out there. So, you
know, that has changed enormously.

But I do think you’re right about this - I mean you’re really on to something
about this, what, distrust of elites generally and I think that that dates back
to the Vietnam era and in the Watergate era.

I mean I think that before then there was a general feeling that people had
trust in government, that government, whether they agreed with it or not, the
federal government was trying to do the right thing. You may agree, you may
disagree, they were trying to do the right thing. There was trust. There was a
trust there. I think that that trust was exploded in the late '60s and then
especially in the Democratic Party. And the Democratic Party has yet to recover
from the divisions that you saw in 1968 and the Republican Party, with
Watergate and the disgrace of Nixon - and there was a point at which the
Republican Party was actually thinking about changing its name, it was so
disgraced by Nixon.

I think that mistrust on the right arose there, that they’ve been sold out.
Reagan came along and picked it up, but or put it back together again for the
Republicans, but there's no other figure like him. And I still think there's a
level of distrust. You saw that with Reagan as well, in Iran-Contra. All of it
dates back it dates back to that. It's a 40 almost 50-year struggle that we’ve
had to recover from the things that Bob Dylan was singing about in the 1960s.
And I'm not sure that anybody has yet come along to repair it. And certainly,
the emanations that we're hearing today are echoes of that era, and indeed,
more than echoes because now we're hearing exactly the same old stuff being
recycled via Glenn Beck.

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Sean Wilentz. He's a professor of
history at Princeton University. In the current edition of The New Yorker, he
has an article called "Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War Roots."
He's also the author of a new book called "Bob Dylan in America."

And now I will ask you to make the connection between your piece...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...in The New Yorker and your Bob Dylan book, and that connection is a
song by Bob Dylan that satirizes the John Birch Society...

Mr. WILENTZ: Right. Right.

GROSS: ...a group on the extreme of the right, which we’ve been talking about.

Mr. WILENTZ: Right.

GROSS: So introduce this song for us.

Mr. WILENTZ: Okay. Well, the Birch Society was subject to many satirical jibes.
But one of the funniest was delivered by Bob Dylan, who in 1963, wrote a song
called "Talkin' John Birch Blues," or "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues." And
what it is, is his vision of a guy who has joined the John Birch Society. He's
going to get those Reds, he's going to clear up the country. And he starts
investigating here, investigating there, he wonders about Betsy Ross because
after all, there are red stripes in the American flag, you know, getting back
to the symbolism. He ends up wondering if he should investigate himself. Good
god, he says. There were a bunch of them, of these satirical jibes, but Dylan's
is one of the best. And it was sort of funny. I mean, I was writing that
article and I had just finished - well, this book was being published and I'd
been publicizing it, and boy oh boy did the two come together in this song.

GROSS: Okay, let's hear it. This is Bob Dylan live in '64?

Mr. WILENTZ: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Okay.

(Soundbite of song, "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues")

Mr. BOB DYLAN (Singer-songwriter): (Singing) Well, I was feeling tired and kind
of blue. I didn't know what I was gonna do. The communists were coming around,
they were in the air, they were on the ground, they were all over.

(Soundbite of harmonica)

So I run down most hurriedly and joined the John Birch Society. I got me a
secret membership card, went back to my backyard and started looking - on the
side walk, underneath the rosebush.

(Soundbite of harmonica)

Well, I was looking everywhere for them god darn Reds. I got up in the morning
and looked under my bed, looked behind the kitchen, behind the door, even tore
loose the kitchen floor. I couldn’t find any.

(Soundbite of harmonica)

GROSS: That's Bob Dylan's "Talkin' John Birch Paranoid Blues." Sean Wilentz's
new book about Dylan is called "Bob Dylan in America." Wilentz's article in The
New Yorker is titled "Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War Roots."
You'll find a link to it on website, freshair.npr.org. Sean Wilentz is a
professor of history at Princeton University.

Coming up, our classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz remembers one of the
world's most celebrated opera star, Dame Joan Sutherland. She died Sunday at
the age of 83.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)
..COST:
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*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
..DATE:
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..PGRM:
Fresh Air
..TIME:
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..SGMT:
Remembering 'La Stupenda': Opera Singer Joan Sutherland by Lloyd Schwartz

TERRY GROSS, host:

From the late 1950s up until her last stage appearance in 1990, Australian
soprano Dame Joan Sutherland was one of the world's most admired and celebrated
opera stars. She died this past Sunday at the age of 83.

Classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz has an appreciation.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. JOAN SUTHERLAND (Opera singer): (Singing in Foreign language)

LLOYD SCHWARTZ: When Joan Sutherland came to Boston on a Metropolitan Opera
tour in 1964, in her signature role of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, a
friend and I were sitting in the next-to-last row of the balcony, miles from
the stage. Except for Maria Callas, most Lucias had pipsqueaky voices that
allowed them to sing the incredible high notes and rapid coloratura trills and
roulades this music requires. But the minute Sutherland opened her mouth, we
heard something no recording could convey: Her voice was not only a phenomenon
of agility, it was also amazingly huge and warm.

When she hit her high E-flat at the end of Lucia's famous Mad Scene, my
friend's eyes literally popped and he spent the last scene of the opera on all
fours searching for his contact lenses. Sutherland had that kind of voice. If
you care primarily about extraordinary vocal qualities, then Sutherland was
probably your favorite singer. And, for some years, she was mine. I practically
wore out my copy of her famous 1960 double-LP tribute to the great sopranos of
the past, "The Art of the Prima Donna."

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SUTHERLAND: (Singing in Foreign language)

SCHWARTZ: I heard her both in Boston, where she sang some of her major roles
for the legendary opera director Sarah Caldwell, and in New York. She was a
tall, large-boned woman who moved rather awkwardly on stage, and her acting was
more remarkable for its sincerity than for dramatic subtlety. Some critics
complained about her mushy diction, but there was never anything phony or
facile about her.

Her technique was rock solid, and along with her husband, the conductor Richard
Bonynge, they revived some long-forgotten operas. Her performance of the title
role in Handel's "Alcina" may have triggered a new consideration of Handel
operas. Though most of her roles were tragic, she said she loved those demented
dames. One of her biggest hits was Donizetti's "Daughter of the Regiment,"
which she often sang with a young Italian tenor she encouraged, named Luciano
Pavarotti, and she proved to be a delightful comedienne. Another unknown singer
whose major career Sutherland helped launch was a mezzo-soprano named Marilyn
Horne, who'd been kicking around the new-music circuit for some years. She
became an overnight sensation when she started singing with Sutherland. Their
first appearance together was at Carnegie Hall in a concert version of
Rossini's rarely produced "Semiramide," with Sutherland as the Queen of Babylon
who's in love with Horne, her commander-in-chief - who also turns out to be her
son. The audience greeted their first duet with a stunned silence, a universal
intake of breath, and then a 15-minute ovation. The same thing happened after
their second duet. Apparently, a later test of their voices discovered an
uncanny synchronicity in the pattern of their sound waves. And we just thought
it was great singing.

Sutherland had a vast repertoire, from early music and Italian Bel Canto to
Wagner and Puccini, French opera and even Noel Coward. Well into the 1980s, she
was still taking on demanding new roles. I last heard her in Boston in 1985, in
"Anna Bolena," Donizetti's opera about Anne Boleyn. In her earliest years of
fame, no singer I heard thrilled me more. And though I ultimately wanted
something more from opera, I never stopped admiring her. She wasn't nicknamed
La Stupenda for nothing. In sheer vocal size and brilliance, there's never been
anyone like her - and probably never will be.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SUTHERLAND: (Singing in foreign language spoken)

GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of the Boston Phoenix and
teaches English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Dame Joan Sutherland died last Sunday. You can hear two of her recordings on
our website, freshair.npr.org.

I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)
..COST:
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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