The John Birch Society generally dismisses its critics as Communists, Com-symps or, at best, Communist dupes. Last week a surprising new recruit turned up in the symp-dupe ranks: the ultra-conservative National Review.
The Review, founded in 1955 by William F. (God and Man at Yale) Buckley Jr., is an increasingly lively, literate journal that is constantly goading the "Liberal Establishment." But many a liberal organ might have envied the Review's devastating analysis of the thinking of the Birch Society's founder, onetime Boston Candymaker Robert Welch.
The Review argued that Welch, far from repenting such absurdities as his 1958 attack on Eisenhower as a Com-symp, is as loose a talker as ever. To Welch, for instance, the Bay of Pigs was a theatrical performance jointly sponsored by Castro and "his friends in the U.S. Government" in order to strengthen the Communist hold on Cuba. Not only the U.S. State Department but also the Central Intelligence Agency is Communist-riddled.
Retired Taffy Puller. Welch's wild assaults on reason, says the Review, menace the solidarity of the entire conservative movement. "He persists in distorting reality ... By the extravagance of his remarks, he repels rather than attracts a great following . . . Can one endorse the efforts of a man who, in one's judgment, goes about bearing false witness?" The Review says no: "Our opinion is that Robert Welch is damaging the cause of anti-Communism."
Buckley actually approves of the John Birch Society ("I hope it thrives"), but has been more and more bothered by its founder's antics. Last April Buckley said in print that there were "grave differences" between his own conservative creed and that of retired Taffy-Puller Welch. Besides, last week's Review editorial was bound to brew another of the ideological storms on which Buckley and the Review seem to thrive.
Tut-Tutting the Pope. The magazine's brief life has been punctuated by thunderclaps of dissent. Recently, Buckley, who is a Roman Catholic, challenged the papal encyclical Mater et Magistra. This letter from Pope John XXIII to his bishops advocated a measure of "socialization," i.e., government planning and welfare programs, and urged bishops to accommodate to the trend. The Review promptly took the Vatican to task, describing the encyclical as "a venture in triviality."
Buckley's belligerence has manifestly enhanced the fortunes of his magazine. Since late 1960. the Review's circulation has grown from 36,000 to a healthy 65,000.* Advertising revenue has doubled since mid-1960, and the magazine loses only $100,000 a yeara state of affairs that does not particularly bother Bill Buckley. Rich by inheritance (oil), he has both the money and the will to keep the magazine going indefinitely.
Last week's editorial even won praise from Liberal Establishmentarian James Reston. Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, who thought the Review's firm stand might encourage the Republican Party to rusticate Welch and all other extremists of his breed. Such recognition should compensate for the risks in criticizing a man whose flock doubtless numbers some subscribers to the National Review.