Weve Been Nuts for Decades

The Far Right was born in OC, which ought to scare the hell out of you

Most of the country understood this at some level, which is why Barry Goldwater, who wouldn't have gotten the Republican nomination without Orange County's support, went down to such rousing defeat in '64.

What's startling, though, is that while the Republican establishment nationwide drifted to the center after Goldwater's debacle, OC's Far Right actually intensified its fervor and was instrumental in getting Reagan elected governor in '66. (Sample stump speech, given in the wake of the Watts riots: "For the law-abiding, the policeman is a friend. For all our science and sophistication, for all our justified pride in intellectual accomplishments, the jungle is waiting to take over." The italics are in the original.) After lying relatively low during the Nixon and Carter years—McGirr reports engagingly on the Jesus Movement that flowered in the early 1970s, particularly the rise of Chuck Smith's apocalyptic Calvary Chapel—the suburban warriors consolidated their forces once again to help get Reagan to the White House, and the Right's triumph was complete.

McGirr's prose is conscientiously dull, like architecture in Irvine, but some of her anecdotal portraits of suburban warriors—of, for instance, Congressman James Utt, who "made national news in 1963 with his suggestions that 'a large contingent of barefooted Africans' might be training in Georgia for what he hinted could be part of a United Nations military exercise to take over the United States"—are golden. She regards anecdotes like this as "fringe," but then again, she doesn't have to live here. She regards the rise of OC's Right as a more or less rational response by modern men and women to tumultuous social change, but after reading her book, this county's politics seem to me less comprehensible and more deeply strange than ever.

Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right by Lisa McGirr; Princeton University Press. 395 pages, hardcover, $31.95.

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