Sam Tanenhaus, a student of the history of conservatism and author of The End of Conservatism***, told a story last weekend on Bill Moyers Journal:

There’s a very important incident described in this book that occurred in 1965, when the John Birch Society, an organization these new Americanist groups resemble — the ones who are marching in Washington and holding tea parties. Essentially, very extremist revanchist groups that view politics in a conspiratorial way.

And the John Birch Society during the peak of the Cold War struggle was convinced, and you’re well aware of this, that Dwight Eisenhower was a communist agent, who reported to his brother Milton, and 80 percent of the government was dominated by Communists. Communists were in charge of American education, American health care. They were fluoridating the water to weaken our brains. All of this happened. And at first, [William] Buckley and his fellow intellectuals at NATIONAL REVIEW indulged this. They said, “You know what? Their arguments are absurd, but they believe in the right things. They’re anti-communists. And they’re helping our movement.”

Cause many of them helped Barry Goldwater get nominated in 1964. And then in 1965, Buckley said, “Enough.” Buckley himself had matured politically. He’d run for Mayor of New York. He’d seen how politics really worked. And he said, “We can’t allow ourselves to be discredited by our own fringe.” So, he turned over his own magazine to a denunciation of the John Birch Society. More important, the columns he wrote denouncing what he called its “drivel” were circulated in advance to three of the great conservative Republicans of the day, Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, Senator John Tower, from your home state of Texas, and Tower read them on the floor of Congress into the Congressional record. In other words, the intellectual and political leaders of the right drew a line. And that’s what we may not see if we don’t have that kind of leadership on the right now.

As if on cue, yesterday Joe Scarborough called out Glenn Beck:

“We’re going to have a conservatives’ honor roll on this show,” Scarborough continued, referring to his show, Morning Joe. “And trust me, you want to be on this honor roll. I’m talking to you Mitt Romney, and I’m talking to anybody who wants to be president in 2012 — you need to call out this type of hatred. Because it always blows up in your face.

“When you preach this kind of hatred and say that an African American president hates all white people you are playing with fire and bad things can happen and if they do happen, not only is Glenn Beck responsible, but conservatives who don’t call him out are responsible.”

***It’s worth noting that Tanenhaus distinctly does not want conservatism to end. He thinks it’s the heart of so much of what makes America unique.