I hope you will forgive me in advance because this is one of those posts where I’m not exactly sure what I want to say but will know it when I eat it.
I know this drives most of you batty because this is one of those issues where I don’t stake out a position immediately and defend it to the last extremity. Most of the time, I prefer ideas to percolate a while, age a bit like a fine wine (or, my detractors might say like rancid beef). I like to play the angles on most issues because there is always more than one side to any argument and usually more than two sides. The world is not an “either/or” proposition and if that makes me a squish on some issues, so be it. The bane of my existence has been my meager academic record and loving parents who insisted their children learn how to think rather than make academic achievement an end unto itself. To ensure this, they exposed the 10 of us children to an extraordinary array of philosophers, historians, poets, essayists, novelists, and humorists who looked at the world from every possible angle. From Marx, to Montesquieu, to Mad Magazine, my dad’s library was a playhouse for the mind, and an enriching experience for the soul.
None of that plays well on the internet (or, these days, among most conservatives) as my dwindling number of blog readers and ever more strident critics never let me forget. But lest you take this for a whine, fear not. I am content to do as I have been doing for going on 5 years - wake up every day and write what I want, and share my thinking on whatever catches my fancy. And right now, I have bosses that put up with my apostasy and stand behind me - at some cost, I might add, as I have no doubt both American Thinker and Pajamas Media have lost some readership because I have pissed so many off. I am grateful for their support (and the continuation of my paychecks) which for the time being, allows me a freedom of expression that should be the envy of any political writer on either side of the divide.
Today, it is the critique by the left that somehow, the radical right has captured the conservative movement and, by extension, the Republican party. Liberals have temporarily abandoned the idea of trying to make Rush Limbaugh the leader of the conservatives and the GOP because Mr. Limbaugh has failed to cooperate by not being very radical lately or at least, loony tunes radical which is the standard by which the left wants to establish in people’s minds when they look at the right.
Instead, they have focused on another pop conservative in Glenn Beck, a big time talk radio host and a budding star on Fox News. Mr. Beck is the kind of “conservative leader” I warned about in this post when I wondered whether tapping into populist rage by stoking the rhetorical fires was such a good idea:
The inevitable populist backlash is predictable. The problem is that mass movements based on populist rage have generally led to untoward and unanticipated consequences. History is littered with these populist outbreaks - especially those that happen as a result of great cultural and economic changes being enacted by a perceived elite. The last major populist movement in America was George Wallace’s candidacy in 1968 (to a much lesser extent in 1964 and 72) that saw the Alabama governor get an astonishing 13.5% of the vote and carry 5 states in the general election. Wallace tapped into the rage and fear being felt by white, working class men who felt threatened (thanks to Wallace’s sneering, bigoted rhetoric) by African American agitation for equality. Nixon and the GOP then mainstreamed the tactic albeit using much more subtle language and even Clinton got into the act with his famous “Sister Souljah Moment,” assuring whites he wouldn’t pander to black racists like Jesse Jackson (Clinton is the only Democrat since JFK to carry any states of the traditional “Deep South.).
Tapping in to the rage of taxpayers by exploiting their fears then, would almost certainly result in unanticipated problems for the GOP. But beyond that, is this the way the Republicans wish to return to power? The Rovian strategy of using wedge issues to cleave the electorate over gay marriage, abortion, and other social issues got Republicans elected but also sowed the seeds of their own destruction. By the time 2008 rolled around, those wedge issues had lost their potency and there was ample evidence of a backlash by center-right and center-left moderates against the GOP and their perceived intolerance. It was Obama who exploited this backlash by promising to govern based on not what divides us but by what unites us. His “post partisan” message - a campaign gimmick we know now - resonated powerfully with the center who had tired of the back biting and poisonous partisan atmosphere in Washington and longed for “change.”
(Side note: Many commenters mentioned Ross Perot’s third party insurgency as the last “populist” uprising which is true to a certain extent but hardly compares to the fear and rage present in 1968 or today.)
I know many conservatives adore Glenn Beck. He has an everyman demeanor and an obvious deep and abiding love of America which serves as a tonic for many on the right in these sometimes depressing times. I wouldn’t call him thougtful but he is not without brains and appears to prep very well for his radio and TV shows.
But Glenn Beck is also something of a kook. Back in March, he claimed that he had been doing “research” on the so-called “internment camps” where first, liberals claimed the government was making ready for them and now some conspiracy minded conservatives believe Obama is preparing for the right (Don’t you wish the government would make up its mind?). He made the statement that he couldn’t “debunk” the story and added, “”If you have any fear that we might be heading toward a totalitarian state, look out. There is something happening in our country and it ain’t good.”
I don’t care where you are on the ideological spectrum, anyone who believes we may be headed for dictatorship is a loon. I could agree with that last statement but when it is preceded by such a fantastically ridiculous notion that Obama and the Democrats are going to cancel elections, or disband the Supreme Court, or initiate other actions that would be necessary to turn this country in a totalitarian haven, any rational American has to ask if this fellow isn’t a couple of shakes short of a martini. I was relieved to hear that he brought in a writer from Popular Mechanics to debunk the FEMA camp story recently but that doesn’t change the fact that Beck lacks the ability to think rationally.
Of course, that’s not the only thing Beck has said over the years. Asking Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, a Muslim:
And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, “Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.”
And I know you’re not. I’m not accusing you of being an enemy, but that’s the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.
Beck can say that he loves Muslims all he wants and it won’t change the fact that asking that question brands him as a bigoted kook. We gave up on religious tests at the same time we ratified the Constitution. Conservatives who don’t see a problem with the way Beck “feels” about asking that question - admitting his own prejudice and ignorance - I say for shame. It is no different than asking John F. Kennedy if he could be a “loyal American” and a Catholic at the same time, referring to a Catholic’s supposed allegiance to the Vatican. It is a monumental insult and, at bottom, anti-American. Ellison himself may be something of a crackpot but to place him on the same plane as Bin Laden is irrational.
Here’s an exchange with another problem pop conservative Chuck Norris on Beck’s radio show:
GLENN: Somebody asked me this morning, they said, you really believe that there’s going to be trouble in the future. And I said, if this country starts to spiral out of control and, you know, and Mexico melts down or whatever, if it really starts to spiral out of control, before America allows a country to become a totalitarian country, which it would have under I think the Republicans as well in this situation; they were taking us to the same place, just slower.
NORRIS: It was slower, yeah.
GLENN: Americans will, they just, they won’t stand for it. There will be parts of the country that will rise up. And they said, where’s that going to come from? And I said Texas, it’s going to come from Texas. Do you agree with that, Chuck, or not?
NORRIS: Oh, yeah. You know, Texas is a republic, you know. We could actually —
GLENN: It was a country before it was a state.
NORRIS: Yeah, we could break off from the union if we wanted to.
GLENN: You do, you call me.
NORRIS: Oh, yeah.
GLENN: Seriously, you do. I don’t mind having that lone star on my flag. I really don’t mind it. I’ve been out with a seam ripper looking at my flag going, I don’t know, California could go. I’m just saying —
I listened to this audio and these guys weren’t joking around. They were dead serious. Well, Norris seemed to be having a little fun at Beck’s expense. But even if you think Beck was joking around, the way he said it would give most of his listeners the idea that he was serious.
Now, if someone wants to make a case that this was a rational, reasoned response to our current crisis, I would first put you in a padded room and then give you some crayons to play with. Perhaps one of things that attracts many fringe righties to Beck is that often, he appears to be barely under control, as if powerful emotions have a hold of him and only with a mighty, conscious effort is he able to keep from erupting into spasms of emotive irrationality. This plays well especially on TV where Beck has been reduced to near tears several times when contemplating what America is becoming.
Now, there are plenty of other instances where Beck has gone off the deep end - at least according to the left. The examples above were ones that I tried to thoroughly research because the effort underway on the left to discredit conservatives includes the long time liberal strategy of telling one and all exactly what conservatives are thinking - even when they’re not. This piece in Politico is an example of how the left “interprets” conservatives:
The Republicans find themselves caught between two countervailing forces: the need to craft a policy agenda that appeals to middle-class Americans and the need to maintain the support of an angry base of voters that is alienated from, and suspicious of, the new president.
Beck, who with no sense of irony favorably compares himself to Howard Beale, is taking the latter course — with a vengeance. While Democrats have sought to tie Republicans to Rush Limbaugh, his attacks are tame compared with those of Beck, who spoke recently of creeping fascism as visuals of Nazi rallies played behind him. His occasionally unhinged attacks of strung-together nonsequiturs about the evils of Big Government provide little in the way of constructive solutions to the country’s vast problems. But this is also true of what we are hearing from Republican leaders.
The author of this piece is a former Dodd speechwriter and a fellow at the New America Institute, a think tank with a decided lefty tilt. Don’t you love the way he characterizes Beck’s attacks as “unhinged?” Not all are, of course. It’s just that Mr. Cohen happens to love Big Government and hence, any attack on it by definition is “unhinged.”
So too the liberal’s idea of “far right” which usually places someone referred to as such somewhere to the left of David Brooks. Suffice it to say, allowing the left to define conservatives and try to discredit them by marginalizing even mainstream righties is a breeze when kooks like Glenn Beck give them fodder for their critiques almost every day.
So there seems to be a certain sort of bipartisan consensus that the GOP is now fully committed to pandering to Buchananites, Birchers, goldbugs, gun nuts, Paulistas and sundry fringe types, and yet . . . I dunno. I’m not feeling the love here.
Do any of my fellow right-wing extremists share this perception? You there — reloading your 7.62 ammo in the Idaho cabin while listening to the short-wave militia broadcast — do you feel as if you’re now part of the woof and weave of the GOP tapestry?
How is it that Charles Johnson and Christopher Orr both think Glenn Beck (whose Fox show I’ve never watched, BTW) represents the camel’s nose in the tent, a dangerous intrusion of crackpottery into the Republican mainstream, while the genuine wingnuts still feel as ostracized and alienated as ever? Is this a consensus or . . . a conspiracy?
The reason that the fringe still feels alienated is because people like Beck are making a living by playing to those feelings and fears, stoking the fire that manifests itself in feelings of helplessness and anger. I don’t buy Cohen’s thesis but at the same time, you cannot ignore the rise of people like Beck whose fantasies about Obama and the Democrats trying to turn this country into a socialist nation (or Communist) rather than implement a far left liberal agenda; or confiscate weapons instead of infringing the rights of gun owners through draconian legislation and regulations; or permanently appropriating auto and financial companies instead of bailing them out and imposing stifling rules that will make them less competitive — all are serious and undermine our liberties and the free market but are so far from “totalitarianism” as to not be believable. There are rational critiques of everything Obama is doing without having to resort to exaggeration, hyperbole, and simple looniness. I wish Beck and others would realize that.
Of course, rational criticism don’t pay the bills in this day and age so the more dire you can make the situation sound, the more eager people will be to tune you in and revel in their own feelings of betrayal. By listening or watching Beck, people know that like minded patriots are experiencing the same fears and frustrations that they are, making those who tune in part of a community. We saw this exact same phenomena during the Bush years with the left and the widespread belief in a draft; in “another 9/11″ in order to cancel the election of both 2006 and 2008; in the almost weekly “We’re going to invade Iran” rumors; and, of course, the usual black helicopter and FEMA camp nonsense. Hofstadter was right. The “First Party System” - where the party out of power believes the other party will destroy the country - is alive and well in America.
Beck worries me. Conservatives worry me. I worry about myself. I feel trapped in a huge ball of cotton, trying gamely to make my way out but don’t know which direction to start pushing. I am losing contact with those conservatives who find Beck anything more than a clown - and an irrational one at that. Same goes for those who worship at the altar of Rush, Hannity, Coulter, and the whole cotton candy conservative crowd. I can’t take those people seriously. The fact that they are popular mystifies me. Our heroes 20 years ago were Reagan, Buckley, Kirkpatrick, Kirk, Goldwater, Martin Anderson, and others who didn’t see conservatism as a meal ticket but as something to think about, to write about and contemplate man’s place in the world and his relationship to government and God.
Is it really a question of elites versus the rest? I hardly think my little blog catapults me into that exclusive club. Maybe I’m too old. Maybe I’m too stuck in my ways. Perhaps I have stagnated while the rest of the conservative movement has gone on without me. As I said at the beginning, I don’t know. I just don’t know.
How do I know that many who visit this site have the reading comprehension skills of a three toed sloth?
Three or four comments already informing me that Beck recently had on a writer from Popular Mechanics to debunk the FEMA camp conspiracy theory. Guess they missed this above:
I was relieved to hear that he brought in a writer from Popular Mechanics to debunk the FEMA camp story recently but that doesn’t change the fact that Beck lacks the ability to think rationally.
Now the rest of you don’t have to tell me what I’ve already written.