First, a confession.
I have to admit, when I took the clownish charlatan Glenn Beck in my sights more than a year ago, I frankly underestimated his influence and staying power (or, to put a finer point on it, the unfathomable gullibility of the many million who follow him).
I couldn’t put it any better than the good doctor (MLK, that is) did: Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
So if I am a bit surprised to see Beck’s cult of personality disorder grow, it remains entirely too simple to trace his dubious lineage:
Think of phony purveyors of moral outrage ranging from Morton Downey Jr. to Jerry Springer, and the whole concept of infotainment to the hastening-of-the-apocalypse proliferation of Reality TV. Stage it and they will come is now the (un)official mantra of media’s M.O. And, in the end, it’s all pretty much a tempest in a teapot. Or, a tempest in a tea party. Which brings us to the unbelievable Glenn Beck. Of course, fabricated indignation has been good business in America since Jonathan Edwards first perfected the formula with Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God back in 1741, shortly before the advent of cable television.
Capitalizing on the nervous consciences of the faithful created steady work well into the 20th Century, and Sinclair Lewis codified the archetypal character in Elmer Gantry (1926). That pernicious tradition was carried on faithfully by Confidence Men like Pat Roberston, Jerry Falwell, Benny Hinn and Rick Warren. But of course this act has always been too tempting for politicians not to embrace with every inauthentic bone in their bodies. The only hucksters that can outhustle the pols are the preening simpletons who rile up the credulous citizens who dial in each day for another dose of bad medicine. At the appointed hour, the idiot box transfigures into a burning bush and these rapt minions who otherwise behold Christ in their breakfast food (or, proving how crafy and omnipotent the Lord can be, at lunchtime too), get their Godhead on in the form of a third-rate carnival barker.
As incendiary, and insufferable, as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly are, you tend to appreciate how they sometimes can’t keep a straight face as they shovel the horseshit, whipping simpletons into a righteous lather for a steady paycheck. Yes, they are contemptible and yes, they wield their petty power over the powerless in incredibly irresponsible fashion. But with them you know to expect less than little in terms of originality, integrity or intellectual rigor. Thus, you have to remain content, in a free country, to let them hold sway over a semi-retarded audience who would crawl over molten coals for them. And to be certain, Glenn Beck’s senseless sensibility makes those two blowhards look like oracular paragons. He is an empty suit with an empty mind, offering regurgitated jeremiads and faux populism to a genuinely distressed viewership looking for answers but disinclined to trust the dirty Socialists currently in power. His histrionics are comprised of two primary objectives: to position himself as a voice of reason in these troubling times, and to use a time of crisis as the impetus for his own existence. If Beck was capable of experiencing even an infinitesimal measure of shame, he would combust quicker than a drummer from Spinal Tap.
More from that piece, here.
I’ve spent more time than might seem sensible trying to understand or explain (or, more often, excoriate) the prevailing sentiment from the types of people who would actually drive great distances to attend this past weekend’s “rally” here, here, here and here.
Having followed this phenomenon since Obama took office, I’m distressed to conclude that it’s going to get worse before it gets better (and even more depressing: it’s likely to never get better again; we are in a unique –and uniquely awful– place in many ways as a country right now, and while we remain at a crossroads of sorts, economically speaking, it is appalling to conclude that an entire political party is unwavering in its dedication to do everything possible to stymie growth and awareness, and stoke the flames of resentment and ignorance amongst its base).
But I’m more certain than ever that while the G.O.P. eagerly eyes up the cynically won votes it is certain to garner in November, beyond power and money, the primary motivation behind this carefully orchestrated (and generously bankrolled) “movement” is to render more and more people frustrated and indifferent.
Not sure I have any updates on a few of these observations I’ve made during the past year or so:
An ostensibly rhetorical question I read (and get asked) quite often these days is “Why bother?”
Why bother getting invested in politics?
Why bother reading all those papers and blogs and magazines?
Why bother wasting time since they are all the same?
Why bother voting?
Well, there are lots of good reasons, some of which are immediately evident to anyone who takes the time to be moderately informed and is aware of not-so-complicated concepts like cause and effect. That the policies of our former administration (and, more importantly, the power-to-the-powerful ideology that informs those policies) bankrupted our nation and –this is the toughest one to grasp– made us less safe is not a matter of opinion; it’s not debatable and there is no room for any possible nuance.
Also, there is only one type of Socialism being practiced in America today and it has been in effect for longer than one year. It’s Corporate Socialism. For evidence to support this claim, I submit every action taken by every Republican politician since 1980. Case closed, your honor.
To the haters, I certainly feel your pain, to a point. Yes, watching the Democrats try to govern is an often painful and occasionally pitiful spectacle (it’s amusing: Harry Reid is at once a man who should never, under any circumstances, have gotten involved in politics, yet he is, in the final analysis, the prototypical politician). Of course, in their defense, a reasonable person understands that actually attempting to govern is messy, difficult and frustrating. Particularly, as people like Andrew Sullivan regularly point out, our nation has become increasingly ignorant, self-absorbed and childish: we don’t want any government interference, we don’t want to pay taxes and we demand to see all of these pesky problems go away and take care of themselves. (Or even better, the stance of the Ayn Rand worshipping Libertarian-leaning bozos: just leave us alone and the world will govern itself, but if my house catches fire or a burglar breaks in or the roads need to be plowed or the country is attacked some non-tax funded enterprise better be at the ready to protect me!)
We have become a country of children who want to skip the main course and go directly to dessert, every meal, and then complain that we’ve gotten fat. And that in itself is a problem: that allows the Republicans to continue to frame the idea of shared accountability and responsibility as an inherently negative or intrusive notion. Let me be clear: that is, upon cursory inspection, a decidedly anti-American sentiment. The idea that paying taxes and supporting regulation of the food we eat and air we breathe is some type of burden implemented by a leering Big Brother is beyond moronic and borders on offensive. The idea that we can have no taxes, no regulation, no government involvement, unfunded wars and private interests in charge of everything is exactly the intelligence-insulting ideology that landed us where we are now. And, for the last time, and as Thomas “What’s The Matter With Kansas” Frank elucidated, vigorously endorsing the notion that the wealthiest .01% of the population should not pay any taxes is going to put exactly zero cents in your pocket and create precisely zero jobs.
As anyone with a sliver of sociopolitical awarness can attest, many of these Tea Party puppets have genuine and understandable gripes. The dilemma, as anyone with a modicum of historical awareness (and proximity to reality) understands, it’s precisely the policies and obsessions of the GOP that took us from boom to bust in unprecedented and appalling haste. Less than a year ago, one of the only redeeming aftershocks of the Great Collapse was that, at long last, the “free market” farce of voodoo economics, which had reached its unfettered and full flowering during the Bush years had crashed and burned so spectacularly and unmistakably, at least, finally, we had black and white cause and effect for those misguided, irresponsible and demonstrably immoral policies. Ah, but how quickly those least-served by these policies forget! As usual, as ever, it was the taxpayers (!!) who got stuck with the tab, and now we are waist-deep in a massive recession and jobs crisis.
Suddenly, fiscal restraint is the operative priority, and these same charlatans who borrowed and spent like there was no tomorrow are decrying the same stimulus they initially supported (that same stimulus that may have kept unemployment from growing to 25% and causing a genuine Depression with a capital D). Rome is burning and the right-wing spin-pigs are not just fiddling, they are actively promoting disinformation and stoking the aforementioned fear and loathing. Not that the idiots foaming at the mouth at these tea parties understand the ways 2+2 =4, in part because they can’t count to four.
The GOP, led by the Tea Party Queen who, displaying her ceaseless loyalty to the “real” Americans whose pain she is profiting from, continues to enjoy those hefty speaking fees, presumably just to keep it real. And if she’s not whipping up the lunatic fringe into a lather over the manufactured controversy at Ground Zero, she is articulating the ways policies extending unemployment benefits are part of a big government takeover by the Socialist president. And it works. Put us in charge again so we can kill some more jobs and bankrupt the rest of your 401-k and after that, get busy privatizing social security. It’s real America, all right. Real dumb America.
(If you find yourself discussing these matters with a Republican friend who claims to be appalled with the way Obama the Socialist is saddling future generations with mountains of debt, feel free to refer to this (taken from a must-read article by David Leonhardt article):
The story of today’s deficits starts in January 2001, as President Bill Clinton was leaving office. The Congressional Budget Office estimated then that the government would run an average annual surplus of more than $800 billion a year from 2009 to 2012. Today, the government is expected to run a $1.2 trillion annual deficit in those years.
You can think of that roughly $2 trillion swing as coming from four broad categories: the business cycle, President George W. Bush’s policies, policies from the Bush years that are scheduled to expire but that Mr. Obama has chosen to extend, and new policies proposed by Mr. Obama.
The first category — the business cycle — accounts for 37 percent of the $2 trillion swing. It’s a reflection of the fact that both the 2001 recession and the current one reduced tax revenue, required more spending on safety-net programs and changed economists’ assumptions about how much in taxes the government would collect in future years.
About 33 percent of the swing stems from new legislation signed by Mr. Bush. That legislation, like his tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, not only continue to cost the government but have also increased interest payments on the national debt.
Mr. Obama’s main contribution to the deficit is his extension of several Bush policies, like the Iraq war and tax cuts for households making less than $250,000. Such policies — together with the Wall Street bailout, which was signed by Mr. Bush and supported by Mr. Obama — account for 20 percent of the swing.
About 7 percent comes from the stimulus bill that Mr. Obama signed in February. And only 3 percent comes from Mr. Obama’s agenda on health care, education, energy and other areas.)
So, in sum, yes it is discomfiting to watch the Dems go about their business. But then you look across the aisle and see the obstreperous opposition digging in with monomaniacal zeal to do nothing. (You have to hand it to them, though, stoking the “Tea Party” frustration, which is largely a result of the situation their actions put this country in. It is imperative to recognize, and point out as often as necessary, that the same sadists pulling the strings in the not-so-big GOP tent are mostly angry and embarrassed because they got beaten, that’s all. There has been nothing approximating a concerned or sober investigation of what went so dreadfully wrong as a result of bellicose foreign policy, the reckless (and expensive) launch of an unnecessary war, or the thoroughly debunked and shameful worship of free-market, voodoo economics.
Nonetheless, if Obama is half the man History is setting him up to be, he would do well to dedicate all of his energy and eloquence toward making good on the promises he already made. We can hope for more, but we should expect no less.
This is why you have to choose sides. This is why you can ill afford (literally and figuratively) to let these cackling, wealthy and well-insured weasels lull you into a state of impotent rage or, worse, apathy. Because aside from the ceaseless corporate welfare they will fight for, their ultimate ambition is to render the actually literate and sentient amongst us fed up and indifferent. Without awareness, and with no resistance, they can more easily continue their unchecked assault on our collective well-being.