Sunday, November 29, 2009

Glenn Beck: the renegade running the opposition to Obama.

Gaby Wood, writing in today's Observer, sums up the mood of the American right - and especially it's current spokesperson, Glenn Beck, perfectly - when he describes "The Paranoid Style in American Politics":

In November 1963, the American historian Richard Hofstadter gave a lecture at Oxford which became a famous essay: "The Paranoid Style in American Politics". "Although American political life has rarely been touched by the most acute varieties of class conflict," Hofstadter began, "it has served again and again as an arena for uncommonly angry minds". He coined the phrase "paranoid style" to evoke, as he put it, "qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness and conspiratorial fantasy", and explained that he used the term the way an art historian might write of the baroque style or the mannerist style. He was referring not to the clinical paranoid but to the more or less normal person who speaks in this idiom of persecution. The clinical paranoid thinks the world is against him and him alone; the political paranoid believes he speaks for millions.

This is just the style of speech whose renaissance we are witnessing. In an article published in the New Yorker shortly after the September protests, Hendrik Hertzberg – a leading political commentator and former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter – pointed out that although this administration knew that overhauling the healthcare system would be difficult, what came as a surprise to them was "the predominant tone of opposition". "This sort of lunatic paranoia has long been a feature of the fringe," Hertzberg wrote. "What is different now is the evolution of a new political organism, with paranoia as its animating principle".

What astonishes me about the tea party protesters is just how ignorant they are. It takes a certain kind of stupidity to hold up a sign saying, "Keep government hands off Medicare" and yet that sign has been seen at these right wing protests.

And these people are being fueled, not only by Glenn Beck, but by the entire Republican movement, who have chosen to cast themselves as the defenders of Medicare; which, for anyone who actually understands the Republican philosophy, is about a sick a joke as one could ever make.

But Beck is currently leading the way, accusing Obama of being a socialist or a fascist or a Nazi, depending on how his mood takes him. The terms appear, to Beck at least, to be completely interchangeable.

The message is that Obama is bad and his audience care little for which term he uses to make this point.

And Beck achieves this affinity with his audience by pretending to be for "the little guy":
"When did we become this country where everything is too big to fail?" he rhetorically asked the CBS TV interviewer Katie Couric, "What about the little guy?"
Whilst actually hugely enriching himself by serving corporate interests:
His earnings in the year leading up to June 2009 were estimated by Forbes to be around $23m, and they are set to increase.
The reason I say this is because of the change in tone which occurred the nano-second Beck moved to Fox News:
When Obama was elected, Beck had modest, reasonable things to say about him. "I think so far he's chosen wisely," he told Time magazine. "I frankly pissed off a lot of my real diehard Republicans when I said: 'He is my president. He is your president.' We must have him succeed. If he fails, we all fail." But as soon as Beck moved to Fox and Obama moved into the White House, Beck became a completely different animal – the leader, you might say, of the opposition.
This is why I loathe Beck. Limbaugh, O'Reilly and the others mean what they say. They are right wing nutters who really have bought in to the Reagan philosophy, despite the fact that the recent economic upheaval rendered much of Reaganism useless.

Beck is a chancer. He's a shock jock and he's saying much of what he says for effect.

But what he is succeeding in doing is taking the Republican party - and it's dwindling band of supporters - ever more to the right. Indeed, the views of the lunatic fringe of the party are now so prevalent that they are demanding "purity tests" to ensure that Republicans are right wing enough to suit their tastes; imagining that the reason the Republicans lost the last election was because the Bush administration were actually "liberal light."

The notion that Bush was a "liberal light" leader is simply insane, and yet that's exactly what Mary Matalin argued recently.

"The fringe is the mainstream. I think a key point here is that with each passing decade since Ronald Reagan, the Republican party has moved further and further to the right. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan seemed really conservative. If a person of Ronald Reagan's position and politics were around today, these people would probably call him a sellout. I could not name you six Republicans in Congress who seem like they're prepared to negotiate in good faith on anything that's remotely controversial."

Tomasky directs me to a poll published last week. One of Beck's big targets has been an organisation called Acorn, for which Obama once worked as a lawyer and which helped him get out the vote during his presidential campaign. Republicans accused Acorn of voter fraud, and this year it has been the subject of embezzlement and other scandals, to which Fox has given a great deal of coverage. As a result, this poll suggests, a majority of Republicans thinks the election was stolen. "Only one in four Republican voters thinks Obama won the election legitimately," Tomasky concludes in amazement. "What do you do with that? It's like trying to argue with people who think that the grass is blue and the sky is green."

Beck is merely the most public face of a political movement which is gradually losing it's mind. As such, he is their perfect representative.

Click here for full article.

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