How many times do I have to say it, people? Glenn Beck is John Henry Eden from Fallout 3This new Oval Office set of his is merely the latest piece of evidence.

Seriously, I’ll be interested to hear Beck’s attempt at a “Reagan-esque” speech. Goodness knows I’m not the biggest Reagan fan there is, but at least he had some degree of dignity. I expect that these Beckian addresses will feature a good deal more crying than most Presidential addresses, and also perhaps begin not with patriotic music, but an ad for Goldline. 

Writing the previous post reminded me: I happened to hear a bit of Glenn Beck’s radio show a few months ago. He was saying “join us tonight for more on indoctrination,” as a teaser for his television program.

Ever since, I’ve referred to his program as “moron indoctrination”.

It’s not really his politics that annoy me; I can listen to people I disagree with. It’s more the powerful sense that he’s trying to con me into buying stupid stuff by throwing unconvincingly apocalyptic fits.

Having apparently gotten bored of attacking Woodrow Wilson–or perhaps surprised by Wilson’s unresponsiveness–Glenn Beck has decided to turn his attention to George Soros, a wealthy businessman who funds various left-leaning activism groups.

Beck’s much-hyped two-part report supposedly “reveals” that Soros has a five-step plan for destroying countries. It is as follows, in Beck’s own words with my comments in [brackets]:

  1. “Form a shadow government using humanitarian aid as cover.”
  2. “Control the airwaves. Fund existing radio and TV outlets and take control over them or start your own outlets.” [Beck apparently believes that funding Media Matters, NPR and Huffington Post constitutes “controlling the airwaves”.]
  3. “Destabilize the state, weaken the government and build an anti-government kind of feeling in this country. You exploit an economic crisis or take advantage of existing crisis — pressure from the top and the bottom. This will allow you to weaken the government and build anti- government public sentiment.” [An old saying about pots and kettles occurs to me.]
  4. “You provoke an election crisis. You wait for an election. And during the election, you cry voter fraud.”
  5. “Take power. You stage massive demonstrations, civil disobedience, sit-ins, general strike, you encourage activism. You promote voter fraud and tell followers what to do through your radio and television stations.”

The first thing one can do with this is to ask just how much of it describes what the Conservatives do, but apart from that there is also the fact that all the other governments Soros has taken on in the past have been communist governments. That Beck, the man who fears that President Obama is a Marxist, conveniently  fails to mention that reveals–as if there were any revealing to be done–the dishonest nature of his whole operation.

Most of the criticism of Beck’s piece, however, has revolved around allegations that it is anti-semitic. Beck’s use of words such as “puppet-master” and  “blood sucker” to describe Soros, they say, call to mind Nazi propaganda.

The terminology is similar, there’s no doubt, as is the unbelievable and convoluted conspiracy theory. Still, it must be admitted that Beck never said Soros did the things Beck alleges because he is Jewish. Beck’s story is one of a supposedly evil man who happens to be Jewish, and I never felt like Beck was trying to insinuate anything else.

As Beck himself pointed out at the outset of his show, he [Beck] is a more hard-line supporter of Israel than is George Soros himself. For once, I think he’s not lying; this does indeed seem to me to argue against the charge that Beck is anti-semitic. Indeed, the vast majority of Conservatives/Republicans are fervent supporters of Israel, and more to the point, hard-line opponents of the Palestinians. There are exceptions, such as Pat Buchanan, but for the most part this is the case. So, why would Beck even want to encourage anti-Jewish feeling among his Conservative viewers? It appears to be inconsistent with practically everything else that goes on on Fox.

(One possible explanation is that Beck really is as insane as he acts. However, I doubt this because it’s hard to imagine he would even show up at the studio reliably were that the case.)

Frankly, I think that Beck’s problem with Soros isn’t that he’s Jewish, it’s that he funds Democratic-leaning stuff, and Democrats, of whatever religion, ethnicity, sex, and so forth, are viewed by Beck and most of the Fox news crowd as illegitimate, evil and generally undeserving of representation.

Rob Reiner compares the Tea Party to the Nazis, and brings up the possibility of them having a charismatic leader. He says:

“My fear is that the tea party gets a charismatic leader… Because all they’re selling is fear and anger. And that’s all Hitler sold. ‘I’m angry and I’m frightened and you should hate that guy over there.’ And that’s what they’re doing.” 

Our Nazi-comparison-based political discourse and the importance of charisma are two of my favorite topics. So, with that in mind, I have to say first of all that Reiner is very wrong to make this comparison. The Tea Party is many things, all of which I believe to be wrong, but I really don’t think they want to commit genocide. The Nazi comparisons are uncalled for and foolish, in my opinion.

Now, as to the possibility of the Tea Party getting a charismatic leader: they already have at least one, possibly two. For a long time, I’ve thought that Sarah Palin is charismatic. And, more recently, it seems like Glenn Beck has emerged as their leader; and if you can think of some reason for that other than charisma, you’ve got me beat.

There’s an old story, probably apocryphal, that’s often told about Adlai Stevenson. Supposedly, at one of Stevenson’s campaign stops, a woman yelled to him “You have the vote of every thinking person!” To which, the story goes, Stevenson replied “That’s not enough, madam, we need a majority!

It’s the sort of story that resonates with any one who has any interest whatsoever in politics, at least now that Stevenson is so far back in history that he has ceased to have any power to divide people politically. Everyone always feels like their side–right though it undoubtedly is–is also an oppressed minority, overwhelmed by hordes of uninformed imbeciles motivated only by the propaganda of shadowy elites.

This is the view that is held both by the members of the Tea Party and by most of the people who oppose them. And I suppose this is so because it is partially correct–and necessarily so, given the way politics works in this country.

The Tea-Party is, as I have said before, a re-branding of the Republican party to make it seem more fresh and exciting, but most of all to dissociate it from the unpopular George W. Bush and his administration.

Now, this does not mean the Tea Party is quite the same thing as the Republican Party; obviously, from day one they have sought to purge anyone who shows any signs of compromising with the Democrats from the party’s ranks. They appear to be insistent on ideological purity.

Many Democrats have tried to label the Tea Party as an “astroturf” (fake grass-roots) operation, citing Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks organization and the work of the Koch Brothers. And they are to some extent correct, though I suspect every large movement and every mass demonstration has some wealthy backers, if anyone cares to check.

But what does the Tea Party, as an organization, want? Most people who are sympathetic to them have said they are a sort of Libertarian movement, which claims to want smaller government. Those who oppose them say that they are racists. The Tea Partiers deny this, saying they only oppose “Big Government”.

Data about what the members of the Tea Party think about certain issues are at odds with the slogans they yell. As I noted earlier, a majority of Tea Partiers think free trade is bad for the country. This is not exactly a Libertarian position. Yet they continue to argue for capitalism, and despise governmental attempts at economic intervention.

So from all this we are to gather that they are clamoring for a free market, nothing more. Yet so often they are found not talking about this stuff at all, but about “restoring honor to the country” and “American exceptionalism” and “taking their country back”. They are always dressed in super-patriotic garb, always waving the flag and talking of the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. This is all complemented by a dose of fundamentalist Christianity–often with the implication that the Christian God blessed America specifically as the “greatest nation”.

This is, as I’ve said many times, nationalism. Not necessarily ethnic nationalism, as so many will infer. It may well be a completely non-racist, non-ethnically prejudiced nationalism, but nationalism it is nevertheless. The “Restoring Honor” rally held by the Tea Party’s much-beloved Glenn Beck was a cry for a return to National Greatness. The American exceptionalism talk means just what it says.

And the hatred of Obama? I think that much of it is not racially motivated. If you listen to the Tea Partiers, a chief complaint of theirs about Obama is that he supposedly “apologizes for America”. They want a President who will speak only of the greatness of America, a view which focuses solely on the positive things it has done. (At this point, they usually make some reference to the phrase “Shining City upon a Hill“.)

I believe Obama damned himself completely in the eyes of these Nationalists when he said, in response to being asked if he believed in American exceptionalism: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” This type of subjective thinking is wholly, dare I say it, foreign to the religious nationalist’s worldview.

In his otherwise excellent article on the Tea Party, Matt Taibbi wrote:

“It’s a mistake to cast the Tea Party as anything like a unified, cohesive movement — which makes them easy prey for the very people they should be aiming their pitchforks at. A loose definition of the Tea Party might be millions of pissed-off white people sent chasing after Mexicans on Medicaid by the handful of banks and investment firms who advertise on Fox and CNBC.” 

The second sentence is accurate to an extent–though some would couch it differently–but the first part seems blind to the fact that virtually everything the Tea Party movement does is filled with symbols of Americanism and references to American history–not necessarily accurate history, of course, but some romanticized version of it. The underlying theme of it all is a longing for National Pride and National Greatness.

So, the rank-and-file Tea Partiers are nationalists. They want to protect American jobs through protectionist measures, punish illegal immigrants, deny any mistakes made by America through history, and above all restore “National Greatness”. This is the will of the majority of Tea Party participants.

But, it must be remembered, these are only the foot soldiers, not the generals. “Theirs not to reason why“, they simply are carrying out the strategy laid out by the other aspect of the Tea Party: the businessmen who finance the whole thing.

This is where the Libertarian strain comes from. The people who fund the Tea Party have no interest in “National Greatness” either for the United States or for any other nation. They just want to be able to make deals to do business with China, or to keep costs down by not having too many environmental standards to comply with at their factories.

This is not the sort of thing most people would get on board with–largely because, as often as not, capitalism works in opposition to nationalism. (For example: sending American jobs over to China? No American nationalist could ever sign off on that, even if an economist justified it with Ricardian comparative advantage.) 

Hence, the need to on the one hand spread the Capitalist system while on the other giving the Nationalistic streak in the party something to distract it from the details of how the system works. Much better that the Nationalists should be told the government that is regulating the capitalists is “anti-American” than to try to defend the decidedly non-nationalistic behaviors of capitalism itself.

The late Conservative political scientist Samuel P. Huntington wrote of the “Davos Man“. Named for the site of the World Economic Forum, Huntington said such people “have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the élite’s global operations”.

This is, of course, exactly the sort of thing that Glenn Beck and his followers are always talking about, hinting at dark conspiracies to destroy the American way of life by international socialism. And, I suppose there is a kind of truth to it; though it isn’t really a secret conspiracy. (If it were, we wouldn’t hear about it.) The point, though, is that there are also international capitalists who have just as little interest in national loyalty, but who are willing to exploit it for their own sake.

This conclusion is somewhat unsatisfying, mostly because, as I said at the beginning of this post, it is precisely the kind of thing that everyone concludes about the opposing side, no matter who they are. And furthermore, it is because this is the sort of thing that naturally arises in our system of politics. The same sort of dynamic exists in the Democratic Party; and I’m sure if one looked one could find contradictions between the intellectuals at the top and the working-class rank-and-file.

If one is sympathetic to the overall goals of a party, one calls it a “compromise”, and hails the miraculous union of these viewpoints. But if one is unsympathetic, it is a “contradiction”, and a bizarre cabal with one side pulling the others’ strings.

In any case, however, this is my conclusion as to the structure and philosophy of the Tea Party. Feel free to critique it.

[NOTE: This post is sort of a follow-up to this one.]

There are two competing strains that run through the Republican party–they are sometimes called “fiscal conservatism” and “social conservatism”, “Christianity” and “Libertarianism”. I prefer to use the terms “materialism” and “nationalism”.

The nationalist strain, which is the one most people call socially conservative, sees America as declining, thanks largely to the decadent liberals who do not strive to preserve its greatness and who dissolve its culture. They believe the U.S. is, by Divine Providence, the greatest on the Earth, and it is their darkest fear that the godless liberals will bring it down into merely “another country”.

The nationalist strain seeks a return to national greatness, which they believe existed from roughly 1776 until the early 1900s. It was at that point, they seem to believe, that liberal decadence first emerged, though it only became really obvious in the 1960s, with the counterculture and anti-war movement.

The nationalist wish for national greatness means restoring the old institutions and social norms. They also wish to increase the role of Christianity in the country. (As an aside, it is fitting that one of the most beloved figures among the nationalists is the Mormon radio personality Glenn Beck. Mormonism neatly ties American nationalism in with Christian religious texts.)

Materialism, meanwhile, is more like what we call Libertarianism or even Objectivism. The materialistic world view cares little for the nation except insofar as it is able to enrich the individual. Materialism has no interest in social issues or the Religion in the country except as to how it relates to their profits.

These two strains coexist, ultimately, within each individual member of the Republican party. Oh, there are some who believe almost exclusively in nationalism, such as Pat Buchanan followers, and some who are purely materialist, such as Ayn Rand followers. But more often, a Republican will lean nationalist on one issue and materialist on another.

What are we to make of the Tea Party, then? It is, in my view, a movement whose rank-and-file members are largely motivated by a nationalist outlook, but primarily funded by behind-the-scenes materialists.

Now, this is in fact the same situation which has existed in the Republican party for decades. As such, it seems clear that the Tea Party is not a third party, as some think, but rather a rebranding of the Republican party.

These two strains are currently united against Democrats, but will probably come into conflict if they achieve victory in this year’s midterm elections. What remains to be seen is which force will prove stronger.

“‘The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you’re someone. You hear them shouting “Hail, Spode!” and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: ”’Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags!””–Bertie Wooster, reprimanding Roderick Spode, in P. G. Wodehouse‘s The Code of the Woosters (1938)

I thought of this quote today while listening to a bit of Glenn Beck’s radio show. I can’t imagine why.

Anyway, it’s pretty funny to read, but it was absolutely hilarious when delivered by Hugh Laurie on the “Jeeves and Wooster” TV series.

And no, “bloomer” doesn’t mean what you think it means, in this case. It means “mistake”.

I have to admit: when I first heard about Christine O’Donnell, she seemed okay to me. So she was unemployed and spent all her time running for senate. “Good for her,” I thought, “lots of people are unemployed; it doesn’t make you a second-class citizen.”

Then the witch thing was pretty weird, but again; one could argue that at least it shows a sort of open-mindedness which most liberal-leaning people tend not to expect from Republicans. Even in light of all her strange quotes, she still seems like a nice person to me, if a bit odd.

The thing is, (assuming I lived in Delaware, which I don’t) I wouldn’t vote for her based on the fact that she seems like a nice person. Yet, I have to assume that this is why her supporters are voting for her, in the absence of any actual track record.

And then this “I’m you” ad comes out, which I find very interesting indeed. Not because of what she says so much as the design of the ad; it’s not about policy but rather about emphasizing O’Donnell’s “likeability”. (Robert Stacy McCain, a conservative blogger and supporter of O’Donnell, has a good analysis that more or less agrees with mine.)

While it is true that representatives are indeed supposed to represent my interests, I do not believe that they need to be exactly like me to do so. I personally would prefer someone who explained why they were better at certain things than me.

That said, since this is much the same rhetoric used by Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and other “Tea Party” leaders, I’m forced to conclude that it appeals to a lot of people.

This all goes back, I think, to the fundamental shift in American politics which I discussed in this post (and which was described much better than I could do by an Anonymous commenter on same post) and this post. People now seem to judge politicians more on their personality, appearance and affability than on their education, philosophy and policies.

I wouldn’t actually go so far as to say that Christine O’Donnell is a remarkably charismatic person (yet), but she is at least the result of the same phenomenon that drives the increasing power of charisma in the political system–it is not anything which she has specifically done that excites people, but rather her very personality.

Roger Ebert writes:

“We know, because they’ve said so publicly, that George W. Bush, his father and Sen. John McCain do not believe Obama is a Muslim. This is the time — now, not later — for them to repeat that belief in a joint statement. Other prominent Republicans such as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul also certainly do not believe it. They have a responsibility to make that clear by subscribing to the statement. Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh must join, or let their silence indict them. Limbaugh in particular must cease his innuendos and say, flat out, whether he believes the President is a Muslim or not. Yes or no. Does he have evidence, or does he have none? Yes or no.” 

I would venture to say that if people still believe President Obama is a Muslim at this point, they wouldn’t be convinced otherwise even if the ghosts of Lincoln, Grant, Eisenhower and Reagan arose and told them so. And besides, Beck and Limbaugh still have to keep their audience interested, and there’s nothing like some innuendo for doing that.