Sunday, February 06, 2011

Glenn Beck is crazy, but he's one of the Democrats' best friends

I usually get home around six and almost immediately turn on MSNBC and pretty much keep it on as background noise through most of the evening. If you watch MSNBC with any regularity, you will know that show after show presents the day's political events from a relatively mild liberal-left perspective – at least from my point of view. 

Lawrence O'Donnell, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, etc. are on the roster. If there is one thing I wish they would do it's compare notes a little bit better because it seems that night after night they all cover pretty much the same stuff. Now, I know when world-changing events such as are happening in Egypt occur, it's impossible for any political pundit to refrain from commenting and that's fine.

But last week, on one given night, every single show did a little rant on Glenn Beck's recent fearmongering, conspiracy-theory claim that the events in Egypt are prelude to a generalized takeover by Muslim extremists in all parts of the Middle East as well as Europe and, who knows, even perhaps the United States. His claim is typically supported by an argument that radical socialists and communists will make common cause with radical Muslims because, as he argues, they have a common enemy – capitalism and freedom-loving people everywhere.

Having said all of that, I must also quickly say that I don't give a fuck what Glenn Beck thinks, though apparently a lot of people who reject his views still seem pretty focused on them.

What I struggle with is the extent to which I should pay any attention to this fool at all. More often than I can say I have either written or otherwise commented that I no longer want to write about or think about Glenn Beck. But here I am again.

When his lies and idiotic theories put the life of a hard-working, civic-minded, academic in jeopardy, simply because she is on the left, in the same way that a lot of us are, we have to call him out. This is just dangerous nonsense and we have to address it. I am of course referring to what he has been doing to City University of New York professor Frances Fox Piven, which you can read more about here.

But typically what he goes on about is so stupid and without any intellectual value that I want to ignore it. Then I think about the impact that he and Rush Limbaugh and others on the radical right are having on our national debate and have to rethink my willingness to call it fringe behavior unworthy of attention.

We do notice that Republican politicians are loathe to criticize Beck and Limbaugh and others, knowing that, if they do, those who watch such programming and are influenced by it are highly motivated and inclined to punish at the polls anyone who attempts to challenge the passionately held, albeit nutty, views espoused by these guys.

And this is the point. Right-wing extremism in the media, through the power of a focused and unrelenting message and the reach of media conglomerates, has by now a pretty good track record of motivating a significant segment of the conservative base to influence nominations and general elections. But as we also know, the outcome has not always been a happy one for the conservative side.

The reason for their mixed success is that so much of politics, especially in nomination contests, happens at the margins. Nomination contests are frequently about motivating true believers to care about yet another layer of political contest, which is where extremism can flourish.

This is why we end up with incompetent and unsuccessful candidates like former Republican Senate nominees Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell. This is why Sarah Palin can say any number of really stupid things and the Republican establishment has to pick its spots very carefully if it wants to criticize her. Establishment Republican candidates don't want to piss off those who are likely to be motivated enough to get involved in nomination battles, either as activists or voters. I don't know what percentage of the Republican base this characterizes. I don't know what percentage would be unhappy hearing their media heroes criticized by potential Republican candidates. Is it 5%, 10%, 15%? Whatever it is, it would be a big number in politics.

In politics, highly engaged voters at the margins are key. You need to keep them motivated, whether that motivation is about anger or about hope for a new future. They have a disproportionately important role to play in determining who gets to run in the general election. 

So, yes, I do resolve to pay limited attention to Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and the other right-wing crazies on the merits of their arguments, which, frankly, have no merit. But we should have no doubt that they are masters at stoking a certain kind of American political paranoia that has been with us for a long time, and let us at least give them their due for that.

A lot of people are saying that Beck has jumped the shark with his latest ramblings about Egypt. Maybe. For me, he's jumped so many sharks I've stopped counting.

I do think, however, that there is a bad moon rising for the Republicans as we head towards the 2012 elections, based on the dynamic put in play by the radical right and their cheerleaders on national television and radio.

Weak Republican candidates will continue to get nominated based in part on the passion of those on the margins who are driven by Beck and company. Republican presidential nominees will have to play to this constituency if they hope to secure the nomination, which almost surely guarantees their failure in the general election. There just aren't that many crazy people out there.

So there, I've talking myself into a changed position. Let's keep on talking about Glenn Beck. Let's help get his audience all excited and out of control. It can only help remind the sane part of the American electorate that they are not like Beck and those who take him seriously, that they are better than that.

I guess I also think that MSNBC should continue to go for it when it comes to Beck. But don't just do it in that way that you usually do, by mugging for the camera as he says one silly thing after another. That is just not that useful. No, I would challenge every responsible media outlet to ask every credible Republican nominee for office if they will disavow the crap spewed by Beck and Limbaugh. Force them to try to play the fringe of their own party against its vital center and then wish them good luck with that.

It's a little bit like House Speaker John Boehner being unwilling to criticize birthers in his own caucus.

Let us resolve, then, to make every Republican candidate wear the foolishness coming out of all those televisions and radios as Democrats march on to success in 2012. Seems like a plan.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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  • Glenn Beck goes off a bit sometimes, but the idea of an Islamo-socialist alliance is hardly a conspiracy. Frankly, folks like yourself are either ignorant or in denial, or in a propaganda mode so that voters in the middle won't figure out the full leftist agenda. Debate this, and perhaps I'll take your blanket dismissals seriously: 'The Way Forward in Egypt? Defeat the Left's Red-Green Alliance and Build the Secular-Representative Alternative to Mubarak'.

    By Blogger AmPowerBlog, at 3:35 PM  

  • Debate the "full leftist propaganda mode" about supporting Islam? The last I recall it's already been done with conservatives claiming Ronald Reagan smashed us, proclaiming that the Islamofascists in Afghanistan were no different from the U.S. founding fathers and that the reason we leftists opposed Islamofascism was because we hated freedom.
    So "debate"? It's already been done. You lost. The Gipper said so. Or don't the Donald Douglas's of the world remember?

    By Anonymous M. Abelle, at 5:52 PM  

  • No, they don't. They have no sense of history, let alone of reality.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 1:39 PM  

  • Good post, Michael, though I think the reason our heads on MSNBC is allowed to go after Beck is for just the reasons you state. The Conservatives are afraid they'll be the "Glenn Beck Party" by the time the 2012 elections roll around. If Beck was still the "Great White Hope" (on many levels) for the Conservatives, MSNBComcast would have pulled their plugs and they'd be playing golf with Kieth right now. They'll let the Left do their dirty work.

    By Blogger Fixer, at 7:49 AM  

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