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Sunday, February 28, 2010

 
Wingnut Guru

by digby

George Packer watched the Glenn Beck speech at CPAC and helpfully synthesized it for people who erroneously assumed he was speaking in a foreign tongue. (Foreign planet, that is.) In case you were wondering, he has met the enemy and he is ... you.

Watching Beck’s speech to CPAC, I could imagine his appeal for Mrs. Stout. He’s friendly, he has an open face and a chubby body, he’s far from perfect-looking, he does a kind of stand-up comedy, and he talks openly, lugubriously, about his alcoholism and other past failings. “I was living in a little one-room apartment. I’d lost my family, everything was spiraling out of control. I was on the fetal position of my apartment. Am I going to die or I’m going to figure it out and live.” He’s self-educated and proud of it—he spent a semester in college before dropping out for financial reasons, but he still reads voraciously until two or three in the morning. “When did it become a something of shame or ridicule to be a self-made man in America?” And now he’s become a huge success. He gets choked up and pulls out a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his face. He’s an inspiration for Mrs. Stout and the country. If I could get up off the floor, he tells his audience, so can America.

Beck puts on reading glasses, walks over to a blackboard that’s been wheeled onstage, and pretends to know things about American history that the educated people would keep from you. For example, the postwar recession of 1919-20 was worse than the Great Depression, which was only great “because of all the Progressive ideas to cure it.” He writes the word “Progressivism” on the blackboard. Progressivism is the main theme of his speech, the “cancer” that’s killing America, that has to be eradicated because it cannot coexist with the Constitution. Progressivism is Marxism and utopian Socialism. Did you know that Communists called themselves Progressives in the nineteen-thirties? To prove it, Beck reads from a 1938 Communist pamphlet that’s he’s just received from a fan, “Progress and Democracy in Rhode Island.” But the worst kind of Progressive was Woodrow Wilson. “I have to tell you, I hate Woodrow Wilson with everything in me” are Beck’s first words when he comes to the microphone. He holds Wilson responsible for the “progressive” income tax and for Hitler, who was created by the Versailles Treaty, which Wilson negotiated. And Wilson gave us Prohibition, which was the beginning of the campaign for health-care reform. Beck spreads his contempt around both parties—he hates T.R., too, whose Bull Moose Party was also called the Progressive Party (take that, McCain). Coolidge, though, was a great President—so great that Harding’s death must have been an act of God. Then came Hoover, another Progressive, who raised taxes and increased spending, which led to the Great Depression—which was not as great as Wilson’s.

So the bipartisan enemy is the Progressive President—the educated and condescending leader who believes that he can improve life in America. There’s one in the White House now, of course. Progressivism is unconstitutional. The only purpose of the U.S. government, according to the Constitution, “is to save us from bad guys.” (Forget about promoting the general welfare and creating a more perfect union.) “And right now the government looks at the American people as the bad guys.” Beck articulates and answers Mrs. Stout’s own resentments, her sense of siege, of being buffeted by change and powerful, far-off forces, of being despised and left behind. “I’m tired of feeling like a freak in America, and I know so many other people are as well,” he says. This year of resentment is his and hers.


Now that the liberal intelligentsia are finally paying attention to the ravings of the right, it's interesting that while everyone gets the paranoid strain stuff, they don't see how Beck has also appropriated both the old time religion delivery and the New Age language of the recovery movement. His schtick isn't taken literally, it's experienced emotionally, more as a religious experience or a self-help retreat than a political speech.

Unfortunately, the main point of his sermons and testimony does seep into the consciousness of those who hear him, especially that unpleasantness about progressives being cancer and creating Hitler. They absorb that deep into the psyches as the cause of their primal despair.


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