On any given day, one can find American conservative radio and television host and political commentator, Glenn Beck diagramming and explicating his theories. Or in the guise of a disembodied voice on his radio talk show. Essentially he has become the star-child for Fox News, but not without giving some credence to criticism that Fox is not really a news organization but a propaganda/ entertainment network.
Today Beck might be feverishly lecturing about the imminent overthrow of the United States government, how Soros and secret organizations are plotting and conspiring. He seems to take himself very seriously and can easily work himself into a self-indulgent weep about the state of things. Behavior that would shame your average nine-year old is generally on display; sometimes he can get carried away and sound threatening. Most of the time, Beck's schtick is a fascinating example of what passes for informative broadcasting at Fox.
Beck and the Televangelists
His technique is taken, nearly directly, from the televangelists of the 1970s and 80s. It was used back then mostly to scare little old ladies in Des Moines with an excitable nature, who had too much time and money on their hands . These preachers were quite the hoot for smug teenagers like me who would watch their theatrics with a mix of revulsion and amusement. I could feel the magnetism of it, the desire to believe and at the same moment, I couldn't stifle the occasional giggle.
The stage would be darkened, except for the blackboard and a podium and the preacher would take the Bible- always very heavy and well-worn - and cook up an impressive batch of mind-melting End Times extravaganzas. Taking a large helping from the Book of Revelations,(can't beat it for imagery) add a couple of dollops of the Book of Daniel or better yet, a few of the more obscure books from the Old Testament, (easy on the Hebrew stuff, This is Christianity) then a pitch of random current events, both major and minor, and sprinkle in some suggested prejudice and stereotypes and presto! you have a convincing end of the world prophecy. Served sizzling hot.
There was never any real moral teaching involved. Oddly, the preacher never ended his mish-mash with a moral homily, as one might expect. The conclusion was merely an affirmation that the Bible was always correct, in its own mystical way, and the end was coming. Get your house in order because there's nothing to be done about it.
On a more cynical note, the performance was highly effective at separating the fools from their money. Grannies with sheltered lives and sizable bank accounts would work themselves up into a tizzy about all their imagined sins and scramble to write out their checks.
In Beck's case, you don't have the end of the world: you get the more secular version, the Fall of the American Republic. Part of Beck's appeal is his outrageousness which tends to attract the curious but also the disenfranchised and right-wing extremists. He offers them explanations and validations to their conspiracy theories, filling in gaps with his often inaccurate history and incorrect information. Even his fellow Fox New host Bill O'Rielly noted that Beck succeeds because he is willing to go five steps further than he does. And that's saying a lot.
Obama and the Fuhrer
According to Washington Post's Dana Millibank, writer of an unauthorized biography of Beck, "Tears of a Clown":
At the heart of Beck's technique of amplifying fringe theories is his obsession with Nazism. For much of the past 70 years, there has been an unwritten rule in U.S. political debate: Avoid Hitler accusations. Once you liken your opponent to the Nazis, any form of rational discussion becomes impossible. But Beck, it seems, has a Nazi fetish. In his first 18 months on Fox News, from early 2009 through the middle of this year, he and his guests invoked Hitler 147 times. Nazis, an additional 202 times. Fascism or fascists, 193 times. The Holocaust got 76 mentions, and Joseph Goebbels got 24 mentions.
With some spectacular sleight of hand, Beck can warp anything done or said by Obama into a neo-Nazi plot. Beck doesn't mind being bizarre about his claims.
Beck has compared the health care reform to "Mein Kampf," stated that Al Gore was using the same tactics to warn against climate change as Hitler used against the Jews, and even told his audiences that Obama's call to form a "civilian national security force" would be tantamount to forming an SS army.
The truth is a lot less dramatic and threatening. But then, isn't it always?
As a senator and during his campaign, Obama called his fellow citizens to greater public service.
"Loving your country shouldn't just mean watching fireworks on the 4th of July," he said in a speech in Colorado Springs, Colo. "Loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part to change it. If you do, your life will be richer, our country will be stronger."
Obama reflected on how the presidencies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy both made public service hallmarks of their administration and how the nation was the better for such efforts.
"I won't just ask for your vote as a candidate," he said. "I will ask for your service and your active citizenship when I'm president of the United States. This won't be a call issued in one speech or one program. I want this to be a central cause of my presidency. We will ask Americans to serve. We will create new opportunities for Americans to serve."
Doesn't sound all THAT much like the Fuhrer to me. Still, despite the inaccuracy and intentional misrepresentations, the honeyed words of Glenn Beck are referenced by countless right wing bloggers as the gospel, all without question and with as much anxiety as those little old ladies in Des Moines on Sunday night.
All this could be written off as mere modern age huckster-ism with a political slant. Generally harmless and always hammy. And yet, like most thrills in life, Beck's type of show tends to suffer from diminishing returns. After you've compared everything to Nazi Germany and everybody to Goebbels or Himmler or Eva Braun, where can you go next?
Who's Laughing Now?
There's a serious side to all that nonsense. That serious consideration changes Sarah Palin from a ditzy unqualified source of amusement to somebody that needs to be retired and out of the eye of the public ASAP.
We must not forget that these people, who may not be dangerous as individuals, could have a very harmful effect by attracting and validating the views of extremists. Whether they intend to or not- and that's debatable- people like Palin and Beck can become focal points for all types of radical and violent groups. And recently when this point was brought home with the shooting of Giffords, Palin's response was denial and shifting of responsibility.
We can laugh when Palin mangles the English language with her misplaced relative clauses and made-up vocabulary. We can chuckle at Bachmann when she attempts to recite early American history from high schools classes she apparently slept through. We can giggle when Beck tells his audience that the United States purchased Alaska in the 1950s. (I enjoy poking fun at Palin on this blog if only because she takes herself so seriously. Come by on Thursdays.)
You may say that these people are simply trying to be famous. That's obvious. But they are also attempting to create a nationalist political movement, which is essentially anti-government, even, as some have charged, seditious. Celebrating Conservatism, listed as a member of the national Tea Party Patriots organization, holds armed rallies in celebration of their Second Amendment rights. As one human rights activist wrote:
"You have to wonder: If these teabaggers' views are so extreme that they have to carry guns to emphasize how much they can't tolerate your beliefs, what do they suggest be done with everyone who disagrees with them if they actually gained the power they demand?"
Not a bad question to ponder.
The Tea Party movement is well-financed by the second largest privately held company in the United States with an annual revenue of about $98 billion. The Koch brothers most assuredly have their own political agenda, dovetailing neatly with their corporate needs. In a New Yorker article, Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”
This kind of backing and that kind of following means people like Beck and Palin and Bachmann and all the others must be taken very seriously.
As history demonstrates, laughing often ends in a gasp.
To continue to Part II of "Seriously" click on this link: