Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Groucho Marx of the Right.

Cesspool Conservatism.

Glenn Beck has gone from mediocrity as a disc jockey to a self-styled political commentator. Just like his fellow shock-jocks of the Right, Limbaugh and Savage et al, Beck deals in cesspool conservatism - a tradition spawned in the fermented juices left in Lee Atwater's wake. Afterall Beck applies the same tactics that Atwater used to save Bush I from an electoral defeat in 1988. Lee Atwater was a mentor to Karl Rove and practically wrote the GOP playbook to safeguard the GOP platform, by tapping into the South as a source of right-wing populism, and demolish the Democrats as a liberal opposition. These tactics range from distorting history and the political spectrum to vilify the opposition, provoking outrage at every turn along the way. These tactics are partly what have enabled Beck to rise from a Top 40 DJ to an icon of the right-wing commentariat that basks in controversy.

To this day Beck wallows in controversy, which functions to distract people from the issues, fuelling the widespread confusion and rage along the way. In calling Barack Obama a "racist", in the midst of the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr, Beck succeeded in obfuscating the issues raised by the arrest - e.g. institutionalised racism in the police force - to a ridiculous debate over the content of his comments. But this is nothing new Glenn Beck has a history of shocking displays of prejudice, typically racist and or misogynistic chauvinism. Beck once called the wife of a competing DJ in Phoenix and mocked her for having a miscarriage on live radio. He claimed that Malik Jones used to smoke crack with his own grandmother. Jones had just been shot dead after refusing to pull over for the police, Jones was black and the police officer who shot him was white.

In the aftermath of the financial implosion of 2008, it was expected by many that there would be a radical shift in politics pushed by grass-roots movements. Beck has been instrumental in taking full advantage of the recent vicissitudes of capitalism and the weaknesses of the Left to reaffirm the system. In demonstrations against universal health-care and "socialism" the Tea Parties are undermining progressive tendencies that were absent, crushing any signs of an opposition to the consistently pro-business agenda of the US government. Beck does not attack "Obama-care" for obligating even more Americans to buy into a dysfunctional and bureaucratic insurance industry. Instead Beck accuses the administration of being "communist" and feeds the Tea Parties as a movement pushing for a more regressive health-care system.

Lee Atwater Populism.

It was 20 years before Beck when Lee Atwater obfuscated the real issues to smash the Democrats and keep the White House Republican for 4 more years. In 1986 the Reagan administration had been exposed as supporting the Contras, and their campaign of terrorism in Nicaragua, funding them through a state-sponsored trafficking in arms and drugs. The major issue of the election of 1988 should have been Bush's involvement in funding the terrorism. Lee Atwater resorted to the Southern Strategy and turned the discourse away from the Iran-Contra affair through a campaign of race-baiting. A campaign which Roger Ailes, who now runs Fox News, was deeply involved in from day one. This extreme-rightist brand of populism is designed to appeal to the Southern working-class, who have been marginalised by the bicoastal elites historically.

Today Beck is part of a similar mud-slinging campaign to excuse the crimes of the Bushites and undermine the Obama administration, by leading people to flock to the Right and elect a Republican President just as bad if not worse than Bush. This time the race-baiting is focused mostly on Muslims, as Islamophobia has become a major tool of mobilising angry white men. The "Ground Zero Mosque" being the newest tool, even though it is actually an Islamic Cultural Centre featuring a swimming pool, basketball court; a restaurant and prayer rooms for Muslims, Christians and Jews. The Centre isn't even at Ground Zero, but the desired effect has been accomplished. On the part of the Right this is a conscious way of undermining any progressive tendencies that might emerge, either in the state or from the grass-roots. Glenn Beck is deserving of his reputation for inducing laughter, but not in the intended way.

The Beck routine typically begins with a satirical attack on his opponents and their arguments, rounded off with a "serious" message of sentimental moral proportions. The first part is supposed to be the source of hilarity, though Beck's brand of satire would embarrass any decent human being. As Žižek pointed out, it is the ridiculous "serious" conclusion that is laughable. Beck is avidly reducing the political discourse to entertainment and comedy, the realm in which the conspiracy theories of ultra-conservative Mormons can be passed off as "serious" content. He consciously distorts the political spectrum to the extent that Barack Obama is both a "socialist", a "racist" and a "fascist" surrounded by loony lefties, whilst Roger Ailes is a "hero" of the Civil Rights Movement. The aim being to exploit the crisis of the American working-class for reactionary ends, against what little progress is being pursued in Washington.

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