Saturday, March 14, 2009

Glenn Beck Plays Footsie with the Mass Murder Line

I wouldn't pretend to have opened any windows into the soul of Glenn Beck. Still, it appears that he's experimenting with justifications for violent, terrorist-type acts against American society during the Age of Obama.

A few weeks ago, I put up a couple of brief posts on Becks enthusiastic references to militias, depression, and revolution as example of "freak show" Republicans in action.

But now Beck's gone farther in the direction of domestic terrorism in response to the shootings in Alabama. Nobody knows why Michael McLendon shot up his mother, grandmother, and a bunch of people sitting on their porches in Samson, Alabama. McLendon tried to join the Marines but failed. He tried to become a policeman but failed. Likewise, McLendon had a list of people who had "wronged" him and appeared to be involved in some sort of family dispute. But right now, there's no public information on what kind of guy he was, how exactly he felt wronged, or what triggered his murderous rampage.

And there might not ever be any good information. McLendon killed a number of the people who knew him best.

But that didn't stop Glenn Beck from speculating.

According to Beck, McClendon's problem might have been that he was one of the people who's been "disenfranchised" by the recent liberal turn in American politics and social attitudes.
But as I’m listening to him. I’m thinking about the American people that feel disenfranchised right now. That feel like nobody’s hearing their voice. The government isn’t hearing their voice. Even if you call, they don’t listen to you on both sides. If you’re a conservative, you’re called a racist. You want to starve children . . . Yada yada yada. And every time they do speak out, they’re shut down by political correctness. How do you not have those people turn into that guy?
Beck's theory here is that people on the right are being "silenced" and that mass murders like the one perpetrated by McLendon could be a "natural" reaction to the sense of exclusion. One example of what Beck's talking about is the attack on a Unitarian Universalist Church outside Knoxville, TN where Jim D. Adkisson tried to kill as "many liberals as possible" and did manage to murder a couple of people before he was stopped. Beck's logic here would be that Adkisson was so fed up with the shaming he felt from the media about racism, homophobia, and the other ways that liberals shame, silence, and disenfranchise conservatives that he lashed out.

The question is whether Glenn Beck is justifying mass murder as a legitimate expression of right-wing grievance against a liberal society. My impression is that Beck is experimenting with that possibility but has not quite made up his mind and is taking care about risking his cushy gig on Fox. Even Fox might have a hard time defending Beck if he began to openly justify domestic terrorism.

Still, Barack Obama has only been in office for two months and Glenn Beck is already toying around with the idea of justifying domestic terrorism.

It makes you wonder how far the fringes of the right are willing to go.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Josh Marshall Way Off Base on Chinese Paper Tiger

Josh Marshall of TPM is following the standard foreign policy cliches about China:

If you remember, not long after President Bush became president, we had that incident with the US spy plane hugging Chinese airspace, which was bumped by a Chinese jet intercepter and forced to make an emergency landing on Chinese territory. Then just days ago we had a strangely similar incident at sea. Again, just a few months into the tenure of a new president.

Now we have Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao publicly worrying about the safety of the almost $1 trillion of US Treasuries China owns. That they'd have some concern isn't surprising. But having the head of government sound the warning bell is hardly the best approach to preserving confidence in US debt.

This strikes me as all of a piece, pretty unsubtle signaling of a shifting balance of power.

The media and the foreign policy establishment have invested a lot of credibility in building up China as a real American rival, but the Chinese are almost all paper and no tiger. China is a fragile society whose main hold on stability is economic growth at a time when the prospects for global economic growth are poor. China isn't on the same kind of precipice as Pakistan yet but the Chinese government has to constantly and furiously work the levers of power to avoid that kind of instability. The balance of power isn't shifting toward China. It's shifting more toward the American side as other countries develop even more severe problems than the United States.

The Chinese would like global elites to believe that they're a rising power that will eventually become competitive with the United States. But the current balance of power is so much in favor of America that we can maintain a heavy-duty naval patrol just off their coast. If the Chinese had much power, they would be able to make the U. S. back off.

But they don't have the power to make us back off. If they did, the Chinese wouldn't have to pull off "North Korea-type" stunts with our ships and publicly muse about the stability of our economy.

The Ultimate Meaning of Stewart/Cramer

It's very easy to get to the bottom line of the Jon Stewart/Jim Cramer war and that's the fact that neither Rick Santelli nor anyone else on CNBC is going to do any more big rants against President Obama.

CNBC is a right-wing, anti-Obama network--a version of Rush Limbaugh directed specifically at investors. As Salon observed, practically all of the pundits on CNBC blame the recession on Obama. Santelli pushed extremely hard against Obama on behalf of CNBC's audience.

But NBC, CNBC, Santelli, Cramer, and their whole target audience found out that the left-wing media represented by Jon Stewart could push back . . . and push back hard.

And they found out quickly.

Santelli himself stood down on his comments within days.

Jim Cramer also gave up after an initial effort to defend himself. After Stewart hammered Cramer for appearances on The Today Show and Morning Joe, he hammered Cramer again for that day's appearance on convicted felon Martha Stewart's program. Finally, Cramer just gave up and pulled out the white flag almost as soon as Stewart started to question him.

Not that it helped him much. He was still "eviscerated" by Jon Stewart. But surrendering probably does mean that Jim Cramer and CNBC are out of the daily news cycle, off the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and off the radar of the left-wing media in general.

Given that CNBC will want out of the cross-hairs of the left media, it is highly likely that none of their personalities will be trying to rally opinion against Barack Obama again.

It's unfortunate that the bottom line is the fact that the left-wing media is now more powerful and influential than CNBC.

Because Jon Stewart had some interesting things to say. He was especially effective at juxtaposing the naive confidence of middle and upper-middle class people in the integrity of the markets with the greedy cynicism of market insiders like Cramer. The 401k plans and pensions of the middle class lost heavily as Wall Stret insiders played games with enormous amounts of money and Stewart accused the whole financial world of gratuitously destroying the hard-earned wealth of the American middle-class.
It’s very easy to get on this after the fact. The measure of the network, and the measure of mess. CNBC could act as—No one is asking them to be a regulatory agency, but can’t—but whose side are they on? It feels like they have to reconcile as their audience the Wall Street traders that are doing this for constant profit on a day-to-day for short term. These guys companies were on a Sherman’s March through their companies financed by our 401ks and all the incentives of their companies were for short term profit. And they burned the f---ing house down with our money and walked away rich as hell and you guys knew that that was going on.
It was helpful information and great entertainment and Jim Cramer had no answer.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is Ross Douthat News?

I don't particularly like living in a world where a New York Times announcement concerning the hiring of a right-wing columnist is news. Too bad there isn't more discussion of how the credibility of the New York Times was undermined by the Iraq War.

Michael Steele's Clock Running Out

It looks like Michael Steele's moment in the political sun as chair of the Republican National Committee might be coming to an end. There's a story from GQ that Steele views abortion as a "personal choice."
L: How much of your pro-life stance, for you, is informed not just by your catholic faith, but by the fact that you were adopted?
M: Oh, a lot.
Absolutely. I see the power of life in that. I mean, and the power of choice! The thing to keep in mind about it, uh, you know, I think as a country we get off on these misguided conversations that throw around terms that really misrepresent truth.
L: Explain that.
M: The choice issue cuts two ways.
You can choose life or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life. So, you know, I think the power of the argument of choice boils down to stating a case for one or the other.
L: Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?
M: Yeah. I mean, again, I think that's an individual choice.
L: You do?
M: Yeah. Absolutely.

Given that the preferred term for abortion among conservatives is "mass murder," I wouldn't be surprised if the religious right sought to have Steele removed.

It was fun while it lasted.

Stewart/Cramer: A Really Big Deal

The Jon Stewart/Jim Cramer feud is a huge deal as an example of the left media expanding its offensive against the various little pockets of conservative commentary. It used to be claimed that liberals have "no sense of humor," but that's one cliche that has faded into the night as liberal humorists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert became more prominent. Sarah Palin was taken down almost single handed by Tina Fey and Saturday Night Live.

Since the election of Barack Obama, the liberal media has begun to focus on ridiculing Obama's conservative critics ranging from Michael Steele to Rush Limbaugh to the absurd "Going Galt" movement among right-wing bloggers. Following in the wake of CNBC's Rick Santelli's rant against Barack Obama the other week, Jon Stewart's attack on CNBC and Jim Cramer takes the liberal media offensive up another notch. Like the military sector, business reporting has been a fortress of conservative views for decades and Jim Cramer is a business media star at CNBC ("In Cramer We Trust"). In ridiculing Cramer's crummy advice during the Wall Street collapse, Jon Stewart is opening the whole can of worms associated with the business media--the craven CEO worship, the focus on short-term profits, pumping for leveraged buy-outs, cram downs of pension cuts on employees, and anti-union perspectives.

In other words, liberal ridicule is probably the best thing that ever happened to the business media.

The Alabama Mess

The mass killing in South Alabama is starting to sound like a lot of other mass killings--the combination of rage, guns, and the countless examples of mass murder always seems ready to go off.

A couple of my Morehead friends grew up in that area.

Hopefully, nobody they knew was involved.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Conservatives Start Using the "S" Word

You know it had to happen. Some conservative had to start using the "S" word for secession and Chuck Norris (of martial arts fame) did it. He talked about the possibility of Texas seceding from the United States in an appearance with Glenn Beck.

On Glenn Beck's radio show last week, I quipped, in response to our wayward federal government, "I may run for president of Texas." That need may be a reality sooner than we think. If not I, someone someday may again be running for president of the Lone Star State, if the state of the union continues to turn into the enemy of the state. From the East Coast to the "Left Coast," America seems to be moving farther and farther from its Founders' vision and government.
The right has been edging toward secession talk ever since Obama was elected. The problem for conservatives--and Norris gets at it here--is that Obama isn't a fluke. A big majority of Americans wanted government to act boldly in response to the recession, address environmental issues, enact health care reform, and get out of Iraq. Obama only won 53% of the popular vote but more than 2/3rds of the public approves of the way he's handled himself in office and more than 90% either approved or somewhat approved of the big budget speech in which Obama layed out his big reform agenda.

Those are extremely bad numbers for conservatives.

For a wingnut like Norris, "Americas seem to be moving farther and farther from its Founders' vision and government." Conservatives have been thinking about Texas for some time in relation to the question of secession. I remember listening to Walter Williams talk up the idea of making Texas into a "free market, laissez-faire" nation once while he was subbing for Limbaugh. Given that Texas was once an independent country, conservatives reason that it could "choose" to forswear its connection to the United States and become independent again.

Of course, the right better move quickly. Texas may already be slipping. McCain only won Texas by 55-44 and a significant chunk 0f that 55% had to be country club Republicans who don't have the loathing of the United States needed to contemplate secession.

That's what it gets down to for conservatives--loathing America. Glenn Beck talks about civil war and chaos as though he were anxious to bring it on. Loathing America is also an underlying current in the "going Galt" idea of "high achieving" conservatives going on a "performance strike" and depriving the country of their talents. Likewise, it's part of the reason why Rush Limbaugh's statements about wanting Obama to fail continue to strike a nerve. There's a sense that Limbaugh wants America as a whole to fail if we choose Obama's approach and most of the country would like to see Limbaugh and conservatives back down.

But I think it will be awhile before conservatives begin to back down. By the end of the George W. administration, the right had become highly committed to extremely aggressive, in-your-face, bullying personal styles. Therefore, it's unlikely that the first couple waves of failure will have much impact on reconciling them to their minority status in American life.

But it's pretty likely that conservatives are facing an extended education in political failure and talking about "Going Galt" or secession doesn't help them. Maybe they'll eventually see the light.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Lost Magic of the "L" Word

I've been looking for opportunities to use my research on the Workingmen's movement of the 1820's and 1830's to reflect on contemporary politics and it looks like I've found something.

The issue is political names.

The Philadelphia Mechanics Free Press reprinted an 1830 article from the New York Workingmen's Advocate on the contest of names between political parties.
There is no mode, perhaps, in which the people are more imposed upon, than in the adroit use which demagogues and intriguing politicians make of party names. A number of aspiring men are seeking for influence, for office, and for power. They cannot all obtain their ends; they therefore become divided, and separately combined. Now commences the contest of hard names, between the two cabals. If one can dub the other with an odious name, and by any means so manage it, as to cause the name to take (emphasis in text) with the people, an important advantage is gained; there is a prospect then of deterring the people from supporting those who have been decried, and rendered suspicious "by the magic of a name."
In contemporary terms, the application of "odious names" to an opponent is an element of wedge politics designed to deter "the people who have been decried, and rendered suspicious "by the magic of a name."

One of the extremely interesting developments in contemporary politics is that the right can no longer employ the term "liberal" as a magically odious term for the Democrats. Limbaugh and some of the talk radio types still use the "L" word and it still gets a rise out of his loyal listeners. But referring to the Democrats as liberals no longer serves as a tool for "deterring the people from supporting" the Democratic Party or the Obama administration. In fact, Republican politicians seem to have refrained from using the L word as a criticism of Obama or his policies. The Republicans talked about the stimulus package as a "spending program" and "generational theft." Likewise, they analogized the stimulus package to Jesus and criticized the lack of debate in passing the legislation.

But the GOP either didn't try very hard to deride the stimulus package as a liberal program or avoided the name altogether.

But why?

Of course, Republican use of the "L" word was itself a complex phenomenon. So, the lost magic of the L word is also complex. From the late 70's onward, the Republican Party was able to project a strongly unified message through its officeholders, political operatives, the conservative media apparatus, and sympathetic figures in the mainstream media. But the Republicans have lost that unified capacity to promote "hard names" in the post-Bush era (more attention needs to be paid to the difficulties for the GOP that have been posed by the end of George Bush's second term).

There's also the matter of audience. The Republicans were able to attach the "L word" to the Democrats partly because of the residue of resentment over civil rights, the anti-war activism, feminism, gay rights, and other causes from the 1960's and 1970's. The "L word" was short-hand for the Democratic Party's association with "them" and it hurt the Democrats.

But the groups that used to be "them" have become "us" as well as them. That's especially the case with the election of the first African-American president, the tenacious campaign of Hillary Clinton as the first "feminist" candidate for the highest office, and the growing acceptance of gay rights among all segments of the American population but especially the young.

In this context, conservative use of the "L-word" became vaguely associated with "bigotry" and the magic of the word started working against the right rather than the left.

Moreover, the rise of liberal media outlets like DailyKos, HuffPost, the Daily Show, and Stephen Colbert enabled the left to rebrand themselves as "progressives" and they've been able to make it stick.

Now, it's the liberal/left that has a unified message and has been able to create some magic for names like "incompetent," "bigot," "idiot," and "delusional" that we like to apply to the right. I'd like to see "freak show" applied to the conservative movement, but haven't had any luck in getting it accepted.

It's a sign of how far the Republicans and the right have fallen that they can't even name themselves let alone the Democrats.