Today’s Reads (Updated)

At Salon, Mark Benjamin has a postmortem with video of Saturday’s Glenn Beck extravaganza. The piece underscores the point of the last post, which is that the movement has no cause.

[Update: A number of rightie bloggers, including the genuinely demented William A. Jacobson and this more articulate lady, have objected to the previous post as a mischaracterization of the “movement.” But you know what they can’t do? They can’t refute the premise and define the movement’s cause, because the movement doesn’t have one. It’s a movement that exists to fill a psychological need for a movement, and it’s a movement being bankrolled by people who think they can manipulate the mob for their own ends. And the true believers can’t face up to that.]

Members of the crowd seemed genuinely enthusiastic, but when I talked to them, they uniformly resorted to clichés to explain what the rally was about.

Gerald Chester, a truck driver from Elkhart, Ind., said he came because of Beck. “What he is about is a good thing, restoring honor,” Chester said. “Bringing God back into Americans’ lives is important.” When asked what attendees should do to accomplish this, Chester replied, “That’s a good question.”

Note that the people in the video do not say anything hateful or crazy, and Mark Benjamin isn’t trying to demonize them. He just gives them an opportunity to explain why they are there. The most interesting thing, I think, is the way people reacted when asked what the movement is calling on them to do; what “call to action” they are hearing. You can see in their faces that the question surprised them. They hadn’t thought it all out that far.

Sorta kinda related — Paul Krugman, “It’s Witch Hunt Season.”

31 thoughts on “Today’s Reads (Updated)

  1. I was just thinking about the meaning of the Lotsa Folks With Lawnchairs on The Mall event, and it comes down to tribalism. There is a religio-political aspect to it — pseudo-historian David Barton was a major player here, but I think that’s just a tribal marker for most. I hear the “we want out country back” phrase a lot. That’s it — The Other is in power and they don’t like it. Never mind that, with the important exception that we haven’t invaded any new countries yet, The Other governs not that differently from the Texas Brush Farmer.

  2. What’s it about? Resentment. Anger. Frustration. Fear.
    In the America they want to remember, it was a “Leave it to Beaver,” and Donna Reed world. Danny Thomas was the King of the ‘Spit-take’ funny Lebanese daddy, and “Amos and Andy” was humerous and real because it showed you how black people “really are.”
    Of course, America never was that clean mythical little black&white world. Memory gives a soft-focus look at what was really there. It was all idealized, scrubbed clean, and brought to you by ‘Ivory Snow.”

    All of this is building into something really, really, ugly. We are beginning to look more and more like Weimar Germany. If we continue on that path, hatred of Liberals will, of course, go without saying – it’s already in full motion. The question will be who else will be the ‘enemy of the people?’ Hispanics or Muslims? Or will it be back to the old standby, African Americans. Or will it be two, or a trifecta?
    The “”Shock Doctrine” is being applied here. And we may see true Fascism, not the kind they accuse Democrats of being. And that Fascism sure as hell won’t be Liberal.
    The Republicans, talking about bringing the adults back, are the ones who really need adult supervision right now and in the future. The question is, where are they? Krugman asked the same question. And I’m afraid the answer is, they’re there, alright. They’re just waiting for the dust to settle down so they can really grasp the reigns of power.
    Yes, I know Nazi comparisons are forbidden. But should they be? We have some actors ready and in place right now. Andrew Breitbart will happily play the Leni Reifenstahl role. Beck, as Himmler and Rush as Goebbles. They’re all just waiting for the right person to play their Fuhrer. Or, will Eva, this time, play that role?.
    I hope I’m wrong on all accounts. Especially the comparison to Germany. If we hope not to end up there, we need to start working on that right now. Any suggestion (short of helping Democratic candidates for office)?
    Or, am I way off base?

  3. I have been seeing the similarities with Weimar Germany for a long time. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in talking about them, nor is it fear-mongering. I think if we were to compare what newspapers, ordinary citizens and public figures (yes, including Hitler) were saying in 1920s Germany, we would see striking similarities.

    I live in Toronto, Canada, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Some say it actually has the most diverse population in the world. The man who is leading the polls in our mayoral election is cut from the same cloth as Glen Beck and company. To whit: we have too many immigrants coming here. We just can’t afford them. City Hall is spending our hard-earned dollars on stupidities, und so weiter, as they say in Germany.

    It’s happening everywhere and we seem powerless to stop it.

  4. A Canadian Reader,
    I picked this book up about 25 years ago. It looks at historical examples of mass madness:
    http://www.amazon.com/Extraordinary-Popular-Delusions-Madness-Crowds/dp/051788433X
    There were similar political backlashes in the early 20th Century to progress and enlightenment. They lead to Fascism and Totalitarianism. That was beyond the scope of the book which was written in the mid 19th Century.
    The question is, how do you stop delusions and madness in crowds when the MSM is either oblivious (which is most of them, thinking it’s all a political game), or complicit (FOX, talk radio, and various Op-Ed pages)?

  5. Canadian and C U N D, Weimar Germany was exactly what I was thinking as well. Hitler came to power because of economic catastrophe and a renewed German nationalism. They wanted their country back from the Liberals and Jews. And, well, they got what they wanted. I fear a charismatic leader, like a Palin, who is much smarter. Germans also felt much more victimized, hence all of the nefarious Jew blaming. Canadian, the fascist movement was also international. First in Italy (of all places), then Japan, Germany and even Spain, that had Franco until 1975 I believe it was. I’ve taught World History for longer than I care to admit which includes the rise of Hitler and WWII, of course. I never really understood how Hitler was able to take control and garner such a rabid devotion; I understand it much more now. It’s called Fox News, er, propaganda. Other countries have anti-defamation laws to slow down this kind of “speech” (Eh, Canadian). Didn’t Anne Coulter decide to not make a speech in Canada a few months ago because she was warned that her type of “speech” would not be acceptable up dher? We need these types of laws. It’s truly frightening. My in-laws, who have always been conservative and Republican, but reasonable, are right now out-of-their mind lunatics wanting to take back their country. They are constant FoxNews watchers. Reasonable people can do unreasonable things if pushed the right way.

  6. Listening to Beck, I am listening to a fanatic and I am remembering a quote from Churchill, “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Unless Fox etal fires him, he’s not going away and he’s not going to shut-up.

    cundgulag asks ‘any suggestions’ in how to stop what is becoming a juggernaut. I can think of none other than what should not be done. Historians have noted that during the rise of Hitler the German intelligentsia and academia made fun of him, scorned him, ridiculed him…As it were many in the two groups were German Jews. It has been suggested that the ultimate fate of the Jews at the hands of Hitler was sealed early on in his rise to power.

    I’m not suggesting that 6 million of us non-believers (defined by the believers) are headed for the gas chambers once the ‘believers’ take over the government, but this already fragile democracy of ours will definitely be in jeopardy should they do so.

  7. Blow off historical parallels; history rhymes but it doesn’t repeat. Never mind moral equivalence; moral similarity will do. And forget about recycling old cuss-words; when “Conservatism” has run its course, then it will be cuss-word enough.

  8. Beck dare not put forth a specific goal/objective. It would pin him down, which is anathema to any paid talker. It limits his topics, and if, Heaven forfend, the goal were achieved, he’d be left with nowhere to blabber.

    As long as he has this verbal soup of generalities and portents, his audience interprets it as dealing with their personal issues and ideas, making him their custom-tailored philosopher.

    Remember the movie version of Ray Bradbury’s FARENHEIT 451? There is a scene in which the policeman’s wife has a few lines in an interactive soap opera. She becomes utterly incoherent, but the drift of the vague dialogue covers her failure to have meaningful input, and she is convinced she was just great as a performer. She did not, however, have a lawn chair, so she was not Emmy-nominated.

    The fact that such an empty event is seen by the baggers as significant shows how little real depth of awareness they have of what they are doing. Sadly, it takes little more than shallow presence to vote.

  9. The point of the rally was simply an attempt to tie the teabagger movement to the relgious right, and gain energy and validity from that association (while keeping the goals still breathtakingly vague). Not sure how well that will work with Beck a Mormon, since the evangelicals regard the Mormons (reasonably, actually) as beyond heretical and not really Chrstians at all. The Mormon thing could well be Beck’s Achilles’ heel, as it destroys his cred with the religious right. It would’ve worked better for him to get “saved” in a mega-church, which would also have had the advantage of letting him disregard any of his behvior before his sins got washed away. Too late for that now. He’s stuck with the special underwear.

  10. It’s a movement that exists to fill a psychological need for a movement,

    Well, it could be considered a sort of nation bowel movement. A way for our nation to relieve itself after consuming large amounts of toxic rhetoric.

  11. thanks for the pingback.

    you are right. I didn’t talk about what I (as a tea party type) substantively, specifically want. I have limited time to devote to this hobby of mine.

    But. The internet is already full of specifics, from sticking to the limited, enumerated powers of the Constitution in order to stop paving the way towards future tyranny, to reducing political corruption, reducing spending and the debt and working towards fiscal responsibility, to fixing medicare/caid and social security, the border issues, ah, school issues, reducing regulations and not deciding who is too big to fail, oh, the list could go on forever.

    Yet you choose to just blanketly claim that the movement means nothing. That it just fills a psychological need. Something about tribal dominance. Not sure what that is, other than a way to insult people like me by making us sound primitive. Proof given is some video that must show people unable to articulate well. I didn’t watch it. For all I know, it could be me on tape.

    I mean, thanks for using the word articulate in your link. But put a camera in front of me, and I am a complete deer in headlights. Very inarticulate. I think that is pretty common.

    Anyhoo, thanks for visiting my site, and feel free to have a deeper look if you want specifics about what I want out of the federal government. Mostly it is just personal reflections though. If you are a charts and facts kind of person, try a Goy and his Blog, and maybe the Mises Economic Blog.

    Factually disagree with our beliefs and our arguments, and I will say, “fair enough.” But when you simply throw insults like “tea bagger” and “demented” and “unified by hate” and “psychologically in need of a movement” and whatever other dismissive verbage you’ve used, and I will rightfully accuse you of mischaracterization.

    cheers and happy blogging to you, nevertheless.

    • The internet is already full of specifics, from sticking to the limited, enumerated powers of the Constitution in order to stop paving the way towards future tyranny, to reducing political corruption, reducing spending and the debt and working towards fiscal responsibility, to fixing medicare/caid and social security, the border issues, ah, school issues, reducing regulations and not deciding who is too big to fail, oh, the list could go on forever.

      Those issues are all important to me, too. They are important to a lot of people all across the political spectrum. The “tea party” doesn’t own them. We actually agree on goals, I believe — maintaining the integrity of the Constitution, protecting individual liberty, restoring America to a place where a law-abiding citizen who’s willing to work can make a good life.

      However, from what I can make out of the tea party “agenda,” it’s you tea partiers trying to take us in the opposite direction — to a country where the Constitution doesn’t mean squat, where liberty is just a word on a T-shirt, and where all of us are serfs to multinational corporations. In particular, the slogans you people use and the specific policies you are pushing are directly at odds with each other. The Steve Benen post articulated that very well, I thought. And that’s what you lack the courage to address.

  12. They’re awfully touchy about the emptiness of their rhetoric, and their general vague pointlessness. I think someone’s hit a nerve.

    Queen Sarah unironically used the word “sheeple” in one of those touchy Tweets today. She has become the Tina Fey impersonation of herself.

  13. I really appreciate hearing from Linda, though I don’t buy her defense of what the Tea Party people stand for.

    The internet is already full of specifics, from sticking to the limited, enumerated powers of the Constitution in order to stop paving the way towards future tyranny, to reducing political corruption, reducing spending and the debt and working towards fiscal responsibility, to fixing medicare/caid and social security, the border issues, ah, school issues, reducing regulations and not deciding who is too big to fail, oh, the list could go on forever.

    That’s a good list. But what does it have to do with the Tea Party?

    What does that have to do with calling the President a Communist/Socialist/Fascist, or pictures of him with a bone through his nose, or even the question of “restoring honor”? (Where did the honor go anyway, and why? Did it maybe get left at Kinko’s when they picked up the racist signs?)

    And why doesn’t this list include the specific item of taxes, which others claim is the fundamental, if not sole, purpose of the Tea Party movement. I thought it was Taxed Enough Already, not Totally serious about Enumerated powers to avoid Authoritarianism?

    It’s easy to see why people make the claim that the movement stands for nothing, because every member of it I hear from has a different description of what it’s about. It seems to be everything, and therefore nothing. Many can’t even articulate a concept more sophisticated than “good stuff” and “stopping all that bad stuff.”

    And half the time the “beliefs” are self-canceling and contradictory. Can we really be serious about reducing spending AND dealing with border issues? Won’t it cost money to keep the aliens out? And what about taxes vs. the debt? Wouldn’t the debt problem be a lot easier to solve if we could talk about revising our tax system instead of just eliminating it? And what does “fixing” social security mean? Eliminating it, or keeping it solvent? Keeping all those workers at “too big to fail” GM paying into the system probably helps with keeping it solvent, right?

    I’d be very happy to factually disagree with their beliefs and their arguments, but they keep changing, and they don’t make sense, and there is no point in arguing with vapors and chameleons.

  14. But put a camera in front of me, and I am a complete deer in headlights. Very inarticulate. I think that is pretty common.

    That’s a piss poor cop-out. I can understand being inhibited by a sense of public speaking or speech making, but to express in the simplest of terms what your purpose is doesn’t take much in the way of articulation. To expend the time, financial resources, and effort to attend a teabagger rally and not be able to offer more than a,” I want my country back,” kinda lends itself to the idea that you really don’t know what your purpose is.

    Attaching yourself to a mythical abstraction garnished with a halcyon daze because it soothes some undefined psychological need doesn’t exactly address what Beck’s little exercise in mass manipulation is all about. I can guarantee anybody who possess at least two active molecules in their cranium that when Beck tossed out his look toward the heavens line that they were being sent off on a tangent into nowhere land ( Beulah land). Just where he wants them to be!

    Maha’s assessment is dead accurate on the mark. It’s a shame it has to offend some Teabaggers, but the truth is the truth.

  15. Jingoist terms, for jingoist’s.
    They all sound nice. What they, and we, should want to know is what are the details. Like maha said, we’re all for many of the same things (I mean, who says, “Yeah, give me more government corruption” except the person profiting from it), but the Devil’s in the details.
    Asking Leaders for details and facts makes you and educated voter. Listening to talk show hosts and politicians spout out platitudes makes for a nice summer day, but it’s not a plan to lead the country into the future, especially when a lot of what you hear is ‘Back to…’, or ‘Remember when…’. I love remembering my Grandmothers, but at this point, they have done what they could to make me what I am. The future is up to me.

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  17. “blanketly”

    Without a camera in sight. OK. Still, Linda’s comment (very polite, it must be noted) raises more questions than it answers:

    Why is anger a “hobby” now?

    Where are your links to these “specifics”? When maha provides links, you ignore them. Why are facts not important to you?

    For the millionth time, where were you when G.W. Bush and his administration were wrecking the country?

    I’m still stumped as to how GOD is going to reduce the deficit, or what GOD has to do with the US Constitution, other than “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” None of the Fakeapalooza attendees have been able to explain why Glenn Beck made his debut as the world’s best-known LDS televangelist… and that’s all that really happened at their wingding.

  18. Linda, I went and read your piece that Maha linked to. It was a very nice essay, and I totally get that you were trying to show how it felt, how you felt about being there. And you succeeded in that. I know now that this was a very moving event for you. I know now that this was akin to a religious revival for you, with a melding of your libertarian and Christian philosophies, and with all the emotions that sort of thing brings along.

    What I don’t know, and what Maha is referring to in her post, is why the rally occurred. Why were you there? What were you supporting? What is it that made all those people get on buses and planes (and a ticket to DC isn’t cheap!) and come out to this event? All of the right-wing posts I’ve seen about this rally have been great on emotions, but horrible on the whys. That’s what Maha’s getting at, that’s what you and your ilk aren’t giving the world, and that’s why we’re going to keep asking you the same questions. We aren’t getting any answers.

  19. I would like to thank Linda for her civility. It is a rare opportunity to actually discuss issues rather than shouting. I do agree, however, with Maha’s response that most of her concerns are shared by Liberals and Progressives, and that to my way of thinking the “remedies” proposed by people in the Tea Party and GOP would be at cross purposes with their intended goal.

    So begins the “monkey chatter” portion of this comment in a series of loosely related observations off the top of my head.

    A non-Tea Party view:

    Roger Bacon, often regarded as the father of scientific method observed that “The strongest of arguments prove nothing so long as the concusions are not verefied by experience.” The era of free market madness, supply side economics, tax cutting and deregulation seems to unlikely to have ended, even after producing the prerequisite “whimper”, which may yet become a “bang”. The Bush tax cuts produced few, if any jobs and a huge deficit. Deregulation of the financial sector resulted in its subsequent growth and failure. It was a disaster in which I personally lost more than I care to think about. So, I may not be objective.

    The history that should have followed would have been the GOP’s worst nightmare. The economic snake oil that they peddled so effectively with Reagan had produced a crisis that would have to be met with an updated “New Deal”. They were able to avoid this nightmare by obstructing the process and squandering what was possibly the only opportunity we had to set things right and avoid economic catastrophe. In short, they sold out the American people to preserve their political power. The Tea Party seems to have been invented as part of their strategy to muddy the issues and assure that the stimulus was too small to work decisively and health care and financial reform were watered down enough to be tentative improvements. In every instance the GOP and the Tea Party worked against the people and for corporate interests. (If I am wrong about this, give me an example.)

    This is a good time to observe that Bill Clinton was the most fiscally responsible President in memory and G. W. Bush the least so. So Clinton, as you recall was very popular with the deficit hawks, no? No. Spending “a trillion dollars over ten years” to save 48,000 Americans a year is unthinkable, but tossing three trillion (by J. Stiglitz’s estimate) away on a pointless war is a-okay.

    Under Bush, domestic spying, torture and “free speech zones” are all constitutional while under Obama, “equal protection under the law”, religious freedom and HCR, despite Article 6, aren’t. So the GOP and Tea Party snap into action to fight the biggest threat, an attempt to join the modern world in providing health care. They take the opportunity to carry weapons to assert their rights under the second amendment, not to intimidate anyone, of course. You see “everything changed after 9/11” but since 1776, not so much. Except they seem sure the Founding Fathers would have included “corporate personhood” if they had only thought of it, they had a lot on their minds with the revolution and all.

    ++++++++

    I do find the psychology underpining this mass movement disturbing for many of the reasons cited in previous comments. I think the vague, undefined character of the movement suits the opportunistic nature of Fascism. There never was a clear manifesto for the Fascist movement, this allowed Mussolini to take advantage of every opportunity to expand power. We can see the skillfull use of lies and misinformation, tailor made to validate the victimhood and fear of a group of people who feel economically or socially vulnerable. The “death panels”, the “Mosque at Gound Zero” and the attendant lies and distortions seem endless. The operative principle is a dark one. Lies are superior to the truth in political struggle because they can be shaped for the desired effect and the target demographic. I guess the classic example is the testimony that Saddam’s troops were breaking into hospitals and dumping babies out of incubators. It was fabricated, but it had the desired effect of cinching the AUMF for GWI.

  20. Linda – One of the rallying cries put out by the ‘believers’ – be they attendees at the event or the Tea Party supporters or behind-the-scene operatives – is ‘Obama is not a Christian.’ Posed as a statement of fact, it demands proof but no proof has been forthcoming, thus it remains a statement signifying nothing. And it is from statements like this, labels if you will, that people challenge the substance behind what you seem to stand for.

    (It’s a safe bet that anyone asked to ‘prove’ that he/she was a Christian would be unable to other than to say he/she was – and that includes everyone at the ‘event’ and everyone who claims Tea Party membership.)

  21. Look, this past weekends megalomaniac festival had one goal, it being political, besides make The Beckster more moolah:
    To blend the Relgious Right with this Tea flavored version of the GOP. The Teabaggers were too secular, and needed some ‘Good Ol’ Fashioned Religion’ to stir up the pot. They need the energy and the votes these people have reliably brought to the GOP.
    Now, they can combine the economic stupidity of Ryan, the bogus feminism of Palin, the xenophobia of Tancredo, the ego of Newt (and countless other lesser lights), the march to war message of the New-Cons, with the religious ferver of Falwell.
    Beck may regret choosing to convert to Mormonism years ago. He may not end up being the overall, or even religious, Leader after all is said and done. Mormonism is still the wrong flavor for the rest of the Dominionist, Christianist Right.
    These 5 fingers:
    Economics
    Feminism
    Xenophobia
    Neo-Conism
    Religion
    at least as the Teabaggers understand them, form a formidable fist with which they can punch.

  22. This thread started out with a comparison of Beck to Hitler or at least the Weimar Republic, which I believe is not quite fair. The Germans, crushed economically and literally, in WWI, were in pain throughout all stratas. Hitler was personally humiliated in battle, which made him vengeful in addition to his mental instability. Beck has no such experiences. He is, as Gulag says, out for money. Would Palin be there if whe wasn’t given $100,000 per speech? I guess, no.

    That is why they won’t define the movement better, or at least why the movement has moved away from tax reform to include other vague elements. And why the leaders encourage the accumulation of such flotsam. The more people you have on board, the more money you can make.

    As to what America it is that they want back: They want to sit on their back porch and smell the freshly mowed lawn with a tall glass of ice tea in their hand. They want to go to their bank on Friday and check their retirement balance. They want to not fight traffic and people flipping them off as they drive around in their Buick. And they want to turn on the TV and see people just like themselves, laugh at themselves. They are tired of the death on TV, the destruction of their 401K, the rings through unmentionable body parts on their children, the fact that they worked hard for 40 years, yet retirement may pass and they may have to work again.

    What they don’t understand is that the movement towards tax reform and deficit reduction that they believe will help them, will only help Beck. Beck doesn’t care about your grass, he’ll take a helicopter if the traffic is bad, his financial adviser has him diversified, not like the sitting ducks that his followers are.

    So why do they believe Beck is good and progressives are evil? Why do they look to Europe and see godlessness? What piece of the puzzle are we missing?

    • As to what America it is that they want back: They want to sit on their back porch and smell the freshly mowed lawn with a tall glass of ice tea in their hand. They want to go to their bank on Friday and check their retirement balance. They want to not fight traffic and people flipping them off as they drive around in their Buick.

      That sounds pretty good to me right now, tell you the truth.

      So why do they believe Beck is good and progressives are evil? Why do they look to Europe and see godlessness? What piece of the puzzle are we missing?

      I think it’s mostly that everything they “know” about the world they’re getting from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.

  23. The religious aspect of the the Tea Party and Libertarians doesn’t “compute” for me. It may be generational. My religious/spiritual concepts were formed from the remnants of the Social Gospel Movement. Social and economic justice were truly “holy”. I am sure TP’s and Libertarians would say the same, but have very different definitions.

    Here are some quotes from Ludwig Von Mises to enjoy before visiting the Mises Economic Blog:

    “It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions, and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live eternally in history.”

    To Ayn Rand: “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior, and all improvements in your condition, which you simply take for granted, you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you.”

    Wow, on second thought you could print those in read ink and insert them in the Bible and no one would ever notice!!

  24. “…when asked what the movement is calling on them to do; what “call to action” they are hearing. You can see in their faces that the question surprised them. They hadn’t thought it all out that far.”

    This is also true of the islamaphobic crowd. They are certain all Muslims are out to get them – that they will overturn our form of government. Islamaphobes are deeple OPPOSED – but if you ask exactly what it is they propse to do TO or ABOUT several million Muslim-Americans who have committed no crime – they are stuck.

    The real problem is how this facilitates a ‘lynch mob’. Most of the people in the crowd are indignant and have given their individual judgement over to the crowd they belong to. In this situation, a FEW malicious, craven people are capable of unlimited cruelty – certain they have the sanction and approval of the mob. Later the mob may decry what they ‘witnessed’ – in denial of the role they played in facilitating the crime. By being there – angry and aroused by the emotion of the mob – they made possible what those few evil people could not have done ALONE!

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