As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Professional Jealousy

Because Glenn Beck had the foresight to get out in front of an anti-government movement that does not fall neatly along left-right lines, movement conservatives are lashing out at him:

Beck added that McCain would be worse than Obama:

"I think John McCain would have been worse — [laughs] How about this? I think John McCain would have been worse for the country than Barack Obama. How’s that?"

Beck’s opinion elicited a fierce and angry response from right-wing radio host Mark Levin yesterday. “To say [McCain] would be worse is mindless, mindless, incoherent as a matter of fact,” Levin said on his radio show. He then suggested Beck is playing politics: “I don’t know who people are playing to. I don’t know why they’re playing to certain people.”

Levin never mentions Beck by name (he refers to Beck as “the 5 pm’er” because Beck’s show airs at 5 pm on Fox News). He concluded with this final dig at Beck:

"I think there’s enormous confusion and positioning and pandering. It may be entertaining, but from my perspective, it’s not. It’s pathetic."

Levin's right, to an extent. Beck has no coherent worldview, and his de facto leadership of the Ron Paul movement - which he came to very suddenly after expressing contempt for it - is nothing short of opportunistic. And it's killing his competition - Joe Scarborough, Peter Wehner, The American Spectator, even Rush Limbaugh. They're jealous of his attention, his opinion leadership. The fact that the knives came out after the TIME cover story is not coincidental.

But there's something a little more interesting at work. While Beck is a mess from an intellectual standpoint, and his bashing of Republicans is little more than cover, at least a part of the movement he's positioned himself at the front of doesn't have a worldview that falls into any ideological box. Sure, corporate forces aligned with the movement GOP are trying to co-opt it and steer it to business-friendly ends, and the protest audience is as variegated as any would be on the left. But there's an element in there that is not easily defined:

In one important sense, the "tea party" movement is similar to the Obama campaign for "change": it stays sufficiently vague and unspecific to enable everyone to read into what they want, so that people with fundamentally irreconcilable views believe they're part of the same movement.

But all that said, there are some identifiable -- and plainly valid -- underlying causes to these protests that are neither Republican nor Democratic, or even left or right. That's when conventional political language ceases to be useful.

Is opposition to the Wall Street bailout (supported by both parties' establishments) left or right? How about the view that Washington is inherently corrupt and beholden to the richest corporate interests and banks which, through lobbyist influence and vast financial contributions, own and control our political system? Is hostility towards Beltway elites liberal or conservative? Is opposition to the Surveillance State and endless expansions of federal police powers a view of liberals (who vehemently opposed such measures during the Bush era but now sometimes support or at least tolerate them) or conservatives (some of whom -- the Ron Paul faction -- objected just as vigorously, and naturally oppose such things regardless of who is in power as transgressions of the proper limits of government)? Liberals during the Bush era continuously complained about the doubling of the national debt, a central concern of many of these "tea party" protesters. Is the belief that Washington politicians are destroying the economic security of the middle class, while the rich grow richer, a liberal or conservative view? Opposition to endless wars and bankruptcy-inducing imperial policy generally finds as much expression among certain quarters on the Right as it does on the Left.

I don't think, in the end, that it's supposed to make sense. Politics has a tribal component and is waged much like sports fans wage their battles against one another. There will always be a sizable audience for a polemicist, whether viewed as partisan or non-partisan, especially when his or her attacks always seem to fall on the Democratic occupant of the White House. But I think Beck's unpredictability, as well as his reaches into the depths of wingnuttery - wait until the Christian conservatives figure out Beck chose to be a Mormon - frighten the establishment in the GOP. They tolerate him when he's whipping up a frenzy against Obama, but he could just as easily call to break up the banks - whatever he thinks will make him a ratings point - and suddenly the clean ideological lines break down.

Now, if there was a coherent Democratic Party which would argue for the virtues of government and its role as a protector of individual liberty, equality of opportunity and the common good, the ideologies of the parties would be a little cleaner, and the DC establishment wouldn't be such an inviting target. In a way, Democrats have brought this on themselves. They invented a Glenn Beck by failing to make the case for government themselves. And as a result, distrust of government is rising.

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