Dumbass quote of the day

>> Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The reason we pay attention to Beck is that he both comforts and flatters his audience; he makes them feel good, and good about themselves. And by "them" I mean the two groups that obsess over Beck the most: tea partiers and liberals. Tea partiers are driven by the belief that the America that elected Barack Obama isn't their America, and Beck comforts them by telling them they're right: that the America they love, the America they now feel so distant from, the America of faith and the Founders and some sort of idyllic Leave It to Beaver past, is still there, waiting to be awakened from Obama's evil spell. And he flatters them by saying that the coastal elites are too stupid or too lazy to figure out what's really going on; only his loyal viewers are perceptive enough to see the truth and, ultimately, to save the nation. In other words, Beck makes the tea partiers feel, as ["The Paranoid Style in American Politics" author Richard] Hofstadter put it, as if they are "the Elect, wholly good, abominably persecuted, yet assured of ultimate triumph," which is better than feeling disenfranchised, marginalized, and looked down upon.

For liberals, Beck serves a similar purpose. In an era of massive problems and extreme change—the Great Recession, the health-care overhaul, etc.—liberals can avoid the difficult question of whether Obama is leading America in the right direction by simply telling themselves that the only alternative would be someone like Glenn Beck: hyperbolic, demagogic, irrational, and slightly unhinged—"just like all conservatives." This is comforting. And by choosing to argue against Beck's patently absurd insinuations instead of, say, the legitimate policy proposals of someone like Rep. Paul Ryan—the progressive fact-checking site Media Matters posts about 15 anti-Beck items a day—liberals can flatter themselves into believing they're smarter and better informed than anyone who happens to disagree with them.
-Andrew Romano, "Unified Theory of Glenn Beck,"
Newsweek, April 13, 2010

Ah, I loves me some false equivalence after lunch. It's reasonably clear that Romano isn't too enamored with Glenn Beck--much of his article consists of an unsuccessful attempt to parody a Beckian conspiranoiac blackboard rant and Romano begins his piece by talking about his efforts to ignore Beck. But having criticized Beck's conservative fanbase by suggesting they're ignorant and paranoid, he has to show how fair and balanced he is by finding something similar to say about liberals--so he decides to accuse them of intellectual laziness and looking for an easy way to avoid grappling with controversy.

And this, dear friends, is an example of how liberals and conservatives can find common ground in agreeing that much of the mainstream media sucks.

There are a lot of liberal sites I just don't hit very often or at all. I can't say what goes on at Daily Kos, a place that has never impressed me and that I only visit when someone else links to it (indeed, I'm so apathetic, I'm not bothering with a link). I don't read HuffPo too often because their coverage of science and medical issues pretty much poisons the whole site as far as I'm concerned (I'm sorry, but if your perspicuous political policy piece is followed by some crazyass Lanza TimeCube crap or medical scholarship from an ex-glamour model/gameshow hostess, I won't be reading it there). There may be a lot of rah-rah pro-Obama kneejerking and bandwagoneering out there, I don't want to say there isn't. But what I certainly can say is that the liberal sites I do frequent, including Salon and the center-left Slate both do plenty of handwringing over Obama policies and are willing to offer strong questions about Obama's leadership choices.

Furthermore, I don't know of anybody who takes comfort from the idea that Beck viewers are unhinged; in point of fact, that's the entire reason liberals are "obsessed" with Beck in the first place. Nobody who is undertaking the laborious and time-intensive task of fact-checking Glenn Beck or digging into his background and connections is doing it dismissively, the idea is patently ludicrous. Nor is it a matter of someone who simply "disagrees"--to pick an example from amidst the low-hanging fruit, Barack Obama is either an American citizen or he isn't, a statement that he isn't is either objectively true or objectively false. You don't "agree" or "disagree" with such a statement, you are either correct or incorrect; you do not "have an opinion" on the matter, you are either right or you are wrong. A suggestion that this is merely a difference of opinions between liberals and conservatives is laughably childish.

You know, I find George Will to frequently be misinformed, factually inaccurate and generally disagreeable, but I can say this about George Will's readers: they mostly seem to be well-read and thoughtfully engaged, and if they're a bit stubborn, well so am I; we can at least have a reasonable discussion, however heated, and it's at least possible one of us will change our mind or that we'll stumble onto a middle ground somewhere or at least have something to think about. (I almost hesitate to mention Will, because my Dad and I end up having arguments about him; my Dad thinks I give Will too much credit, which puts me in the awkward position of having to offer a half-assed defense of somebody who I don't necessarily find defensible). Similarly, William Buckley was, in many respects, an awful human being who said some awful things (although, to his credit, he retracted some of them--which almost makes my point for me, try imagining Beck retracting something, anything, sometime); but at least Buckley and a lot of his readers seemed intellectually engaged and like people who wanted to be reasonable even when they might happen to be pig-headedly wrong about some particular. The point being it's never been a waste of time to engage Will or Buckley (or their followers); even if nobody changed anybody's mind, you could usually walk away knowing your own steel had been tested and was hopefully stronger for it.

That Beck's followers, on the other hand, might be ignorant, paranoid and bigoted, capable of harming other people or even themselves is not a comfort. I don't read something from Cesca or up on Salon or wherever and pat myself on the back, smugly thinking about how awesome I am (and I am, don't try to deny it, some things are objectively verifiable facts, remember). No, I find myself a little frightened and intimidated--like many stereotypical liberal city slickers, I'm afraid, I don't like guns unless they're appearing on a split screen with three other Ghost Recon characters or attached to the cabinet by a wire and you reload by pointing up in the air and pulling the trigger while the zombie horde moves in. Should any of Beck's fans actually go for broke and decide the revolution is not merely nigh but in progress, I fear I may be capable of doing little more than asking them to please desist.

Finally, as for Romano's challenge to engage Representative Paul Ryan's "legitimate policy proposals"; it might actually be telling that Romano offers a link to Media Matters but not to the House Budget Roadmap page as I did in the sentence you're reading now. First, because his assertion that nobody is engaging Ryan is about as true as everything else in Romano's paragraph--liberals are indeed arguing with the House Minority proposals, and second... well, because I'm not actually sure how much engagement is frankly necessary.

I wanted to step in here and take Romano's challenge, I really did. (One reader, I expect, will say he's disappointed.) But, y'know, how many times can you hear a Republican say "tax credit," "tax reform," "repeal the AMT," etc. before it starts sounding like the teacher in a Peanuts special? Basically, as far as I can tell, Ryan's "legitimate policy proposals" are a rehash of the usual post-Reagan talking points that every American has heard for the past several decades. Glenn Beck, in claiming that disgraced Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy was a hero and American hero Theodore Roosevelt was some kind of commie stooge (both true on Beck's native planet, Htrae1), at least scores some points for original (if highly disordered) thinking.

Basically, the "Roadmap Plan" can be summed up as: "If we cut taxes and let the private sector take over, magic gnomes will make everything awesome like it was before the entitlement programs which 'are not in question' even though they caused an 'Erosion of American Character.'" And the argument against the "Roadmap Plan" can be summed up as, "There's no such thing as magic gnomes."

There. Happy now?

1On Htrae, Glenn Beck am smart, handsome and funny.


Shawn Powers Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 4:51:00 PM EDT  

Ah, I loves me some false equivalence after lunch.

Me too. Here:

Stevie Wonder is Blind
Love is Blind
God is Love

So, Stevie Wonder is God.

Janiece Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 5:12:00 PM EDT  

Here's the thing. I'm a liberal. I don't read the Daily Kos or the Huffington Post, either.

But I keep a wary eye on Beck and his Juggalos because they're scary. And apparently insane. I'm not, however, willing to engage. with them. I refuse for the same reason I refuse to engage with whackadoo creationists who start their "argument" with the assertion that evolution is "just a theory." They've already lost touch with reality and closed their mind to verifiable truth. Why bother?

Fans of Buckley and Will, however - I am willing to engage with them, for the reasons you've outlined.

It's a question of league, in my mind. The fans of Will and Buckley can at least be counted upon to present defensible arguments, but Beck's fans? Not so much.

Just as the President refuses to engage with Palin because he's so obviously out of her league, I consider Beck's fans below mine.

I guess that makes me an elitist snob, and I'm okay with that.

Eric Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 5:13:00 PM EDT  

So, Stevie Wonder is God.

You can reach the same conclusion intuitively by cranking up the second side of Innervisions. :D

vince Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 5:18:00 PM EDT  

"There's no such thing as magic gnomes."

There's not?


::Sad Vince sadly walks away, realizing the same people who lied to him about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus have been found, once again, to be lying.::

Janiece Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 6:52:00 PM EDT  

Sad Vince is sad.

I shall send him Chocolate!

Eric Wednesday, April 14, 2010 at 9:45:00 PM EDT  

I'm sad too! But possibly only apple butter or blueberry preserves sad!


Leanright,  Friday, April 16, 2010 at 10:30:00 PM EDT  

Romano nailed it. Sorry. Know you don't agree with me, but .....whatever.

Eric Saturday, April 17, 2010 at 10:32:00 AM EDT  

Nailed what? He's a carpenter in his free time? He went to the range and bullseyed a target? You're referring to his wife as "it"? (That's not nice!)

Borrowing a riff from David Byrne, Romano's talking a lot, but he's not saying anything.

Leanright,  Saturday, April 17, 2010 at 4:52:00 PM EDT  

Beck is the crazy uncle to the left much as Maddow/Matthews/Olberman are to the right.

Eric Sunday, April 18, 2010 at 12:10:00 AM EDT  

Ah, so we're shifting targets. You're wise not to try to defend Romano. But a counterattack on Maddow, Matthews and Olbermann? Hm?

Well, let's see: I've never seen an episode of Maddow's show, and every time I've ever tried to watch a clip on someone's website it didn't load for some reason; I think she's kinda cute, but I seem to have this weird thing for a certain type of lesbian that I can't really explain. Chris Matthews is a loud-mouthed asshole. Olbermann's a tougher case: he's kind of been breathing in his own fumes too much, but then he did admit he was in the wrong when Jon Stewart cut him down to size not too long ago, and I kinda liked some of what he said in his Playboy interview a year or two ago.

The real point, though, is I don't imagine I could defend some people I don't really watch, if that's what you're looking for. Perhaps you're right they're crazy--could I care less? I will answer my own question: no, it would really be unlikely I could care less, unless there is some negative degree of caring about things, a bleak and vacuous limbo of less-than-caring in which foul winds blow the distant, abyssal reek of not-caring to and for ceaseless and apathetic.

And what if they are? Are all kinds of crazy equal? Again, to answer my own question, they are not. Beck drives the motors of a certain group of ignorant bigots who believe the President is some kind of socialist Kenyan dictator, that America was better in the age of slavery, that lower taxes are higher, that Sarah Palin is wonderful, and that their country was stolen from them in a near-landslide (it must follow, from the facts, that they only like representative democracy when it goes their own way, which means they don't like it at all). Whatever motors Olbermann seems to churn hardly seem to compare.

Furthermore, even if some of Olbermann's statements are overly hyperbolic or askew, even if his followers can't explain the full ramifications of what they're saying, certainly some things they have said were true. It is possible, for instance, that President Bush authorized torture by American agents, and it is certain that torture is a Federal felony, and just as certain that torture can be a capital offense when it results in the victim's death, and likely that there are instances in which American agents tortured and the result was the victim's death; these are dots that might be connected in a particular way, though (a) as an opponent of capital punishment I'm not saying they should be and (b) the legal and factual argument is clearly missing links that would satisfy a Grand Jury, much less a Petit Jury.

There is no way with the information available at this time, on the other hand, to connect dots rationally in a way that gives rise to the conclusion that Obama is part of a socialist "OLIGARHY," whatever in hell that might be. Speaking personally as a socialist who would be perfectly at home in most Europeans' Social Democrat parties (though to the right of most European Democratic Socialists, go figure), there is little or nothing "socialist" about a plan to mandate the purchase of insurance from private carriers, or anything else about a healthcare reform plan that was proposed by Republican right-wingers fifteen years ago.

One kind of craziness has tenuous links to a possible, plausible objective reality, in other words, while the other is something like the frenetic, delirious paranoia of a crack fiend.

I look forward to seeing if you'll bounce to a new topic now that you've had your thumbs slammed in this one, Dave.

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