Saturday, January 21, 2012

A thought on American political discourse

I just finished the book, Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America. It was an easy and entertaining read. With an empire worth 32 million dollars a year, one can't argue with the fact that Glenn Beck is an amazing entertainer. The problem, however is when people take what he says as reality. But according to the author, it's been a regular occurance of American politics. Here's a great quote from the book.

"This is what Richard Hofstadter described in his classic 1960's study, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics."
American political life, he wrote, 'has served again and again as an arena for uncommonly angry minds... Behind such movements there is a style of mind, not always right wing in its affiliations, that has a long and varied history. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.'
Hofstadter saw this style in the anti-Masonic movement of the 1820's, the Populist Party of the 1890's, and the McCarthy era of the 1950's. 'In the 1930's, the chief vehicle of right-wing discontent was Father Coughlin's Social Justice movement, a depression phenomenon drawing the bulk of its support from those who suffered most from bad times - the working class and the unemployed, farmers and some of the lower middle class,' he wrote. 'It played on Old Populist themes, attacked international bankers, demanded free silver and other changes in the money and credit system, and restored to an anti-Semitic rhetoric far more virulent than anything the Populists would have dreamed of.'
Times change, but the demagogue's tools are forever."

And I'll admit that I've often fallen prey to that paranoid rhetoric.

And here's another thought I had when reading that book:

A major problem, but also major genius, of Beck’s approach is that he claims his vision for American is the same vision held by the Founding Fathers. What he fails to communicate, or understand, is that the Founding Fathers disagreed on their vision for America. The Fathers were split between the Federalists, which Washington leading the way, and the Republicans, lead by Jefferson.
In “The 5,000 Year Leap,” Skouson uses the same sort of half-quoting, out-of-context references to the Founding Fathers as does Beck. Skouson quotes Jefferson as if Jefferson is stating something that could happen to the country in the future but must be avoided, when in reality that quote was directed at one of the Federalists, who had a completely different view of the country than did Jefferson. That difference in opinion lead to the Burr-Hamilton dual. But Beck acts as the Founding Fathers were in complete unity and that he’s the personification of the Founding Fathers.
Skouson also quotes Ben Franklin’s admonition to a friend to not take a young mistress as proof that Franklin was not a womanizer and that he valued the family. Of course, Skouson leaves out the rest of Franklin’s quote, which was telling his friend to instead take an older mistress, because an older mistress was less likely to get emotionally attached and that in the dark, women are pretty much the same.
But hey, why let the truth interfere with strongly held opinions?

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