By Sean Wilentz, The New Yorker, October 18, 2010
For the fractious Tea Party movement, Beck—a former drive-time radio jockey, a recovering alcoholic, and a Mormon convert—has emerged as both a unifying figure and an intellectual guide. One opinion poll, released in July by Democracy Corps, showed that he is “the most highly regarded individual among Tea Party supporters,” seen not merely as an entertainer, like Rush Limbaugh, but as an “educator.” And in the past few months Beck has established his own institute of learning: the online, for-profit Beck University. Enrollees can take courses like Faith 102, which contends with “revisionists and secular progressives” about the separation of church and state; Hope 102, an attack on the activist federal government; and the combined Charity 101/102/103, a highly restrictive interpretation of rights, federalism, and the division of powers.
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One simply has to take issue with Wilentz' use of the imprimature, "intellectual guide," as a way of describing Glenn Beck. And a for-profit university in his name is an insult to legitimate academics and academic institutions everywhere, especially in the U.S.
Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell...perhaps Beck's earlier mentors, to name only a couple of egomaniacs who developed their own 'university' programs under a banner of religious fear and fundamentalism.
It is the fear and fundamentalism that frightens.
When all about us is swirling in wind currents of "deconstruction" and "destablization" and "erosion" and "atrophy" and job losses and apocalyptic horrors have the benefit of a podium and a 24-7 microphone, there is no surprise that people like Beck will take advantage of the opportunity.
Name-calling, character-assassination, bigotry, exaggeration and ego-strutting...these are not now, and never were substitutes for authentic policy debate, critical examination of workable options. The John Birch Society scarred the political landscape in the Kennedy presidency and, according to Wilentz, provided the model on which the "Tea Party" movement is based. Fifty years ago, it was communists that provided the target for fear-mongers, and today, their vaccuous attacks are like heat-seeking missiles, directed at the current, first black president, Barack Obama. (They never miss an opportunity to seeth his middle name, Hussein, between their lips, in utter contempt.)
Caught between two wars begun by his predecessors, Bush/Cheney, and Wall Street gluttony, permitted by deregulation begun under Clinton and brought to fulfilment under Bush, walking warily between threats from terrorists without and cancers within, Obama and his administration have done more than most "normal" observers and critics could and would have accomplished under extremely trying conditions, (like a "just-say-no" Republican party).
And yet, he is demonized, even to the extent that the Chamber of Commerce is now found to be importing "foreign" money into the November elections, on behalf of the Republicans and their aim to dismantle the Health Care Reform Act, to make the Bush tax-cuts permanent, to block any attempt to confront global warming and climate change, to privatize social security, and to remove the "draw-down" date from Afghanistan, in favour of more military spending.
And leading the "energized right" are people like Limbaugh, Palin and Beck...whom the Democrats would be foolish to underestimate, especially given the levels of fear and anxiety sweeping through every town and hamlet and city south of the 49th. Try to imagine a candidate for governor, Meg Whitman, former CEO of E-Bay, spending $140 million of her own multi-million estate on her race for the governor's mansion in California. And then add the Supreme Court decision opening the flood-gates to undisclosed money for political advertising. And there is no surprise that Bill Clinton, yesterday, in another of his campaign appearances, announced this is my 67th appearance in this election cycle.
And Michelle Obama is garnering $30 a ticket, up to $30,000 for the opportunity of special seating and a photo-op with the first lady, as the Democrats unleash their most powerful political voice, in their bid to hold onto both Houses of Congress.
The Vice-president, Joe Biden, declares, in his electioneering speeches, "The predictions of the demise of the Democratic party are premature!" And one, even one on the north side of the 49th, can only hope that his optimism is based on reliable polling. More of the Republican intellectual, cultural and ethical rigor-mortis that we saw from 2000 through 2008 is not a remedy for anything except pandering to the rich.
And Beck's Fox-supported campaign notwithstanding, Obama's vision, his integrity and his accomplishments merit the cooling to fizzle of the tea party "high" which has no more legitimacy than a quick "joint" in an otherwise smoke-and-mirrors-filled bar.