Posted tagged ‘Glenn Beck’

Ending in tears?

January 7, 2011

This blog is coming to you from California, where there’s lots and lots in the news about the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives and its new Speaker, John Boehner. I was able to see the swearing in of the Speaker, and was struck by how easily he is reduced to tears. Mention his family, he cries. Mention that it’s an honour to serve America, he cries. And so on.

He is not alone. Indeed, it appears to be something of a conservative hallmark in the US. Apart from various politicians, rightwing Fox News pundit Glenn Beck bursts into tears at every possible opportunity, some of them far from obvious ones.

Is this all highly natural, and should we be expecting a more lachrymose version of politics on the other side of the Atlantic? I’m not sure, myself. I suspect it would end in tears.


Looking to the right

August 30, 2010

Conservative, or centre-right, parties are not a rare phenomenon in Europe. In fact, in a majority of European countries they have led governments for the greater part of the period since the Second World War. Right now some of the most influential European countries – such as Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy – are led by conservatives. Given the importance of relations between Europe and America, it could perhaps be supposed that there would be a ready understanding this side of the Atlantic of the policies and strategies of the conservative movement in the United States.

The fact that is is not particularly so probably owes something to the very different nature of American conservatives. On the whole, European (including British) conservatives base their political aspirations on employer-friendly policies balanced by some statutory protection of employees, on balanced trade and budgets, on reasonably well resourced defence policies, and on a degree of social conservatism in matters such as abortion or the protection of families. American conservatives are often rather more whole-hearted carnivores, who use certain issues such as gun ownership, fiscal rectitude, the outlawing of abortion, opposition to non-traditional family arrangements and opposition to immigration as iconic principles that define them and which are non-negotiable in any context. European conservatives on the whole prefer their leaders to be pragmatic (except perhaps the British), while Americans are constantly on the look-out for some charismatic preacher who will lead them to glory. As a result, Europeans of all shades (but including conservatives) on the whole do not understand, and find it hard to relate to, the American right wing. American politics overall are not nuanced and compromise-driven as is the experience in Europe.

For all those reasons, it is hard for people on this side of the Atlantic to understand and come to grips with new conservative movements in America. The Tea Party Movement for example (which I previously discussed here) seems somewhere between alien and just bizarre to most Europeans. And in that frame of mind the whole theatrical stuff over the past few days of the ‘Restoring Honor’ event in Washington, and the flirting between organiser Glenn Beck and former Republic Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, will seem just too mad to most observers here to allow it to be taken seriously.

And that is a mistake. American conservative politics may seem a bit weird to us, or even very weird, but it would be a mistake to dismiss it all or to laugh at it. Glenn Beck may be a peddler of strange conspiracy theories and gratuitous insults, and Sarah Palin may be a less than intellectual and often inarticulate representative of the American right, but in the event of a perfect political storm they could end up in powerful positions, possibly even in a partnership. Their America would be something we have not experienced before, a good deal more rightwing than that of George W. Bush, and a lot less interested still in what the rest of the world may do or think. The presidency of Bush was, as we might see it, so disastrous in part because of how it was run, but in part also because the rest of the world could not work out how to engage with it.

Europeans by a majority are unlikely to become converts to a Beck-Palin world view, but they would be wise to understand what this view represents; while perhaps hoping that the present management in Washington will stay in place for some time.

Keeping the dream alive

August 28, 2010

Today – August 28 – is the 47th anniversary of the ‘March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’ in 1963. The occasion is better remembered as the one on which Dr Martin Luther King gave his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, his plea for racial tolerance, equality and harmony. The event is often said to have prompted the Civil Rights Act 1964.

Today – in 2010 – the rightwing American Fox News pundit, Glenn Beck, is proposing to hold a rally, styled as the ‘Restoring Honor’ rally, at the same location as Martin Luther King’s event: the Lincoln Memorial. The event is described as ‘non-political’, though if you read Mr Beck’s note on his website it is hard to see what the issues are that he is addressing; but his own credentials, and the fact that Sarah Palin is addressing the event, may provide some clues.

There is total incompatibility between the values that were at the root of the march and speech in 1963 and those of today’s ultra-conservative rally. Which set of values persuades America now will have a considerable impact on everyone’s future, and not just in the United States.

The re-birth of the left/right divide?

May 23, 2010

Occasionally in this blog I have expressed some sentimental regret about the disappearance of ideology as a driver of political debate. It sometimes seems to me that when we had the Cold War and the accompanying competition between fundamental policy perspectives it was easier for the wider population to be engaged in the bigger political questions. Back then, or so the nostalgic instinct in me feels, people were interested in how society might be improved (though they might differ on the prescription) where today they get edgy about the outcome of the latest series of ‘the X-Factor‘.

However, if ideology looks like a corpse, there are a few people giving it a hard kick in the hope that it may be resuscitated. For example, have a look at this conference on Marxism planned for early July. Yes, it’s sponsored by the Socialist Workers Party, who are not exactly the proponents of subtle political argument, ┬ábut it has gathered an interesting array of speakers. Some of them will have their feet high up in the air, but it should still be fun. If I had the time I’d almost be tempted to go.

And across the Atlantic that old warhorse of the in-your-face right wing, Newt Gingrich, has been telling the Fox News man Glenn Beck (no lefty either) on the occasion of the annual knees-up of the National Rifle Association (oh heavens, the combination of all that) about his new book, To Save America. And why did he write it? Let the man speak:

‘I mean, I thought after Reagan defeated the Soviet empire and tax cuts led to economic growth and believing in America led to the most dramatic period of positive progress, I really underestimated the depth of the Marxist, secular, socialist mindset in the academy and in the bureaucracy and in judgeships and in the newsrooms.’

So can we hope that stuff like this will reignite the ideological engine of political debate? Alas, I doubt it. If we have to rely on the Socialist Workers Party or Newt Gingrich to lead the new movement, we’ll end up with debate as pantomime, with cartoon characters hitting each other with big clubs rather than intelligent people engaging in competitive analysis.

Just a few months ago I attended a gathering at which a senior Irish politician predicted with some enthusiasm that, after the bankers and property speculators had nearly brought capitalism to its knees, a fiery rivalry between ideological positions would return. As far as I can see, that’s not happening, and I doubt it will. But if it doesn’t happen in society, maybe it should in the universities, which should always be clearing houses for arguable concepts and propositions. We should be pushing the idea of principle (rather than opportunism) as a foundation for policy, or of the benefits of a coherent frame of reference in political discourse.

Having at one stage in my life been strongly driven by ideology, I don’t think I could myself return to that; but I would find a wider political debate based on something more fundamental than the desire to manage as best we can to be refreshing.