Thank you, Bob Herbert!
Also, a belated thank you to Alexander Zaitchik, whose book on Glenn Beck came out this year, Common Nonsense. It's a great read, with terrific research, but I am biased, as I helped him out on one particular chapter. Which is why I know how much time he put into digging up and documenting all kinds of previously unknown things about Beck's life.
I have my own academic obsession going back to the 1990s. I worked on papers analyzing the polemical rhetoric of the far right, after the American Family Association tried to censor and attack a school where I worked in Arkansas because it was connected to Gov. Bill Clinton. More recently, the peculiar brand of freaky demagoguery espoused by Beck got on my last nerve when he indirectly intersected with my life while I was working at CNN Headline News.
Alex nails it particularly well in his book.
Meanwhile, Bob Herbert is properly scathing here! I'd been having personal iss-ewes all day, wanting to purge the memory of Beck's rally from the psychic space of the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
This evening I am even watching Cabaret on my DVD, waiting for that chilling scene in the beer garden, "Tomorrow Belongs to Me." It always creeps me out, and something in the stars tonight is stirring my emotions up anyway. Maybe if I let that scene creep me out as it always does, it will purge the creepiness of the image of Beck and his abstract rhetoric-miming goose-steppers on the Lincoln Memorial today.
Meanwhile, I celebrate the wonderful invective of Bob Herbert. Polemic is just SO righteous sometimes! Some great zingers below, all right on the mark.
America Is Better Than This
By BOB HERBERT Published: August 27, 2010 Consider a brief sampling of their rhetoric.
America is better than Glenn Beck. For all of his celebrity, Mr. Beck is an ignorant, divisive, pathetic figure. On the anniversary of the great 1963 March on Washington he will stand in the shadows of giants — Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Who do you think is more representative of this nation?
Lincoln: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
King: “Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter.”
Beck: “I think the president is a racist.”
The climax, of course, was Dr. King’s transcendent “I Have a Dream” speech. Jerald Podair, a professor of American studies at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, has called Aug. 28, 1963, “the most important single day in civil rights history.” This is the historical legacy that Glenn Beck, a small man with a mean message, has chosen to tread upon with his cynical rally on Saturday at that very same Lincoln Memorial.
Beck is a provocateur who likes to play with matches in the tinderbox of racial and ethnic confrontation. He seems oblivious to the real danger of his execrable behavior. He famously described President Obama as a man “who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”
Beck has been advertising his rally as nonpolitical, but its main speaker is Sarah Palin. She had her own low moment recently as a racial provocateur, publicly voicing her support for Laura Schlessinger, radio’s “Dr. Laura,” who went out of her way to humiliate a black caller by continuously using the n-word to make a point, even after the caller had made it clear that she was offended.
Facts and reality mean nothing to Beck. And there is no road too low for him to slither upon. The Southern Poverty Law Center tells us that in a twist on the civil rights movement, Beck said on the air that he “wouldn’t be surprised if in our lifetime dogs and fire hoses are released or opened on us. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of us get a billy club to the head. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of us go to jail — just like Martin Luther King did — on trumped-up charges. Tough times are coming.”
He makes you want to take a shower.
In Beck’s view, President Obama is driven by a desire to settle “old racial scores” and his ultimate goal is “reparations” for black Americans. Abe Lincoln and Dr. King could only look on aghast at this clown.
Palin’s advice to Schlessinger: “Don’t retreat — reload.”
There is a great deal of hatred and bigotry in this country, but it does not define the country. The daily experience of most Americans is not a bitter experience and for all of our problems we are in a much better place on these matters than we were a half century ago.
But I worry about the potential for violence that grows out of unrestrained, hostile bombast. We’ve seen it so often. A little more than two weeks after the 1963 March on Washington, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan and four young black girls were killed. And three months after the march, Jack Kennedy was assassinated.