In years to come, will we come to remember November 25, 2010 as the Thanksgiving when Sarah Palin became the turkey? The former vice-presidential candidate, fixed-term contract governor, reality show star has been able to get away with almost anything, from keeping an eye on Russia, to “refudiating” her critics, and then tweeting that “Shakespeare invented words all the time”.
The candidates she endorsed — such as anti-m-sturbation part-time witch Christine O’Donnell — went nowhere, and Joe Miller, her preferred candidate in Alaska, was defeated by a write-in campaign that asked Americans to correctly spell “Murkowski”.
She’s sailed through it all, lifted through the storms by the swelling tide of Fox News, the Tea Party, and the shadowy financial groups behind the Tea Party.
But there’s nothing to concentrate the mind like a bombardment by the craziest country in the world, and when Palin went on ever-faithful Glenn Beck’s radio program she made a fatal error:
Palin: “This speaks to a bigger picture here that certainly scares me in terms of our national security policy. But obviously we’ve gotta stand with our North Korean allies …”
Beck co-host: “South Korean …”
Palin: “Er yeah …”
This latest absurdiation has been ricocheting round the world ever since, and seems to be playing the same role in Palin’s burgeoning career, as did Palin in John McCain’s — a potentially fatal one, marking her off as simply not worthy of being considered for a presidential role. On the latest polls, close to two-thirds now believe her to be unqualified for the office, an all-time high.
The Democrats are desperately hoping that she run and somehow gain the nomination, after which they would then demolish her in a repeat of the LBJ-Goldwater outing in 1964, when the Republicans gained a mere 34% of the vote — though knowing the Dems, they could screw this up, and the country would wind up with Todd Palin, first dude, as secretary of state, and Bristol as ambassador to China.
Palin hasn’t said whether she’s running or not — but she was in Iowa last week, through which all potential candidates traipse about now, and her book tour is routed through South Carolina and Nevada among others, key early primary states. Since the Tea Party/Republican Right would rather impose their candidate than settle for a moderate, they may just be crazy enough to elevate her — a process aided by the fact that many of them believe that God is guiding their hand in an exercise of providence.
Should that happen, the right will have had an extraordinary own goal — minimising their chances against a President that many independent voters appear to have deserted for good, and who is now suffering a racist backlash damped down by the dire circumstances of 2008 (when people said “things are so bad I’m going to vote for the black guy”).
What is all the more extraordinary is that this has been done not merely by an outsider movement, but by the most powerful right-wing media outlet around, that of Fox news channel. To assess Fox as merely partisan is to misunderstand it entirely — for reasons not entirely clear, Rupert Murdoch’s cable news flagship has “gone rogue” in its own right, spruiking an increasingly strange mix of neo-conservatism, libertarianism and nativist populism, none of which adds together as a coherent whole.
These have always been in some contradiction on the right — less “free minds, free markets” than “free markets, mind what you read/talk about/ingest/sleep with” — but Fox has become so chaotically opportunistic that it has its loyal foot soldiers marching in nine different directions. It veers from an extreme Hayekian/von Mises purism, to nativist bank bashing on behalf of the “real economy”, from unfettered globalisation to an essentially ancestor-worship form of exceptionalism, from trumpeting superiority to a cringing, ever-renewed fear.
That’s happening throughout the network, but there’s one person on whom its focused and that’s Glenn Beck. It was Beck’s show Palin was on — she’s a paid Fox contributor — when she made her North Korea remark, and it’s Beck (or the team around him) who’s done most to try and kick start the Tea Party and various others into a millenarian social movement. In the process he’s become something quite distinct to smoother practised pseudo-populists such as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.
Where they try and establish a sense of quiet superiority as rooted in “our values”, Beck goes for hysteria, and the sense of imminent chaos and multiple threats. Beck is a pudding-faced former DJ and stand-up comedian. Politically uninvolved until a decade or so ago, he crashed and burned from multiple substance addictions. He recovered through AA, which is all the religion most people need, but Beck went further and became a Mormon (“after shopping around a little”).
Harry Reid and Mitt Romney are Mormons,and there are many moderate people who take the religion as a metaphorical one, an invitation to collective spirituality; Beck isn’t one of them. He has drawn in, and now pours out, every last note of crazed literalist prophecy in the cult, its belief that America is the literal promised land, that angels steer human life, and that salvation is closely connected to a particular tribe — which for the Mormons, until fairly recently, was American white men.
Beck has given the anti-Obama right an explicit idea of fallenness, that America’s “descent” is somehow due to individual moral failings — hence his “9/12” movement to restore the values of the day after the tragedy, and his “restoring honour” rally, which wanted to “take America back to God”.
It is the flavour too of his TV show, the set of which is part-sideshow tent, part-Sunday school, part-secret training camp — decorated with blackboards, piles of books, butcher’s paper and the like. Day after day Beck now preaches a bizarre farrago of ideas that would variously find favour with the League of Rights, the Raelians, the US Spartacist League, and the armed wing of the Henry George League.
Beck veers between a precious metal mercantilism, Hayek’s road to serfdom, Ron Paulist suspicion of central banking, and “retired CIA”-type warnings of global revolution straight out of the Book of Revelation.
Mincing and dancing and weeping around the studio, like a man sent from the future with news too terrible to bear, he has lately alighted on a whole tranche of literature from the fringes — a French anarcho-communist manifesto called The Coming Insurrection, Trotskyist pamphlets, situationist photo essays and the like. They’d get a moderately interesting response in the RMIT student union, but Beck has given them the import of Mao’s Little Red Book. When he waves them around, he is really only warning us about the man behind it all — the one whom he calls the “puppet-master”, George Soros.
Beck’s assault on Soros is the most bizarre amalgam of right-wing paranoid style in recent history. Soros’s combination of global financial speculation and funding of liberal and centre-left causes is hardly above criticism, but it’s the way Beck does it that is assimilable — seeing Soros’s “open society” activities as hand-in-glove with currency speculation, in a plot to destabilise the world.
This causes Beck to cite as examples of these activities, Soros’s funding contribution to liberal uprisings in Georgia and the Ukraine — and even the Velvet revolution in Czechoslovakia. Beck is the man who has pushed Hayek’s Road to Serfdom to bestseller status, yet he’s attacking revolutions designed to create open, pluralist societies; Beck warns against usury, yet attacks a man who has warned of the financialisation of world markets. How does this even square off?
The answer can be seen in Beck’s biz — no there has to be another word — Guignol acting out of his argument, using marionette puppets of Soros and others, while he drawls out dialogue in a fake mitteleuropean accent.
It is truly astounding because it is unmistakeably a reprise of mod-20th century anti-Semitism, note for note. Were it happening from any quarter than a Murdoch corp, the News Ltd bloggers and writers would be piling onto it like a shot. On Fox something out of, if not Die Sturmer, then Action Francaise, gets played every afternoon.
The Soros obsession is no coincidence of course, because Soros has so explicitly aligned himself with the progressive left. He provides the convenient alien upon whom all the troubles of the world — especially those affecting plain goodhearted white folks — can be heaped. The fantasy America — which has unlimited free enterprise, but no corporations, industrious thrifty hard workers, but no banks, global trade but is alone with itself — can only have been brought low by people such as these.
Whatever Fox intended when it hired Beck, it has overshot the mark entirely — despite Murdoch’s remarks, that Beck is a “libertarian, very well read, fantastically popular …” — for it is unleashing stuff that is making it difficult for America to do business. Next year, for example, the country’s mandated debt ceiling must be raised to allow for the rolling debt levels created by TARP and the subsequent stimulus. That ceiling now sits at $14.3 trillion, and Rand Paul and other Tea Partiers have made noises about filibustering an extension of it, which would send US credit rating and global markets haywire.
At that point, the mainstream right and the Tea Party held by the fabulous Mr Fox have come into direct contradiction. Indeed at that point, the Tea Party’s approach most resembles the populist nationalism of the Greek Communist Party. At that point also, it is war within the Republican Party.
So we may see a grand example of one of Hayek’s most beloved concepts, “unintended consequences”: Fox and the Tea Party, having taken over the primary process, denied the Republicans control of the Senate. Should a conservative Supreme Court Justice need replacing soon, that may shape US politics for decades to come. And they may ultimately guarantee “the most liberal President ever” his second term. These days, it’s hard to know which way is up. Or north, and let’s give thanks for that.