What Life Was Like

Maudlin showman Glenn Beck has the blogosphere yapping over a new schlocky spiel that features saccharine eulogizing for a mythical lost era of innocence and sweetness. In a popular YouTube clip from last Thursday’s show, Beck is seen tearing up repeatedly while fondly remembering “what life was like” during “simpler times.”

The insidious nature of nostalgia is on full display here, since Beck’s rose-colored glasses help him forget what life was really like back then. Like most sappy trips down memory lane, Beck’s “life back then” is an ache for his childhood days — ie, late ’60s and through the 70s. Which is what makes his sentimental jibberish confusing, amusing, and sad. When we hear Baby Boomers pine for “the good ol’ days,” they usually have the supposedly-desirable days of the ’50s in mind. I think the clip has gained notoriety for portraying as idyllic two of the most controversial decades in US history. This is the era of Vietnam and the My Lai massacre; of the Cold War and nuclear proliferation; CIA-backed dictatorships and assassinations; peak oil in the US and massive inflation; race riots and the slayings of R.F.K. & M.L.K. Jr. We had Watergate, the introduction of AIDS, passage of Roe v. Wade, and the start of the culture wars, etc ad nauseam… For anyone, especially a Republican, to claim (albeit with a hollow recognition that everything “wasn’t perfect’) that this was a “simpler time” is just laughably ignorant.

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Terrorism & Justice

If just one caucasian Christian kills others because of radical ideology, it’s called “murder.”

If just one caucasian anti-Semite kills others because of radical ideology, it’s called “murder.”

If just one black Muslim kills others because of radical ideology, it’s called “terrorism.”

But if many Muslims kill others because of radical ideology, it’s called “an act of war.”

Institutional, systemic bias is bound to influence public opinion and policy. And if you repeatedly frame the news in certain ways, you should not be surprised when your audience takes your cues and makes them explicit (reap what you sow, etc.)

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Messiahs & Monomyths

One of the most interesting pre-election interviews I saw was of arch-conservative Bill Kristol with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show just a few days before the 4th. One of the striking things Kristol said was that “I don’t think [Obama] would be a very radical president. I think he’ll disappoint a lot of people on the left, because he’ll be a conventionally liberal president.” I’ve thought a lot about this quote, especially as Obama’s picked his staff and proven Kristol exactly right so far. But I’m unsure just how “radical” anybody on the left ever expected him to be (we had Nader, Klein, Chomsky, et al to keep our expectations low).

However, whenever I stumble upon the lunatic fringe of the far-right (say, WorldNetDaily or FreeRepublic for example) I’m sometimes surprised at how often they try to paint Barack Obama as the left’s “Messiah.” It’s unclear, of course, who actually believes this. In reality, Republicans are far more obsessed with Obama’s supposed messiahship than liberals are. There’s no doubt that a number of people have said nutty things, among them Louis Farrakhan and, to a lesser extent, Oprah Winfrey, but there’s not much evidence that most people see Obama as anything other than an inspiring figure. Obama’s election team have admitted that McCain’s “celebrity” ads over the summer had them most worried — but being a celebrity is far different than being a messiah. (more…)