Glenn Beck, the latest media superstar in the United States, represents to liberals a racist, jingoist, parochial, sexist and ignorant person. He—along with his female counterpart, Sarah Palin—have become the personification, a caricature of everything wrong with the right-wing and American politics in general. Glenn’s rants against Obama as a ‘socialist’, ‘Nazi’, ‘fascist’, ‘racist’, etc., sound like the ramblings of a mad-man more than anything, appealing to the very bottom fringes of the American body politic. Beck freely admits that he is a clown, a self-taught man, who merely seeks to ask questions against ‘power’. However, I would not be surprised if given another set of historical circumstances, Glenn Beck would have been a communist, the same type of person he so derides.
First, before we delve into that, what is Beck actually trying to say? The criticism that Beck elucidates is anger against a lost, puritan notion of America, a righteous America that has been taken away from ‘real Americans’—WASPS—and given to undeserving poor, minority, illegal immigrant others. Beck, by necessity, has an essentialist—meaning non-debatable—notion of what America is, and who is a ‘real American’. This is why Beck is a conservative, because he sees the fundamental antagonism in society as an external one. This antagonism comes from outside the totality of what he considers ‘America’, these individuals and ideas are ‘invaders’ into America, seeking to weaken it, these include: blacks; Latinos; homosexuals; feminists; and liberals, generally whites who he considers to be traitors and no longer American. This is not unlike the vision of the Jews in Germany, who were legally German, but simultaneously not ‘German’, or the socialists/communists in Nazi Germany. Thus, when Beck and the 9.12 protesters call Obama a ‘fascist’, a ‘Nazi’, etc., it is clearly a case of projection.
Ironically, in order to prove his point, Beck used television commercials from the 1950s-1970s to remind Americans of a simpler time; importantly, it is what he obfuscated from that ‘simpler time’ that is telling, that was the heavy state and union involvement in the economy and the hegemony of FDR’s liberalist-modernist project rejecting the very thin critiques that Beck uses against the state and Obama. Indeed, it was a simpler time because the state was more wiling to manage and regulate capital in such a way to alleviate the boom and bust cycle of capitalism that we have gotten used to in the post-Reagan era and to redistribute income in a way that enabled a positive feed-back loop of increasing consumption coupled with increased real incomes for all sectors. Yet, it is Obama who is threatening to undermine the capitalist economy by trying to rebalance the economy. Capital itself is victim in all this according to the corporate apologist Beck who ignores capital’s own dynamics of under-consumption and speculative excess under the guise of the ‘free market’; what is also obfuscated is Bush’s creation of large, unpaid wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Medicaid expansion and his regressive multi-trillion dollar tax-cuts that are being paid for with debt. Beck goes further and suggests that Obama is also trying to undermine the Constitution—how exactly, no one knows—, even though Bush did more than any president in history to do that, i.e. the Patriot Act, domestic wiretapping/surveillance of ordinary people, torture, etc.
Beck, taking a cue from Ron Paul—le nuveau Goldwater—blames the government for all the ills that America faces today, from economic depression to social and moral decay. The free market, competition, the ‘American Way’ has not been tried since Reagan and that is why the United States is a proverbial ship without a sail, it has lost its moral compass and is adrift in the sea of Marxist-relativism. American democracy, as it currently exists, is a sham, because ACORN, Marxists, certain un-liked corporations have captured it; the real loser here are the ‘real Americans’ and the tradition of the ‘founders’.
The solution? More capitalism, not less; more exclusion, not less; more war, not less. We have to go back to the ideals expressed in the ‘Constitution’, assuming that the content of the constitution is fixed and is not itself a ‘floating signifier’. However, like in Eastern Europe, who is facing its own disillusionment with capitalism—as per my previous post—the right’s critique is totally misguided. As Zizek argues in an article for the New York Times on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall:
The new anti-Communism provides a simple answer to the question: “If capitalism is really so much better than Socialism, why are our lives still miserable?” It is because, many believe, we are not really in capitalism: we do not yet have true democracy but only its deceiving mask, the same dark forces still pull the threads of power, a narrow sect of former Communists disguised as new owners and managers — nothing’s really changed so we need another purge, the revolution has to be repeated ... What these belated anti Communists fail to realize is that the image they provide of their society comes uncannily close to the most abused traditional leftist image of capitalism: a society in which formal democracy merely conceals the reign of a wealthy minority. In other words, the newly born anti-Communists don’t get that what they are denouncing as perverted pseudo-capitalism simply is capitalism.
This is why I say Beck, at a different historical moment, could have actually been a communist. The critique that Beck offers, stripped of all its reactionary nonsense, is essentially a critique of capitalism itself and the façade of liberal-democracy in its neoliberal, ‘consensual’ frame of the post-political Presidency of Barack Obama—Obama is NOT a leftist. The problem is that discourse in the Untied States, in large part due to the surrender of the left during the Cold War to the universal language of the right, viz., socialism is evil, and in much of the world today, rejects the left alternative a priori. The result is Glenn Beck and the 9.12 movement, the Fox News network and Paulista’s, many of whom are actually from the left.
The importance of Beck can be summarized in thie quote from Zizek’s book, In Defence of Lost Causes: “What the new populist Right and the Left share is just one thing; the awareness that politics proper is still alive”. The problem is, there is no more left—although, that is not an inevitable condition, it can be reversed—, thus, the solution is either right-wing proto-fascism or what we have now, consensual politics of ever-encroaching corporate power and domination.
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