Despite disastrous ratings declines, Glenn Beck continues to be hard to ignore. Lately he’s taken to “red-baiting” the president, as Media Matters and others report. Since the rise of the Tea Party and Beck’s history professorship — but since the election really — commentators have been asking what’s behind the Right’s demonization of liberal and Democratic political opponents? Many have been too quick to poo poo the significance of Beck and Tea Party actors like Dick Armey. But as the Republican party works to ally it’s various Religious Right, Neocon, free-market and Tea Party factions to regain power, the question of a unifying ideology remains. A clearly defined enemy and a hefty dose of paranoia always helps.
Adam Serwer at The American Prospect asked last month, Is there a propensity among conservatives to paint their opponents as not “…merely… wrong but as active participants in a conspiracy to destroy America”? To answer the question, Serwer looks at a new book by Andrew McCarthy, The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America. McCarthy alleges that liberals (the Obama-led Democrats) and Al-Qaeda (terrorists) are in cahoots to overthrow American constitutional order and end human freedom. Serwer wrote about McCarthy and his book at the end of May:
Once a celebrated prosecutor, McCarthy has been reduced to a boiling stew of the worst kinds of right-wing paranoia, Bircherism, McCarthyism, and Birtherism all churned together with a teeth-chattering Islamophobia. But it’s important to understand that it’s not the terrorists who are the real focus of McCarthy’s wrath; it’s anyone who disagrees that the executive branch should have limitless, unchecked power to fight Islamist terrorism. These people, to McCarthy, are indistinguishable from someone who steps onto a plane with a bomb in their shoes.
It’s not a new construct: Sacred, Christian America under attack from without and within. And Bush W. wasn’t the first president to employ it for his own re-election. Serwer also points us to a post by John Holbo at Crooked Timber that rips apart the logic of McCarthy’s book. Holbo writes:
So the Obama-led left and the terrorists/Islamists are, in effect, ganging up on the United States constitutional order, in an enemy of my enemy spirit. This is strong stuff because it explicitly rules out the more charitable interpretation that Obama and the left are just clueless about strategy and tactics. It would be one thing for them to adopt counter-productive policies with perverse consequences. But you don’t attempt this sort of Machiavellian bank shot – aiming at overthrowing the American constitutional order by aiding and abetting enemies of the state – unless you are actually attempting this sort of Machiavellian bank shot.
From legal and legislative wins for same-sex marriage to the continuing recession, from the Gulf oil spill to the foundering in Iraq and Afghanistan, the viability of the existing Republican platform has been decimated. (Not that Democrats and the current administration have yet to realize it; they’re stuck in their own “moderate,” floundering, fearful or uninterested in reframing national challenges in a meaningful and productive way.)
So the U.S. remains stuck in a Cold War paradigm that Beck and others have tapped into. The Commies (nee Islamists) are out to suppress our church, undermine our constitution, usurp our individual freedom, and subvert our international dominance; and they have infiltrated the government as wolf-like, nefarious liberals and moderates dressed in sheep’s clothing. Never mind the fallacy of this narrative; it’s compelling. And much more so than anything anybody left of Obama is putting out.
Sure, Communist Russia struck fear in the hearts of Americans — of all political stripes — but it was a fear that allowed conservatives to push their domestic and international agenda. Quite successfully.