by Ben Kritikos
It’s election time! If you’re British, you’re probably sitting in front of a telly thinking, “Look at David Cameron’s stupid face”. Fair enough. But count yourself lucky; at least you’re not American.
In the US, politics is comedy — usually without a sense of humour. It’s not even very funny. In fact, it’s less like comedy than bitter irony.
Some lefties are pleased to have such outlandish caricatures of the right served up ready-made. Not me. I think it’s unfair to moderate conservatives; and as a socialist, I want healthy, reasonable debate from both sides about how to make society the best it can be.
American conservatism has been hijacked by nut jobs, and that’s dangerous for everybody — just think about the invasion of Iraq for a minute. Extremism has become a legitimate force in American politics. Conservatism, in its moderate form, is a belief in private enterprise, a small state that interferes with business as little as possible, and an emphasis on traditional values.
While I disagree vehemently with the implications of this sociopolitical philosophy, it is of course a legitimate, moderate and relatively sensible one. Even the Tories believe there should be an NHS; they’re generally just too rich to understand why anybody would want to use it.
You can have a reasonable argument with a moderate conservative, one that enriches both of you and from which you come away with a broader view.
But popular American far-right commentators are to conservatism what shouting is to normal conversation: at best, an embarrassment; and at worst, a sign of danger. I feel a tremendous sympathy for moderates of all persuasions, and I think it’s important to make sure the ongoing project that we call “civilisation” remains amicable.
These are my top five raving fookin’ eejits who make reasonable discourse in America like running a marathon in cement shoes.
Glenn Beck is a perfect example of some one who is so fanatic that the word “conservative” completely misrepresents them. “[...] The voices of our leaders, and special interests, and the media, they’re surrounding us, and it sounds intimidating”, says Beck on the You Are Not Alone edition of his show on Fox News, in which he announced his 9/12 Project.
The very existence of something like the 9/12 Project is offensive: “Are you ready to be that person you were the day after 9/11?” Beck asks us. “I told you for weeks [...] you’re not alone”, he implores, through barely stifled sobs which have become his trademark.
Using highly emotionally charged events like the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 to secure dramatic impact and score a political point is the work of a propagandist, not a respectable commentator. Capitalising on 9/11 is like indirectly harnessing the power of terrorism. What reasonable person would do such a thing?
Glenn Beck is, in fact, an evil munchkin from the 19th century. Fox News found one of his toenails encased in amber and used the DNA to reconstruct a Frankenstein’s monster with a blonde crew cut.
He feeds on human tears and the fat from liposuction. The reproduction wasn’t perfect, though; he periodically breaks into fits of bad acting while trying to spew his invective:
Rush Limbaugh hosts the most popular radio show in America. Accordingly, he is the highest paid broadcaster: the Drudge Report stated in July 2008 that Limbaugh signed a contract extension through 2016 worth over $400 million.
Rush Limbaugh made his name in the early 90s as a tub-thumping bigot who cracked inflammatory jokes about peace activists demonstrating against the Gulf War. He rode the jingoist wave all the way with books like The Way Things Out To Be (1992) and See, I Told You So (1993).
His radio show featured a section about homeless people that began with Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s song, “Ain’t Got No Home“. Another section dealt with AIDS, and was appropriately rung in with Dionne Warwick’s “I Know I’ll Never Love This Way Again”.
Limbaugh seems to court controversy: he once took the piss out of Michael J Fox’s Parkinson’s disease — and even claimed Fox was faking it.
He regularly refers to people who campaign for action on climate change as “environmentalist wackos”.
Of feminism, Limbaugh has said it was “established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society”.
When news broke of American soldiers torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Rush Limbaugh jumped to their defense, claiming they were blowing off steam. “I’m talking about people having a good time [...] You ever heard of emotional release?”
Limbaugh is another who claims that President Obama hates white culture (whatever that means). He’s also made pronouncements on the plight of African-Americans in general; he believes they’re “left behind” socially because they’re taught at a young age to hate America, by people like — Michelle Obama. I’m not kidding.
But the clincher is when he aired a song entitled, “Barack, the Magic Negro” which was set to the tune of “Puff, the Magic Dragon”.
Of course, detractors such as Al Franken have criticised Limbaugh with books like Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations (1996).
You’ve got to hand it to Bill O’Reilly — at least he knows when he’s made a mistake. As a guest on Good Morning America, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, O’Reilly boldly stated “If the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and [there are no weapons of mass destruction] … I will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush administration again.”
He was wrong, of course, and he did apologise. And then he went back to screaming at his guests on television again.
You get the feeling that Bill O’Reilly may lose the plot at any minute; he’s the ultimate loose cannon. He seems to take actual offense to people holding liberal (or — gasp! — further left) viewpoints.
O’Reilly has made a living shouting people down when they disagree with him on his show, The O’Reilly Factor. He suffers from that most unfortunate characteristic of the right-wing American pundit: his ability to argue is much stronger than his ability to think critically. It’s a deadly combination that prevents many misinformed people with cack-handed arguments from realising that their utterly unflappable certainty is preventing them from learning.
Even if I agreed with Bill O’Reilly’s firebrand reactionary politics — he’s just a hard guy to like, frankly. If you haven’t seen this already, watch this clip of him abusing his own staff back in the days when he hosted Inside Edition
Michael Savage absolutely baffles me. Doing the research for this post upset me in a way that I can’t really describe.
Michael Savage (born Michael Alan Weiner) is the host of radio talk show The Savage Nation. He’s described himself as a conservative nationalist, and been described as a fascist. He sums his philosophy up with three words: borders, language, culture.
The man who advertised himself as “to the right of Rush [Limbaugh], to the left of God” began his career as a nut job in the 1980s when he argued that homosexual bath houses may have to be closed to curb the spread of AIDS. He claimed “the last straw” for him was his publisher’s rejection of his manuscript Immigrants & Epidemics in 1994.
But he’s also a doctor of nutritional ethnomedicine, and the author of non-political books about homeopathy, nutrition, alternative and herbal medicines, and he’s an expert in the native medicinal botany of Fiji and the South Pacific. I shit you not.
I can hear you saying, “Yeah, so? I’m sure some right-wingers are hippies.” Let’s put this in perspective with some direct Michael Savage quotes:
“Now, the illness du jour is autism. You know what autism is? I’ll tell you what autism is. In 99% of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out. That’s what autism is. What do you mean they scream and then they’re silent? They don’t have a father around to tell them, ‘Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot.’”
In 1999, Savage claimed that a group of high school girls in the San Francisco Bay area who volunteered at inner-city homeless centres that feed and provide services to the homeless did it so they “can go in and get raped by them, because they seem to like the excitement of it…”
In 2003, he was taken off television because of an argument he had with a homosexual caller live on his show. “Oh, so you’re one of those sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig; how’s that? Why don’t you see if you can sue me, you pig? You got nothing better to do than to put me down, you piece of garbage? You got nothing to do today? Go eat a sausage, and choke on it. Get trichinosis. Now do we have another nice caller here who’s [angry] because he didn’t have a nice night in the bathhouse who’s angry at me today? Put another, put another sodomite on … no more calls? … I don’t care about these bums; they mean nothing to me. They’re all sausages.”
The same man who wrote The Complete Book Of Homeopathy (1989), The Herbal Bible (1992), and Healing Children Naturally (1993), and who supports environmentalism and animal rights, also wrote The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on our Schools, Faith, and Military (2003) and Liberalism Is A Mental Disorder (2005).
This dick-head doesn’t even deserve intelligent analysis. Watch this and tell me you disagree:
These guys are nut jobs, but lots of people listen to them. In the US where there is a predominance of these kinds of fanatics on television and the radio, there is a different standard for what is considered reasonable discourse than in the rest of the world. No doubt, the American far-right would claim it’s because they’re more “free”.
It’s all well and good for me to sit here and ridicule them; and I feel it’s necessary to some extent. Somebody must deride them the way they deserve! But past a certain point it becomes counter-productive. The left needs to understand how and why these extremists are appealing to so many normal people.
In the autumn of 2006, Michael Savage, arguably the most inflammatory of all the nut jobs I’ve listed, had an estimated weekly audience of between 8-10 million. Limbaugh is even more popular. These people advocate hatred towards illegal immigrants, even going so far as to incite their listeners to burn the Mexican flag in protest.
Most ultra-right pundits in the US have a sort of persecution mania; they’re always banging on about how the government is trying to shut them up, about how political correctness is impinging on their first amendment right to freedom of speech, and about the liberal media bias (!). Perhaps there’s a clue here: perhaps it’s a feeling of insecurity, a feeling that their well-being is under threat somehow, that makes them so virulently right-wing. Maybe their audiences feel the same way.
Honestly, I found this a very difficult post to write. I find the subject upsetting, and not really funny — despite all my wise cracks. I believe we need to engage people who are this angry; moderates need to understand where this aggression is coming from. I don’t understand why the far-right is so appealing to so many people. But we dismiss, mock and ignore them at our peril.