Politics and News, Media and Critics

I’ve been talking to my father recently about politics and about the various political personas to be found on tv.  He is a conservative Christian who leans towards (Randian) libertarianism and I’m a liberal agnostic who (sometimes and with great wariness) leans towards (Chomskian?) libertarianism.  He likes the Fox news pundits and I like the Comedy Central news satirists.  This leads to some disagreements as the former are often the targets of the latter.

Christianity is a very central issue that comes up in my thinking about this subject… partly because Christianity is very central to my father.  These first two videos portray very different views of American Christianity.

I’m not sure what to think.  There is plenty of fear-mongering on both sides of the debate.  Even though I’m severely mistrustful of the powers and believe the most insightful commentary often comes from those labeled as conspiracy theorists, I’m highly critical of fear-mongering.  Plus, as far as conspiracy theorists go, Glenn Beck seems like a Johnny-come-lately.  I’m appreciative of Beck at least bringing issues up that would otherwise remain outside of the mainstream, but I’d personally prefer the even-toned intellectual analysis of Noam Chomsky.

I’m drawn towards certain libertarian values and so I partially agree with Glenn Beck, but for whatever reason I feel mistrustful of his presentaion.  I don’t like when it feels someone is intentionally using emotional charisma and melodrama to try to influence me (especially when fear is being elicited).  Some feel that Beck’s tears demonstrate an authenticity, that he actually cares about you, about this country, about freedom… but for whatever reason it doesn’t convince me.  It’s not that I don’t think he means well and it’s not that I think he is lying.  It just doesn’t resonate with my own sense of authenticity.

I wonder why this emotional expressiveness appeals to many on the right?  Does it relate to the passionate charismatic style of evangelical preachers?  And what is the connection to anti-intellectualism?  Many conservative pundits and politicians presents themselves as being just average Americans.  The appeal of Bush and Palin largely came from this appeal.  I personally don’t understand it and agree with Jon Stewart that I want a leader who is smarter than me, who is better than me.

Beyond the emotion issue, I mistrust fundamentalist Christianity and that seems to be Beck’s central guiding paradigm.  I’m not an atheist, but fundamentalism rarely seems to connect with my understanding of what Jesus actually taught (and research shows that American Christians are relatively lacking in knowledge of the Bible).

On the other hand, I don’t wish to dismiss Glenn Beck.  He is touching upon some important issues (and some raw nerves in the American psyche).  Some consider this new breed of fundamentalist conservative as a loony fringe.  It is true that the numbers of viewers Beck has are a minority of the entire US population (which is probably true of about any news show), but still his viewers represent a deeper trend.  Many people attracted to Beck aren’t what would traditionally be considered extremists, and yet Beck at times appears to be drawn towards some kind of extremism and that worries me. 

BECK: Yada yada yada. And every time they do speak out, they’re shut down by political correctness. How do you not have those people turn into that guy?

O’REILLY: Well, look, nobody, even if they’re frustrated, is going to hurt another human being unless they’re mentally ill. I think.

BECK: I think pushed to the wall, you don’t think people get pushed to the wall?

O’REILLY: Nah, I don’t believe in this snap thing. I think that that kind of violence is inside you and it’s a personality disorder.


I feel wary of where this kind of fear-mongering might lead… not that I would necessarily be against a revolution if it came to that (this country has revolution as its founding story afterall).


I think that Frank Schaeffer has a good understanding of the extreme far right.

What I’m unsure about is the number of conservatives that are that far to the extreme and I’m not sure how much longterm influence this group will have on the Republican party.  There are many moderate Christians and moderate conservatives, and I think moderates should be as wary of extremists as the rest of us.  Of course, there are extremists on the left but conservative Christian extremists seem more inclined towards violence.  More importantly, does Glenn Beck appeal more to the conservative mainstrem or the fringe extreme?

 – – –

See these previous posts for more comments/analysis on the relationship between conservativism, Christianity, and violence:

Morality: Christians vs. Jesus

Religiosity, Morality, Society, Dysfunction

Violence, Dark Thoughts, Righteousness, Collective Mood, Contingent Love, Public Opinion

 – – –

I wish the more moderate-sounding libertarians received more air-time, but moderate voices of reason don’t make for good soundbytes.

As for Chomsky, he is far from being moderate in terms of mainstream politics.  He has a very different view of libertarianism for one thing.

I think Chomsky’s criticisms of mainstream media is right on target, but even within mainstream media not all sources are equal.  I’ve watched Outfoxed and I just don’t trust Fox news.  I am liberal which is part of it, but I like listening to views I disagree with.  The problem I have with Fox news is that I feel like I have to be very aware of bias.  Even so simple of a thing as the phrase “Fair and Balanced” bothers me.  I was watching Glenn Beck with my father and this phrase kept popping up on the screen.  I told my father that it makes me feel suspicious when someone has to continually tell me that they’re not lying.  He thought I was nitpicking and missing the main point of what Beck was saying.  I explained that it had nothing to do with whether I agreed or disagreed with his message for I’d have to research it for myself to determine its merit.

Part of the problem is that it feels like to me that Beck and the other Fox pundits take themselves too seriously.  Beck does have a lighter side and pokes a little bit of fun at himself (calling himself a rodeo clown). However, despite Beck’s warnings of not taking him too seriously, it seems to me that he earnestly wants to be taken seriously.  I prefer the inane antics of Steve Colbert when he tells the emperor that he as no clothes on.

Some might consider this disrespectful and mean-spirited, but sometimes it’s the only way to speak the truth.  I personally have great respect for Steve Colbert and Jon Stewart.  I suppose they serve a similar purpose on the left as Glenn Beck does on the right, but they’re much funnier (even though Beck also supposedly has worked as a comedian).  In particular, Stewart is a critic of mainstream media, but using his role as a comedian is able to get his voice heard (unlike Chomsky who doesn’t have a comedy show).

Maybe it’s personal bias, but I find these responses to the mainstream to be much harder hitting than anything Beck or O’Reilly puts forth.  I do have more respect for Beck than I did in the past.  I think he potentially could serve a purpose of good as long as he doesn’t fall off the edge of extremism.