Sunday, January 31, 2010

Motes and beams

I’ve seen Arianna Huffington on ABC’s This Week a number of times and I’ve come to admire her, despite my general distaste for Huffington Post. I don’t agree with most of her political stances but she appears to have a clear set of beliefs and to stick to them rather than fudging them to accommodate herself to politicians on “her side”. Today, however, she lost a fair amount of ground with me. During the roundtable on This Week, she asked Roger Ailes, the President of Fox News, about Glenn Beck:

And aren't you concerned about the language that Glenn Beck is using, which is, after all, inciting the American people? There is a lot of suffering out there, as you know, and when he talks about people being slaughtered, about who is going to be the next in the killing spree... [snip]

It's about the fact that there is a tradition as the historian Richard [Hofstadter] said, in American politics, of the paranoid style. And the paranoid style is dangerous when there is real pain out there.

I hadn’t read Hofstadter’s ideas on the paranoid style before although I’ve encountered musings on them in various places. I’ve now skimmed his 1964 Harper’s Magazine version and I think it’s well worth a quick read, so Huffington gets points for bringing it up. However, I do have to wonder if she was reading her own Website during 2008. If she had been, she would have encountered nonsense like this - in the articles, not the comments:

Please understand what you are looking at when you look at Sarah "Evita" Palin. You are looking at the designated muse of the coming American police state. [snip]

I believe the Rove-Cheney cabal is using Sarah Palin as a stalking horse, an Evita figure, to put a popular, populist face on the coming police state and be the talk show hostess for the end of elections as we know them. [snip]

Almost everyone I work with on projects related to this campaign for liberty has been experiencing computer harassment: emails are stripped, messages disappear. That's not all: people's bank accounts are being tampered with: wire transfers to banks vanish in midair. I personally keep opening bank accounts that are quickly corrupted by fraud. Money vanishes. Coworkers of mine have to keep opening new email accounts as old ones become infected. And most disturbingly to me personally is the mail tampering I have both heard of and experienced firsthand. My tax returns vanished from my mailbox. All my larger envelopes arrive ripped straight open apparently by hand. When I show the postman, he says "That's impossible." Horrifyingly to me is the impact on my family. My childrens' report cards are returned again and again though perfectly addressed; their invitations are turned back; and my daughters many letters from camp? Vanished. All of them. Not one arrived.

This type of thinking fits beautifully Hofstadter’s view of the (then) contemporary right wing paranoid style:

America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. [snip]

The villains of the modern right are much more vivid than those of their paranoid predecessors, much better known to the public ... for the shadowy international bankers of the monetary conspiracies, we may now substitute eminent public figures...

I have no idea what Glenn Beck is saying and don’t much care. Rabble-rousers are a long-standing American tradition and I believe most of us are smart enough to distinguish between truth and fantasy. If Arianna Huffington thinks differently and fears the paranoid style in American politics, then I suggest she look to her own media powerhouse before urging others to clean up theirs.

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