Expecting Robespierre Any Minute Now

It’s always fun to tweak the News Guy in Atlanta. He was part of the original team Ted Turner assembled to create CNN back in 1980 – pretty impressive – but he was also there when these guys came up with the idea for CNN’s secondary channel, the Headline News Network – HLN – originally just what it said, a half-hour loop of the major stories of the day. And it was a good product, or at least a useful one – a steady stream of the basics, sort of a no-nonsense video wire service. Get all your news in one short stop, and move on with your life. Cool.

But that didn’t last long. Now HLN is all long-form pop culture news, if a thirty-minute block is long-form. Now HLN is celebrity nonsense from here in Hollywood, and opinion programming, and nasty Nancy Grace, the former Atlanta prosecutor who covers all the sensational murders and kidnappings, and who knows just who is guilty, in spite of the evidence, or lack of evidence, and tells you so. It’s appalling, and dangerous, but she’s a moneymaker for CNN. She has a solid lock on the sneering bloodthirsty bully demographic. And that’s pretty large these days. The News Guy in Atlanta left CNN years ago, and he’s not happy with how things worked out.

But the idea is to make money, and the sneering bloodthirsty bully demographic – mostly conservative, a spillover from Rush Limbaugh on talk radio – is large enough to use to make scads of money. Mix white-hot righteous anger with unfocused but deep paranoia, and add a dash of xenophobic flag-waving, and you have a viable product. And that’s probably why CNN hired Glenn Beck for HLN – he had the mix down cold.

But it wasn’t a good fit. CNN’s parent network began to worry about its reputation as Beck spun out one wild conspiracy theory after another. Would they have to report on and defend these, as actual news? That wasn’t going to work. So by mutual agreement, Beck moved to where he really belonged – Fox News. They didn’t have the reputational qualms CNN had – they were the in-your-face and never-apologize-network. And that was cool. Beck’s ratings soared. He had his Tea Party 9-12 rallies attended by hundreds of thousands. But eventually his talk of Obama’s deep-seated hatred of white people and odd long lectures about the socialist and communist imagery hidden in the friezes at Rockefeller Center, and his dire warnings about FEMA reeducation camps, and his long list of obscure enemies of America that caused some of his fans to grab guns and then go after these folks, proved to be even too much for Fox News. They parted ways.

And where is he now? He still has Mercury Radio Arts, his a multimedia production company that produces content for radio, television, publishing, the stage and the internet, where you will now find Glenn Beck Television – GBTV (“The Truth Lives Here”) – but he has disappeared. If you’re not on a major network – broadcast or cable – you don’t exist. That’s just how things are.

But he does exist, and now that the Occupy Wall Street protests are really rolling, he does have a few things to say:

Capitalists, if you think that you can play footsie with these people, you are wrong. They will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you. They will do it. They’re not messing around. Those in the media – and I am included in this – they will drag us out into the streets and kill us. If you’re wealthy, they will kill you for what you have. You cannot tolerate this kind of stuff. You certainly do not encourage it.

And he warned Nancy Pelosi not to try to reason with the protesters, because they would “take you off of your private jet and they’re going to burn your farm down to the ground.”

Where did all that come from? And what was CNN thinking way back when, when they signed him up? In any event, the sneering bloodthirsty bully demographic is seemingly frightened. Or they are paranoid. The demonstrators in lower Manhattan seem to be the usual overly-earnest do-good counterculture types, with the usually nutty fringe, and unlike the Tea Party crowd, they don’t carry loaded guns and talk about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots. They’re far too mellow – angry and outraged, but careful and clever. Beck might be overreacting a bit.

On Bill Maher’s show Real Time, that’s how the conservative comedian P. J. O’Rourke saw the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations – just a bunch of useless hippies playing bongos and smoking dope. They were a joke – they had no idea what they were doing. The left is like that. It’s been that way since San Francisco in the sixties. And these Occupy Wall Street folks couldn’t even choose a leader. And pf course no one has the slightest idea of what they want. No one even knows what the hell they’re talking about. And Bill Maher grinned and nodded in agreement.

But one of the other guests, Alan Grayson, the former congressman, would have none of that:

Grayson: Let me tell you what they’re talking about. They’re complaining about the fact that Wall Street wrecked the economy three years ago and nobody’s held responsible for that. Not a single person has been indicted or convicted for destroying twenty percent of our national net worth accumulated over two centuries. They’re upset about the fact that Wall Street have iron control over economic policies of this country and that one party is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street and the other party caters to them as well, that’s the truth of the matter as you said before. And –

O’Rourke: Get the man a bongo drum, they’ve found their spokesman!

Grayson: If I…

O’Rourke: Get your shoes off, get a bongo drum, forget where to go to the bathroom and it’s yours.

Grayson: If I am the spokesman for all the people who think we should not have twenty four million people in this country who can’t find a full time job – that we should not have fifty million people who can’t see a doctor when they’re sick – that we shouldn’t have forty seven million people of this country who need government help to feed themselves – and we shouldn’t have fifteen million families who owe more on their mortgage than the value of home, okay, I’ll be that spokesman…

And that received a standing ovation. Bill Maher looked surprised and a little frightened. He had miscalculated. The whole segment, a riff making fun of losers who pretended they were hippies long after the sixties had come and gone, had fallen apart. Apparently this was serious business. And he’s unlikely to book Alan Grayson ever again. Some things are supposed to be jokes – things you mock – and everyone laughs. And the host carefully sets up what those are. Alan Grayson ruined Maher’s storyline for the evening. Damn.

But what is it that is happening down in Lower Manhattan and now all across the country – three weeks of it with no end in sight, as it just keeps growing. Is it a bunch of hippies just acting out and being a pain in the ass, if amusing at times? Is it a massive populist statement that things have gone terribly wrong and things must change – a message from most of the nation? Or is it class warfare, with blood and death and all as Beck is saying will happen – and maybe also with a Robespierre as Beck suggested?

As for class warfare, Elizabeth Warren, running against Scott Brown in Massachusetts for his Senate seat, has earlier suggested that’s not the way to look at it:

I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.” No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own – nobody.

She says just think about it:

You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory – and hire someone to protect against this – because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless – keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Steve Benen in this item argues that Warren “presents an argument for liberalism that many Americans rarely hear and probably never consider: success is predicated on an underlying social contract.” That’s not so hard to see as sensible, as “a strong American future depends on keeping our commitments and rejecting the right’s calls to shred this social contract.”

But what Warren said led George Will to pen what Benen calls an over-the-top diatribe – Will accuses Warren of seeking “a collectivist political agenda” and he sees what is coming, the “subordination of the bovine many to a regulatory government.” In essence, George Will does a Glenn Beck:

Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize – i.e., conscript – whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.

The collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government – including such public goods as roads, schools and police – is instituted to facilitate individual striving, a.k.a. the pursuit of happiness. The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.

Ah, George, is that what she said? Greg Sargent sets him straight:

What Warren actually said celebrated individual achievement, property and autonomy, while making the completely uncontroversial argument that those things are made possible by a functioning society enabled by a healthy social contract. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive in any way. The argument Warren is making is over how much each of us should sacrifice in order to keep that functioning society healthy. We’re running a deficit; someone has to pay to close it. Warren is simply asking the wealthy to sacrifice a bit more in that direction, because if they don’t, a disproportionately heavy burden for fixing it will fall on the rest of us. This is a fair request, Warren says, because the society they’d be helping to keep afloat partly enabled their wealth in the first place – and will enable others to follow in their footsteps. Warren is making this case to individuals who will decide whether to elect her to the Senate to advance this view. No tyrannical “collectivity” here.

But this is telling:

Will doesn’t even attempt to engage her real argument – he doesn’t tell us why the wealthy shouldn’t be called upon to do a bit more to help close a deficit that conservatives insist is a threat to civilization as we know it.

And there’s E. J. Dionne’s column laying into his fellow Washington Post columnist:

What Warren has done is to make a proper case for liberalism, which does not happen often enough. Liberals believe that the wealthy should pay more in taxes than “the rest of us” because the well-off have benefited the most from our social arrangements. This has nothing to do with treating citizens as if they were cows incapable of self-government. As for the regulatory state, our free and fully competent citizens have long endorsed a role for government in protecting consumers from dangerous products, including tainted beef.

Will, the philosopher, knows whereof Warren speaks because he has advanced arguments of his own that complement hers. In his thoughtful 1983 book “Statecraft as Soulcraft,” Will rightly lamented that America’s sense of community had become “thin gruel” and chided fellow conservatives “caught in the web of their careless anti-government rhetoric.” He is also the author of my favorite aphorism about how Americans admire effective government even when they pretend not to. “Americans talk like Jeffersonians,” Will wrote, “but expect to be governed by Hamiltonians.”

Dionne argues that Will wouldn’t have even bothered with Warren’s comments had it not been so important to him – and Benen suggest this famous conservative columnist “wouldn’t have felt the need to publish a misleading attack had Warren not struck a nerve with a compelling defense for liberalism in the first place.”

But Dionne has said that already:

This is a tour de force. My colleague has brought out his full rhetorical arsenal to beat back a statement that he grants upfront is so obviously true that it cannot be gainsaid. Will knows danger when he sees it.

Kevin Drum puts it this way:

Elizabeth Warren gave a speech a few weeks ago making the unremarkable – almost banal – point that businesses depend on roads and schools and courts and police protection and lots of other products of our tax dollars. They don’t just spring out of Zeus’s forehead. George Will, obviously in a cold sweat over the possibility that the ragamuffins in Zuccotti Park might take this to heart, admitted that Warren was obviously right but then sprang for her throat, accusing her of not merely making a case for fair levels of taxation, but of wanting to convert the United States into some kind of Leninist collectivist hellhole. It went downhill from there.

But what is going on here that has George Will and Glenn Beck so terrified? It seems Paul Krugman knows:

What’s going on here? The answer, surely, is that Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.

Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees – basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families.

So they’re in a pickle:

This special treatment can’t bear close scrutiny – and therefore, as they see it, there must be no close scrutiny. Anyone who points out the obvious – no matter how calmly and moderately – must be demonized and driven from the stage. In fact, the more reasonable and moderate a critic sounds, the more urgently he or she must be demonized, hence the frantic sliming of Elizabeth Warren.

So who’s really being un-American here? Not the protesters, who are simply trying to get their voices heard. No, the real extremists here are America’s oligarchs, who want to suppress any criticism of the sources of their wealth.

So who’s really being un-American here? There’s a reason Fox News keeps running headline after headline like this – Iran Calls Wall Street Protests “American Spring” – so maybe Glenn Beck never left.

So we have what are being called the One Percent, and of course they’re upset, as Digby notes:

After all this new aristocracy has gobbled up ever more of the nation’s wealth and then used the money to buy up the political system and undermine democracy. A little redistribution of those holdings would go a long way to restoring the proper balance.

But this may not get that far, as there are those – out of work and having lost their house and most everything else – still following Beck and Limbaugh, wherever those two are at any given time:

Many of their fellow sufferers are going to say “suck it up, you whiners” – identifying with the oppressors, perhaps in the vain hope that they will someday be one of them. Or maybe it’s just a deep need to see themselves as better than somebody. It’s just who they are.

This is not going to end well. No, Glenn Beck is wrong, no rich folks are going to be dragged from their Mercedes 550 and be beaten to death in the streets. The sneering bloodthirsty bully demographic, full of white-hot righteous anger with unfocused but deep paranoia, with a dash of xenophobic flag-waving thrown in, need not fear that. This is not the Tea Party waving semiautomatics and screaming about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots. This is just a call for fairness.

And that’s the problem. Take away a spoiled kid’s favorite toy, the cool toy that he snatched from some other kid, and he’ll scream that it’s just not fair until you go crazy. And you know there’s no point in explaining things to him. You just ride it out, which is the likely outcome here – unless you let him keep the toy he snatched.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Class Warfare, Glenn Beck, Occupy Wall Street and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Expecting Robespierre Any Minute Now

  1. PGOBrien says:

    Tell it like it is, man. Keep going, you’re on a roll …

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