Monday, August 31, 2009

Shedding Light on the Heroes of the Far Right

Much of the reason America is in such trouble right now has nothing at all to do with what the right wing media says about our country "sliding into socialism." It has even less to do with the outrageous claims by the far right that we have a fascist, totalitarian dictator who completely disregards the Constitution. It hasn't anything to do with the right wing's accusations of progressives aiming to undermine American society and culture as we know it. Indeed, the foundations of our country are creaking and groaning, and a cultural collapse in the next ten years is likely. But funny enough, the agents of progress and reform in this country are finding themselves demonized at every step of the road to change.

The Legend of Limbaugh, Beck, and Hannity
Much more so than any other media personality out there today, three men are dominating today's political dialogue; Glenn Beck of the FOX news channel, longtime talk radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, and Hannity and Colmes co-host Sean Hannity. I'm focusing on these three because of their tremendous impact on society. Rahm Emanuel, when asked by the late Tim Russert about whom he thought was leading the Republican Party today, responded with Rush Limbaugh. He remarked that the radio host was the "Voice, energy, and intellect of the GOP." Limbaugh always knows how to make headlines by spouting off incendiary statements of bigotry and insensitivity. This is genius, as his most devoted listeners identify with these viewpoints and the liberal press gives him all the coverage he could ever want.

Glenn Beck's 9/12 project was a brilliant propaganda move by FOX; it gave conservatives everywhere a message and a man to rally behind. Beck was soon dubbed the "Populist hero of the FOX news channel." His tying in of nine conservative values coupled with 12 conservative values was conveniently timed with the advent of Obama's inauguration and the birth of the Tea Party movement. He also dubbed the 9/12 project as such to appeal to emotion, evoking the pain and anguish we all felt on September 11th, 2001 and wielding it as his personal weapon in proliferating his agenda. And of course, we all remember Beck's contrived crocodile tears as he stood in front of a background illuminating the preamble to the Constitution. Almost overnight, Beck's popularity skyrocketed, and his talking points were soon parroted by Tea Partiers all over.

Sean Hannity appeals to the anti-intellectual religious zealots of the South with his raucous, unabashed antagonism of "the liberal establishment." He encourages his listeners to reject facts and reason as merely liberal talking points and stick to their ideology. Talkers Magazine named him #2 in their "Heavy Hundred" list of the nation's most influential broadcasters (Limbaugh was #1). He has a vast and constantly-growing fanbase of 13.25 million per week and counting, and his influence on the way the GOP constituency acts and thinks is not to be taken lightly.

These are the three men who work to demonize the current administration on every decision it makes as "Socialist," Marxist," "Communist," and the like. It should come as no surprise that 58% of Republicans now harbor suspicions that our president isn't a citizen of the United States. Coincidentally, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh both believe our president isn't a US citizen, and make sure to let their listeners know. Not only has this kind of rhetoric divided the country like never before, but this kind of nonsense is becoming even MORE popular. Logic, reason, and intellect are lost on the vast listening base of these legendary pundits.

These men doing the demonizing are paid handsomely by ad revenue from their networks; whether or not the shouting is factually accurate or not is not important. The constant assault on the senses by right wing media heroes like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh is made possible by the millions of people who tune in for their daily dose of hate-filled rage on national airwaves. The money they make is made possible through the devotion of their fanbases, not the validity of their message. The fact is, these three men are the current leaders of today's GOP. They speak for the millions of their uneducated and closed-minded fans, who enjoy hearing Rush and others rage on and on about socialism and the inevitable end of capitalism and western culture as we know it, despite having no previous knowledge or experience to back up what they say on national airwaves.

Drug Addicts, Derelicts, and Frauds
I'd like to be of the opinion, as would most other media consumers, that if a popular voice is allowed several hours on national airwaves each day, that he/she should have some knowledge and experience to rationalize why they are telling us all what to think about every issue. This may be the case with progressive media icons like Paul Krugman, Robert Baer and George Lakoff, but Beck, Hannity, and Limbaugh have neither education nor experience on their side.

Neither of the three aforementioned right wing media heroes have completed a college degree. Rush Limbaugh dropped out after two semesters when he flunked every single class (including ballroom dance). Glenn Beck graduated high school in 1982, but has only taken one college class as a non-trad at Yale, which he later dropped. Sean Hannity dropped out of NYU and Adelphi.

Additionally, we're all now likely familiar with Rush's prescription drug addiction in 2003, his racially-charged sense of humor, and his hatred of women making progress in society. He also stated he openly hopes Obama fails as president. Rush seems to forget that if the president fails, our country is screwed. Since then, conservatives everywhere have adapted that viewpoint as one of their own, somehow reasoning that wielding a president's (and a country's) failure as a debate tool is more important than our president's policies succeeding and bringing our country out of recession.

Sean Hannity has stated he is too busy to read books despite having the time to write two books of his own. Being that he doesn't have a college education, doesn't read, but somehow feels qualified to get us to respect his opinions is laughable.

Monty, a friend of mine, says it plainly:

It's amazing that so many people put their faith in these who never even took it upon themselves to gain a higher knowledge and understanding of math, science, philosophy, the arts, and language than they already had. It's no wonder they have such closed-minded views of the world.

Why American Conservatives Identify with Their Media
Each of these heroes of radio and television, who are an inspiration to millions of neoconservatives nationwide, have no political, scientific, or even the educational credentials and experience to substantiate their claims. These dominant voices of American political discourse are college dropouts with backward, traditionalist views on society. Limbaugh is an anti-feminist, Hannity is anti-gay rights, and Beck is anti-Islam, for example. It should come as no surprise that their biggest fans are die-hard Republicans: conservative, church-attending, poorly-educated blue collar workers in red states who tend to think the same way, as seen in the famous 2004 election exit polls.

These men aren't experts in these fields, or even journalists. They are merely individuals with opinions based on flawed logic and an inability to use reason in an argument, who see the world through a flawed libertarian/neoconservative perspective. This perspective is flawed because the value systems of these men and their cabal are flawed.

Take their positions on health care, for instance; none of them are poor, neither one is an economic guru, none of them live outside of the United States, and all of them have the money necessary to finance a complicated health procedure completely in cash. However, these men claim our economy will be ruined by the public option due to our desire to model our system after those in Canada and the UK, while claiming the poor will be disadvantaged even further. Because they have money, they value a system where the dollar is placed at a higher priority than the preservation of a human life. Because they can individually finance their medical expenses with no trouble, they don't consider the plight of those who have had to divorce their spouses or sell their homes to pay for hospital bills. In fact, 62 percent of today's foreclosures are a result of insufficient funds for medical expenses.

So, it all boils down to one question: Why do poor, disenfranchised Americans continue to support, listen to, and watch these programs?

It is a simple tactic best explained in George Lakoff's "Don't Think of an Elephant." To convince people to protest against their own economic self-interests, talking points have to be communicated effectively through frames. For example, does it work better to say "Democrats are hurting our health system because they want a public health insurance option," or "Washington limousine liberals are working to undermine the American Free Market with a socialized government take-over of the health industry?" I think you can figure out which phrase the pundits would rather use.

Ultimately, the success of such widespread deception and hatemongering is due to the appeal of what Lakoff refers to as the "cultural civil war." Its the Us vs. Them mentality held by warrior conservatives everywhere. According to guys like Beck, Hannity and Limbaugh, progressives and liberals are seeking to rend the Constitution meaningless and suppress civil liberties while promoting a Socialist agenda. If these guys are right, the very fabric of our nation is at stake, and conservatives have a direct responsibility to fight the "tyranny" of the left. Like Bush said after 9/11, you're either with us or against us.

It is this radical stance against progressive ideas and culture that is endangering American political discourse. This radical stance is championed by the trio of Beck/Hannity/Limbaugh-- the uneducated hacks, frauds, and drug-addled derelicts of the right wing media. Because of the extreme rhetoric of these media tyrants, moderate conservatives have either been shouted into submission or shouted out of the party altogether. It is hardly possible to have an in-person political discussion today, because people have been so misled by the uneducated, inexperienced pundits from whom they get their information.

These guys on the far right are nuts, but they should be regarded very carefully, because they have the ability to take the rest of the country down with them in a fireball of hatred, bull-headed ignorance, and intolerance.

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