As I was writing that piece, Glenn Beck was foremost in my mind, although there are certainly many other figures who have gained wide popularity in this country based on perceived charisma with a little snake-oil in the recipe.
On an article at American Thinker, which tends to be favorable to the brand of 'conservatism' endorsed by Beck and Fox News, there were two comments by the same individual expressing a lonely skepticism toward Beck and the rally. The comments tied in very much with my message here. I will quote from those comments.
''But there are not a few people who become histrionic if Beck's motives are questioned. Why? Isn't he just a man like the rest of us? Or am I wrong, and he has become a god? The point at issue is (or should be) this: When it is considered an outrage to apply reasoned criticism to an American public figure (even one so revered, so adulated, so "funny," so "adorably pudgy," and so adamant that he is "on the side of the little guy--even though he wouldn't waste a micro-second of his off-air time on the average Joe Shmoe American, then we've got a problem. And the problem is this: we've put peronalities before principles.''
Personalities before principles. That parallels something I said in my earlier post on this subject. And the tendency to reject any criticism of the personalities we admire is not a good thing.
This is the stuff of which cults are made of. It is not worthy of thinking people.
And in a later comment on the same thread, the reader says
''We've become a nation of televidiots. We sit down on our sofas and watch the TV talking heads, like the dolts on MSNBC, an assortment of unspeakably rotten attention whores, BTW. We listen to "talk radio" maestros who daily inform us of their luxurious lifestyles--their golfing, their jets, the famous and "important" people they mixed with over the preceding weekend. In other words, we get our info--ALL our info--second hand. That's not good. Our nation was founded on the premise that there would be an informed citizenry that would inform ITSELF. It's about doing our own heavy lifting in the intellectual realm--our own reading, our own internet research, our own townhall discussion groups. Once we make a commitment to sojourn in that realm we'll have a different view of these Pied Pipers who are reaping exhorbitant wealth by opportunistically using the current onslaught of the Left (a very real onslaught against the very foundations of our Republic) to make gazillions of dollars from selling books, and from astronomical speaking-engagement fees (and don't forget the revenue from show advertisers). This sort of thing sullies the unsung efforts of those who are genuinely and selflessly working hard to stem the tide of the leftist assault--it makes the conservative movement look like a raft of suckers being led by huckster carnival barkers. I have an uncanny feeling that the Left is actually not really that worried about Mr. Beck's impact on their agenda.''
[I have left the spelling in the quotes as it appeared on the original post.]
I can only agree with what this commenter says. I think his words get to the heart of this servile and gullible streak in Americans.
In the last paragraph of the second comment, he says that the conservative movement looks ''like a raft of suckers being led by huckster carnival barkers.'' That is the gullibility that I mentioned. In a way, though, perhaps this says something good about the basic character of many of these conservatives, in that honest, decent people are usually somewhat gullible, and trusting to a fault. I suspect it's easier to dupe heartland Americans than it would be to gull cynical city-dwellers. That's always been the stereotype of the heartland American: the 'country cousin' who is taken in by some sharp city-slicker.
But in today's more dangerous world, we can't afford that kind of gullibility and blind trust of anyone. Perhaps I've absorbed more cynicism than I would like to, but that's what life experience does to you, unless you live in some kind of Pollyanna bubble into which bad people and bad experiences never intrude.
The comments quoted above stated that Glenn Beck is not perceived as any kind of threat by the Left. Surely they must have enough sense -- mustn't they? -- to see that he venerates the same idols and bows down to their altars. Sometimes I wonder if their outrage towards him is feigned, as if to further cement his popularity with the naifs on the right. If the left attacks someone, surely they must be the real thing, right? Beck must be the conservative savior if the left hates him so much.
I do believe there is such a thing as controlled opposition, and that much of what is acted out on cable 'news' networks is so much pro wrestling drama. The two sides trash-talk and threaten and intimidate each other but behind the scenes they are all probably great friends. Rush Limbaugh's recent wedding is an example of this kind of thing, and yet Rush has his zealous defenders if anyone criticizes him, just as Beck. Or Ann Coulter, or any other such 'entertainer' on the political scene.
One more factor enters into this, in addition to the too-trusting nature of many Americans: the dearth of leadership. Where are our leaders? I can't think of any of the major political figures who inspire me; as Yeats said in The Second Coming:
The best lack all conviction
While the worst are full of passionate intensity.
While the worst are full of passionate intensity.
Where are our 'best' people? Not on the political scene. There are a few who seem to have integrity, but they are lacking in the 'passionate intensity' that real leadership would demand in this time of trouble.
We've discussed leadership on this blog before, and the lack of leadership is more glaringly obvious now than it was a few years ago when I lamented it. Ron Paul has come and gone, having been a disappointment to many who put too much faith in him, and each betrayal or disappointment disillusions a few more people.
But as long as there is a void of leadership, the snake-oil peddlers and hucksters and charlatans and false messiahs -- and the 'one-eyed men,' the blind leaders of the blind, will step in to fill that vacuum.
And maybe the leaders that we need will not be in the political realm at all. It isn't all about 'Democrats vs. Republicans' or left vs. right, or Islam vs. Christianity or whatever Fox News says it is.
The best thing that could happen to the American populace would be to stop watching television and stop partaking of the 'mainstream' media, including Hollywood movies. That is the source of the ignorance or false information that has become so rife in this country. It should be obvious to even the most slow-witted that the media are not informing or entertaining us, but shaping our minds, thoughts, attitudes, and emotions, and shaping them in a way that may be the end of us, ultimately.
Every day I hear of somebody else dropping their cable or satellite TV service -- yet too many still devour the propaganda willingly. However even turning the TV off will not help if people do not care to inform themselves and cultivate some independence of mind, and a habit of examining what people in 'authority' tell us. That is also part of the message of the comments I posted above.
Long ago, the left liked to spout the phrase 'Question Authority.' Of course, that was in a time in which authority tended to be conservative. I wonder if the left at that time would have anticipated how quickly their kind would come to BE the authority in our society, to be the establishment and the entrenched orthodoxy. They still like to think of themselves as the brave dissenters and principled rebels. That's no longer true; it's the right, especially the politically incorrect right, that are the true dissidents and the upholders of truth.
If we fall prey to the con men and the false pied-pipers of the ''right'', who will be left?