Saturday, February 20, 2010

* Mourning Every Beck and Call in America

Channel surfing this evening, I came across Glenn Beck who I had never watched or heard before. He was giving the final speech at the Washington CPAC Convention, a gathering of conservatives which has attracted 10,000 participants these last few days.

He looks like a Baby Rush. He talks like him too, but has a curious magnetism and histrionics which keep your attention---or at least they kept mine.

Plus he pulls at the old heartstrings with confessional autobiographical asides: the Horatio Alger story--how he raised himself up from his bootstraps as an apprentice in his father's Washington state bakery which went bust, and a college wanna-be who had to drop out of college after only one semester and one course because he was poor, but like Abe Lincoln "educated himself" (at the library in Beck's case, not the fireside) and unlike Lincoln, is "proud" to speak of it.

His confessional style even pulls the rug out from under his would-be detractors and critics: He speaks frankly as "a recovering alcoholic" who "lost it all" and had to rebuild his life by "admitting" he had a problem.

In fact he used the "recovering alcoholic" confessional-motif as a metaphor for America throughout his speech--and he threw in a little riff now and then of Tiger Woods' mea culpa news conference yesterday to great effect.

His dramatic reading of the "tired, huddled masses" poem on the Statue of Liberty seemed to ennoble the power of immigrants to make America the great country it has become, despite Europe's pleasure at casting them off. He did not extrapolate that concept to our current impossibly difficult policy on illegal immigration.

His final image of America hugging the toilet, vomiting after a spending binge (which Beck happily acted out with a high-school-glee), and sobering up the next morning to admit its problem ("addicted to spending") ends in an orgiastic flourish of 1984 Reagan campaign rhetoric: "It's [still] morning in America". However his AA message is clear: "some people die before they hit bottom"
and unless we as a country sober up "worse times lie ahead" for us, including that irreversible, final bottom.

And so it is: Mourning [sic] in America.

(Mourning for our lost faith in the power of rhetoricians to persuade.)

Beck's call--however chintzy and histrionic the rhetorical tricks--should be taken seriously by the stuffy Harvard Law School rhetorician, basketball playing, fist-slapping occupant of the White House: The average kitchen table folk just don't believe your sincerity anymore, big guy; You ain't listening.

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