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Putting my money on paranoid hysteria

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, February 8, 2011 15:21 EDT
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It’ll be interesting seeing how this battle plays out. As Tom Tomorrow’s cartoon today suggests, the only real consistent line throughout conservative reaction to the Egyptian protests has been a need to be loud and insistent that this is all about America without doing anything so quaint as educating yourself about the issues, but beyond that it’s been a struggle between the natural conservative inclination to support oppressive dictators and the occasional pro-democracy pose conservatives take to justify themselves to themselves (and their desire to wear tricorn hats). Plus, there’s the ugly fact of the matter that we don’t actually have any real idea how this is going to turn out, and that loss of control is somehting that’s hard for most Americans to accept, but especially for conservatives.

Egypt may be unpredictable, but I feel somewhat assured I can predict who is going to win in the battle between Team Beckian Paranoids and Team Let’s Not Sound Like We’re Stark Raving Mad, M’kay? My money’s on Beck, definitely. Sure, his theory that the protesters are in league with liberal America and the mainstream media to promote a sort of socialist hedonistic fundamentalist theocracy that features free abortions and orgies in the streets but also mandatory burquas and prayer five times a day sounds like the sort of thing that shouldn’t really catch on in the marketplace of ideas. But is it really more crazy than a lot of the crap that Beck and the rest of the right wing noise machine pumps out day in and day out? No, not really. The people who are complaining about Beck now were and are only too happy to lie the vast majority of the time for political gain. Bill Kristol, for instance, isn’t one to talk, since he backed every single paranoid lie imaginable to get us into war with Iraq. Plus, as Media Matters demonstrates, even some people complaining about Beck, such as John Fund, are too in love with the “sharia law” paranoia to give it up completely. They simply have the very silly, childish belief that they can lie and spread paranoia to keep their base fearful and voting as instructed, but that they can keep that paranoia under control once it’s been unleashed. And I don’t think you can do that.

See, Glenn Beck gets it. And, to an extent, he has a different motivation than a lot of conservative pundits who see themselves mainly as shills for the GOP and the right wing agenda. Beck’s down with that motivation, but making money and accumulating popularity matters more to him, and if the goals clash, he’ll pick money and popularity over shilling for the conservative agenda every time. Plus, he can shape the conservative agenda to fit his goals at this point. And he knows his audience isn’t interested in niceties like nuance or imagining that Egyptians are human beings who deserve to be listened to. He understands on a gut level that the images of a bunch of Egyptians in the street looking angry inspires fear in his audience, regardless of the context, and he’s going to stoke it, because fearful followers spend more and are more obedient. See, Kristol and Fund and company see racism as something that can be manipulated depending on their needs. Beck grasps that racism doesn’t respond to that kind of nuance, and chooses instead to feed it on the assumption that it will pay dividends down the road. Same story with paranoia. Beck grasps that balls-out paranoia is much better for him than moderated paranoia. Once you start telling people, “Hey, it’s cool to be paranoid, but don’t get all crazy about it,” you’ve already conceded that most of the shit you say is irrational. But if you’re paranoid all the time, you can make a clean break with reality. It ceases to be a reference point anymore, and the seed of an idea that one shouldn’t be a paranoid nut job won’t be planted. And that’s where he needs his audience: completely disconnected, constantly fearful, with no relationship to the real world outside of their homes.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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