Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin drew 100,000 costumed acolytes* to their God-and-country fair in front of the Lincoln Monument last month. Considering the sub-sentient followership quotient of the Tea Bag movement, a hundred grand seems like a small number. After all, Louis Farrakhan managed to march three-quarters of a million men into the nation’s capital, and even a cursory glance at the political agenda of Farrakhan and his followers – to inject social and economic issues facing blacks into the national debate – suggests that they are perfectly sane, something you can’t say for Beck and his legions, who are patently not right in the bat hangar.
But whatever you think of Glenn or Sarah or Lou, you’ll have to agree that they can draw a darn sight bigger crowd to Washington, D.C., these days than a peace protest will.
How the War Borg managed to tranquilize the American public into an ovine acceptance of never ending, counterproductive armed conflict is something of an enigma. The Pentagon and its allies are hardly Sun Tzu-class strategists. That these fumblers have managed to construct a state of self-perpetuating armed conflict in the American half-century and change since World War II bears testimony that evolution can occur in the absence of intelligent design.
They persistently employ hammer claws to remove screws from the floor when an adequate supply of screwdrivers is available at arm’s length. But their persistence, however oafishly applied, is their center of gravity, the Clausewitzean “hub” of their “power and movement, on which everything depends.”
In his famous 1961 speech that was part farewell address and part deathbed confession, President Dwight Eisenhower cautioned us against the “acquisition of unwarranted influence” by the military-industrial complex he had helped to create. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” he warned.
The Cold War led to the rise of a militaristic political ideology championed by Irving Kristol. In February 1979, Esquire magazine featured Kristol on its cover along with a caption that described him as “the godfather of the most powerful new political force in America – Neoconservatism.”
In a film, where everything more or less has to make sense, the panoramic collapse of the Berlin Wall would have dissolved into the neocons’ bunker scene. They had, after all, constructed their entire raison d’etre on a platform of saving the world from godless communism through good old American firepower, and without the prospect of a toe-to-toe smackdown with the Rooskies, the neocons were up a brown creek without a canoe.
But their persistence prevailed. By the spring of 1997, Irving Kristol’s ungifted son William had formed the Project for the New American Century, an “educational organization” that included the cream of the right-wing’s tank thinkers, dedicated to promoting ever increasing defense spending and American domination of the world by continuing to bludgeon the bejebus out of it. The PNAC published its seminal manifesto, Rebuilding America’s Defenses, in September 2000, two months prior to the election of their hand-picked and finger-actuated presidential candidate, George W. Bush. Iraq loomed vast in the new PNAC playbook. Establishing a military base of operations in the center of the oil-rich Gulf region was identified as the key component of neocon grand strategy. Removing Saddam Hussein’s regime and whatever weapons of mass destruction he might or might not have was not an ideological pursuit, but merely a convenient pretext to establish the permanent military presence. The only terrorism being considered was the kind U.S. forces could wreak on the region once they’d established a centrally positioned infrastructure.
The neocons knew the American people were more likely to go along with Plan 9 From Outer Space than with an invasion of Iraq unless “some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor” robbed them of their senses. Then 9/11 came along and the rest, as they say, is history, at least until Karl Rove and his brainwash commandos get the opportunity to rewrite it.
We now know that the Bush administration’s justifications for war with Iraq were a barrel of red herrings. We know that none of the 9/11 attackers were actually from Afghanistan. Untold hundreds of thousands of casualties and a shipwrecked U.S. economy later, we continue to squander our armed forces in a counter-terror fight against al-Qaeda even though we know that al-Qaeda’s membership numbers in the hundreds and that historical analysis proves that armed force is the least effective means possible of countering terrorism.
Yet it appears that our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will never completely end, or that if they do it will only be to free up resources to fight in whatever other forsaken corner of the globe where our Praetorian oligarchs tell us that “freedom-loving peoples” need to be “liberated” at gunpoint.
Anyone who has seen Bill Kristol “debate” Jon Stewart on The Daily Show understands the definition of “fool” in a deeper sense than any dictionary can convey. Our late friend Irony laughed the lid off its coffin at The New Republic‘s description of Kristol as “Dan Quayle’s Brain.” Kristol is editor of the glossy ideologue The Weekly Standard, has been a columnist for leading mainstream newspapers and magazines, and is a regular babbling head on Fox News. That the buffoonish Kristol is such a media icon leads one to marvel at how he and his confederates have so successfully managed to manipulate the information system to steer the American body politic from one imprudent course of action after the next.
Persistence again proves the key to success. When I was a kid, Joe Pyne was the only nationally known right-wing talk show host in the country, and most of the people who knew about him, even the ones who watched him religiously, knew he was a one-man carnival amusement. Today, you can’t consume 15 minutes of radio or television without coming in direct or indirect contact with one or more of Pyne’s ideological progeny, and his most direct descendant, Glenn Beck, is taken seriously enough to be able to reserve a national landmark to stage the greatest political freak show on earth.
Along with persistence, the neocons’ mind control efforts have succeeded on sheer volume. If you shout into enough megaphones for long enough you’ll create an echo chamber that will eventually penetrate the consciousness of society’s sanest minds through secondhand channels. The best coverage of Beck’s Lincoln Memorial circus probably came from the PBS NewsHour.
Even if you could completely isolate yourself from the media – and you can’t these days, even if you move into the cave next door to Osama bin Laden’s – you’d be bombarded with the warlords’ carrier signal through the phenomenon known as viral propaganda. Whenever you’re in a social situation and someone begins a statement with “Did you know that…” or “It’s a fact that…” or “Don’t you think that…” or something similar, odds are overwhelming that the speaker is trying to infect you with whatever ill-logic he, she, or it last heard from his, her, or its favorite hate jockey.
That the War Borg partnered with the insentient-right media network doesn’t indicate any tactical acumen on its part. It was hard-core conservative media moguls like Rupert Murdoch, the founder and financial backer of Kristol’s Weekly Standard, who reached out to them as an investment in a kind of low-level, constant warfare, the purpose of which, as George Orwell explained, is “to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living.”
And there will never be a viable progressive or centrist counterbalance to Fox News and wacky radio and the standard daily, weekly, and monthly right-wing rag pile because real people would rather listen to a jackhammer than to the kind of pollution Rush and Glenn and Bill and the rest of them pump into the information environment.
*The Tea Baggers bear an uncanny resemblance to The Acolytes of the Marvel Comics universe, who are, according to Wikipedia, a team of “mutant super-villains” who follow “the principles of the mutant Magneto, particularly the mutant right of superiority over normal humans.” Some Acolytes worship Magneto “with a religious fervor” and regard him as the “mutant messiah.”