Monday, February 14, 2011

Michael Orion Powell discusses Glenn Beck

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The following is an interview with Michael Orion Powell who previously permitted the republication of his piece, "Right Wing Persecution Drips With Ethnic Hatred." He has been writing professionally for several years and is currently finishing up his first book, a sociological look at Asperger's syndrome and alienation within modern society. For many years, his writing has been right-leaning. Growing up in Seattle, one of the most liberal cities in the country, he is often seen by natives as an "old-fashioned" guy and was attracted to elements of conservative politics such as education reform and the intellectual arguments of Robert NisbetGeorge Orwell and Christopher Hitchens, all with a mild touch of cultural and moral reaction. By Seattle standards, he is a conservative, but by actual conservative standards, his is a "raving liberal."


His conservatism had led him to and later on the Heritage Foundation. An increasingly disturbing tone seemed to reverberate conservative corners, which often brought up race as a persecutory issue (often out of nowhere). He attended CPAC in 2010 (in which the John Birch Society, with William F. Buckley long gone, had a commanding presence), and at that time felt increasingly uncomfortable with reports of ethnic slurs yelled by Tea Partiers, a claim he was finding too believable, while present in a city that has some of the worst ghettoes in the country. In the wake of Arizona's legalized racial profiling in the form of SB 1070 and having specialized in Latin America, he decided upon leaving to create the website Voice of the Migrant in order to create a center point on the internet for blogging on immigrants' rights. The fevered rants of Glenn Beck and the increasingly toxic political tone in middle America has made the need for the website all the more appropriate. He is also the blogger behind Deschamps where he posted "Glenn Beck Reveals the Root of Modern Socialism: The Pop Star Fabian." Yes, Beck claimed that.

Glenn Beck ReviewYou note in your piece that, "by actual conservative standards, I'm a raving liberal." In polls, roughly 40% of Americans identify themselves as "conservative," but they are never asked about what historical era they identify with. Do you think that some "conservative standards" are actually values from the past? Would you identify some people, like Beck as a classic example, as reactionary rather than conservative?

Michael Orion Powell: I think that a lot of people identify themselves as conservative because of the cultural chaos that the United States has turned into. On MTV, programming can be seen in which date rape is glorified and the responsibility of sexual behavior ignored in favor of a "hook-up" culture. 

The value of men, women and the community acting in mutual understanding and responsibility seems to have been lost. You see the prophecy of this in books by conservatives of the 1950s like Robert Nisbet in his "Quest for Community."

These are not the words of a conservative Republican. They're more sociological than political (and I think the two are often confused). A friend of mine from Mexico, who is an upwardly mobile woman working in a male dominated field, said that she thinks feminism went too far in unleashing the norms of dating and now puts women in a very unhealthy position that they are not "biologically fit for." Objectification of women is extremely worse than it ever was during the more patriarchal days. 

Likewise, a friend of mine who has interracial children (which would still raise eyebrows deep in middle America) told me that he thinks America needs some of the morality of the 1950s. I think that this sort of conservatism, in which young men and women are valued and children seen as more than just the after effects of sexual liason, is what people have in mind when they describe themselves as "conservative."

Would you identify some people, like Beck as a classic example, as reactionary rather than conservative?

Glenn Beck is a strange person. Unlike his fellow reactionary, Rush Limbaugh, he is well read and can cite all sorts of American history. Of course, he omits things and adds others in order to create a bizarre alternative reality. [Emphasis added]

I honestly don't quite get where Beck is coming from sometimes. He is from Mount Vernon, Washington, and did a special in which he talked about how the city was wrecked by the transformation of it (like all small towns in America) into a giant shopping center. I'm not quite sure how that experience leads him to reading Ayn Rand. It makes no sense.

The whole Tea Party movement that he rode in on is riddled with anxiety. It doesn't make much sense and is classic reaction. It's not longing for elements of a better past, which is the heart of conservatism, but is freaking out about a future that is confusing and nonsensical. Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin and others seem to be on the same plane. Optimistically, however, the fact that Beck is a bit of a lone shark (there don't seem to be many imitators or similar voices on air or in bookstores) shows that what he's selling may not a permanent fixture.

GBR: To what, besides MTV, do you blame the "cultural chaos that the United States has turned into."

Powell: A whole host of things. The Sexual Revolution of the 1970s taught that gender roles were socially constructed and in effect seemed to lead to an outcome of men screwing around and leaving their children to be taken care of by women out of wedlock. In fighting against the second class role of women, the Sexual Revolution tossed everything aside with nothing to replace it with. 

Out of that outgrowth you have modern culture. Whereas in the 1950s, educational videos, corny as they might have been, were made instructed boys and girls on "going steady," marriage and family life, you have movies like American Pie and Superbad where the protagonists are horndogs that want to screw anything. Instead of a decent male role model coming in and talking to them about how to be a good man, they spend the next two hours of film pursuing some woman - any woman - to get laid with. This is the message we send to children and then we wonder why STD rates and teen pregnancy rates are high.

GBR: You wrote that your conservatism led you to I have a subscription to their magazine, and they describe themselves as engaged in "Fresh, Conservative, Intelligent Reporting." However, they staunchly defend Glenn Beck and promote Sarah Palin, two reactionaries. Do you think that "conservative" and "intelligent" is a bit misleading like "Red Bull: It gives you wings?"

Powell: I was at quite a while ago, back during the Bush years. Back during that time, the website touted a different coalition of individuals. Many of them were very reactionary, I will admit, but Beck and Palin weren't yet among them. 

As for conservatism and intelligence, I recommend a video by Waleed Aly on conservatism, which can be readily found on YouTube. Perhaps, as loaded as the term has become, the sort of old fashioned predisposition that myself and the friends I described earlier share would not be best described as conservative. I'll leave it to your very intelligent readers to suggest a better term. =P

GBR: How did you relate to the reactionaries at when you were there? Did you consider them conservatives or did you see them as reactionary and ideologically distinct from you?

PowellWell, I grew up in a city, Seattle, where daily harassment from everyone from street people to kids at school was nearly never ending. I related to a lot of folks at Townhall in their like of the suburbs and towns, which seemed like escapes from the madness. I especially made a significant friend, who went by the name 'Scatbug.' This guy was amazing. He adored jazz and Caribbean music and the two of us had synergy on issues like education reform and the cultural misgivings that I listed earlier in this interview.

GBR: I'm not questioning whether conservatives are intelligent. Clearly some are and some are not, just like liberals, radicals and reactionaries.

I'm asking you about people at Townhall, whether you believe that the magazine defending Glenn Beck is conservative. Is it intelligent to defend and promote Glenn Beck like Townhall does?

I don't know if you subscribe to it or not, but a recent issue listed the 50 most "dangerous" liberals. (At least they didn't call them socialists as Beck is inclined to do.) It just seems like they demonize liberals instead of making rational arguments against their policy positions along the lines of National Review. It strikes me more as propaganda rather than analysis. 

Is it honest for them to claim to offer "fresh, conservative, intelligent reporting" when they defend and promote Glenn Beck?

targeting the liars?

   Defending the liar of our age.

Powell: Townhall's magazine is very reductionist and simple-minded. When I was there, I generally operated a blog that was loosely affiliated with the website. As I've said before, from about 2008 onwards a tone arrived in the American right that was considerably disturbing and reeked of deeper ethnic and class animosity. Charles Johnson has written about this extensively and commentators on Little Green Footballs have often noted the experience of seeing people they respect transform into full blown racists. I haven't read Townhall magazine for a long time since it appeared to have gotten a bit out of control.

GBR: You mentioned in your piece that you felt "increasingly uncomfortable with reports of ethnic slurs yelled by Tea Partiers, a claim I was finding too believable...." Have experienced any ethnic slurs yourself (not directed at you) either at CPAC or anywhere else coming from people associated with the tea party movement?

One answer: You asked me above to identify people who are reactionary besides Beck. I have Jim DeMint depicted in that area of political values. I would add basically all tea party pols, M. Bachmann and Ron Paul. Basically people who want to take the country backwards to a time when the federal government did very little to protect the public interest. At the time I thought Reagan was a reactionary, but now I see him as on the border between conservative and reactionary. He said (according to Beck in his book, Broke) in his diary that he wanted to undo the Great Society. That's mildly reactionary as Obama is mildly progressive. See mandala of values:

Comment or not on that analysis and mandala of values. Let me ask another question. Where would you place yourself on that diagram, on the issue of political economy?

PowellHave experienced any ethnic slurs yourself (not directed at you) either at CPAC or anywhere else coming from people associated with the tea party movement?

I have to be careful with this one, but I have heard the "n-word" said by conservatives. I was shocked when I first heard it, because, as I illustrated before, I was brought to conservative ideas by older men who shared my affinity for African American and Carribbean music. It was profoundly disappointing to see real stereotypes in action.

As for Ronald Reagan, I really recommend that you read up F.A. Hayek. I personally don't find Hayek compelling, but his writing was made in the wake of WWII and argued that that catastrophe was the result of central planning. Reagan was a Hayekian convert and was most active in anti-communist causes during the 1950s. I think his siding with the Moral Majority, etc. was just political detente.

Friedrich Hayek portrait.jpg
F.A. Hayek

Using that graph, which seems to have faults, I would put myself in between the "Radicals/Socialists" and "John Birch Society/Reactionaries." I have no affinity for the John Birch Society but I fully recognize that some of my views on how children should be raised, for example, are retrograde to the average progressive. I have described myself as Orwellian for a very long time, including during association with conservatives, as Orwell often was a gloomy socialist with a pessimistic realization that men have governed themselves with certain norms set in stone and that just casting aside those norms with nothing to replace them results in chaos and confusion. Orwell applied that in the case of secularism replacing religion, but I think his argument works well for the chaos of gender and sex in society as well, which I talked about earlier.

GBR: The graph does have faults. Partly, there is judgement involved. Different positions along the spectrum can be taken up depending upon the issue being considered. The tea party is up too high for example. You've positioned yourself on "Chaos," but I doubt you mean that you support violence. Do you mean that you're between those two extremes at the top, near "Order," or are you part (Orwellian) socialist and part 1950's moral order? Please elaborate. Because this mandala can be applied to any topic, I was asking about where your views on political economy position you on the graph.

And another follow up, just so I'm clear. You've heard any tea party associated individual utter the N-word or just conservatives you've known over the years?

Powell:  I've heard conservatives say it. I haven't heard tea partiers use it because, frankly, even while in DC I did not attend any rallies and was fairly reclusive. I did see the attendees leaving the rally, however, and I have to admit that I have rarely seen a such racially unanimous group of people. Professional wrestling matches are more diverse. The United States is not Sweden or Ireland. It is significant when a large political movement cannot turn out significant portions of any minority group.

Regarding the graph, "part (Orwellian) socialist and part 1950's moral order" does sound like an apt description.

GBR: I want to end by asking you about the truth. Re-read my theory about the truths of Glenn Beck and tell me your version of the truth about him. Do you agree that there are different truths held by people with different values, different ideologies?

shades of the truth

PowellThis is quite an epistemological question. People around the world seek the same basic things. Their religions say all the same basic things and they fight over all the same basic things. This is why the postmodern left failed so spectacularly - they sought to rebel against many elements of societal order that are basically stalwarts of any civilization. 

I imagine that Beck is somewhat of a propagandist, as you say, but his message is so all over the place, unclear and personality based that it is difficult to comprehend. There were surely points that Beck could have directed his devoted listeners and viewers in a certain direction but even while rallying on Washington, he was saying he was non-political and talking in vague terms. Based on the myriad products with his name on them, we could assume he's just been trying to make money.

In the wake of the Egypt thing, he was seen talking with Bill O'Reilly about how the US should be like Switzerland and be neutral towards the Middle East. He even repeated Ron Paul and Noam Chomsky lines that the reason "they hate us" is because we're over there. Days later, he is talking about how the "same people are lying to you" and saying that the Egypt crisis will lead to a new caliphate that will make Europe Muslim and lead to a Chinese takeover of Australia. It's theatre more than anything, and a rather abstract form at that.

One next thing that isn't really political - if you have time. Glenn Beck is from the northwest, as I am. The northwest marches to its own drum, is fairly isolated and doesn't really have the same mindset as the rest of the United States. I think Beck would have been better suited by staying local or maybe moving up to Alberta or one of Canada's more conservative areas, where his "America First" Lindberghian ideas would be easier to sell.

theater director, actor, star

GBRYou're right. That's not political, it is professional, as in what is Beck's ambition about? (You've answered that: to make money.) I don't think Beck would agree with your assessment that he should have stayed regional or local. Beck's recent controversial shows about Egypt are theatrical, as you suggest. The problem is that at least some of his show will become a replicated meme that will end up poisoning the discussion that Americans need to have about the uprisings in the Middle East. Isn't there a price we (the country as a whole) pay for his theater, for his ambition to put on a great show: people's minds are poisoned by theatrical stagecraft that is taken by millions of people as serious thinking?

Powell: I'm not sure yet. It seems premature to really pin him as a fall guy for some of the darker things we are seeing today - especially the failed bombing in Spokane, Washington of an MLK rally. A lot of conservative friends I know have said either that "he has gone too far" or that "he is going in a direction that they don't really want to follow."

GBRI don't know of anyone trying to make Beck the fall guy for the failed MLK parade bombing. It didn't seem premature for William Kristol to call Beck out for his "hysteria" over Egypt, and I understand that other conservatives are also speaking out against Beck's irresponsible rhetoric last week. 

So, you can now have the last word: Give me your harshest criticism of Beck to date and -- to be fair -- your nod of appreciation for anything you think he's done in the last two years to make this a better country.

PowellGlenn Beck has done more than any other individual to, as Christopher Hitchens aptly put it, dig up old, retched relics of America's racist and hysterical past and zap it right in again. Much of the extreme action occurring in the United States does appear oddly in line with Beck's ideological positions and, while it is premature to lay blame on him, he has certainly had a dark affect on the American political environment.

If Glenn Beck has done anything good, it is getting Americans thinking about their own history. Even if his caricatures are reductionist, cartoonish and absurd, at least people are thinking about who Woodrow Wilson or who Father Coughlin is. It would be better if they were learning this through public media ventures like the ones Milton Freidman and William F. Buckley once hosted but you take what you can get, I guess.

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ryanshaunkelly said...

Question Israel with boldness.
Question 9/11 with boldness.
Speak without fear.
Hold to the truth.
~ Glenn Beck

The Glenn Beck Review said...

Ryan, Glenn Beck does not hold to the truth. Over and over we have documented lies and other false claims.

He is also afraid. That's why he has security.

Beck questions with deceptions. Spend some time here reading; all of my assertions are backed up.