To the Chalk board with Glenn Beck.

How about that Glenn Beck “9/12 Movement” Tea Party Rally thing at the Washington Monument, where with Sarah Palin in tow he channeled the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr!

He “restored honor“, and his supporters bought up lots of trinkets and took lots of photographs with people in Abraham Lincoln costumes.

It is impossible to overstate Beck’s assessment of the importance of his events. Toward the beginning of Divine Destiny, he stated , “this is the beginning of the end of darkness. We have been in darkness a long time.”  Saturday’s rally, he said, would be a “defibrillator to the spiritual heart of America.” Near the end of the program, he emphatically declared, “We are 12 hours away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America. It has nothing to do with this city or politics, it has everything to do with God Almighty.”

The things on my mind when looking about this event.  Let’s take it as a given, and it is an imprecise comparison, that Glenn Beck is at once the reincarnation of Father Charles Coughlin.  These are types of comparisons bandied about for various figures who use the intimate and emotionally driven nature of radio for certain messianicly delivered political courses.  I haven’t really heard a whole lot of Charles Coughlin — did he do that slow emptypause Drama filled delivery?

Coughlin held mass rallies for the faithful, with various allies of Popular Political Discontent.  Would this make Sarah Palin Huey Long?
To this day, Huey Long has his supporters — people who take his “Share the Wealth” program and argue that it spurred Roosevelt to Action.  It is propped alongside a favorable argument for Hugo Chavez.  It is sort of weird.  The concept of Huey Long’s “Every Man a King” and his brand of “wealth redistribution” essentially having him take $100 from the rich, dispense $50 of it to the poor, and pocketing the rest.  Now that’s Socialism!

Thinking about the “Union Party” effort which had been scearing Roosevelt in adance of his 1936 re-election.

The Union Party was a short-lived political party in the United States, formed in 1936 by a coalition of radio priest Father Charles Coughlin, old-age pension advocate Francis Townsend, and Gerald L. K. Smith, who had taken control of Huey Long‘s Share Our Wealth movement after Long’s assassination in 1935. Each of those people hoped to channel their wide followings into support for the Union Party, which proposed a populist alternative to the New Deal reforms of Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression.

A forgotten figure in that effort was the actual Presidential Candidate, North Dakota Representative William Lemke.  An electoral concept would have Coughlin a man with an impressive following amongst, in particular, urban Catholics, Huey Long with a following in the South, and Townsend an elderly contingent.  Lemke would bring in the “Farm Belt”.  His break with Roosevelt coming around here:

While in Congress, Lemke earned a reputation as a progressive populist and supporter of the New Deal, championing the causes of family farmers and co-sponsoring legislation to protect farmers against foreclosures during the Great Depression.
In 1934, Lemke co-sponsored the Frazier–Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act, which would have provided for government refinancing of farm mortgages. PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt refused to support Lemke on that issue and ultimately sank the bill.

Personality wise, this contraption fell apart before Election Day.  A lot of huge egos, all striving for their own personal fame and fortune.   There is something puzzling about this group, or at least with Long and Coughlin.  Upon Huey Long’s death, Gerald LK Smith looked around for a movement to jump in front of, and found Francis Townsend.  After his break with him, he went on to a long hate-filled public speaking career publishing newletters with a circulation in the thousands and saying his mission was to “Teach the People How to Hate”.   Various enterprises, jumped to the Isolationist Movement before World War 2.   He blasted away at the Jews and the Communists.  He also built an impressive bible theme park in Arkansas.  Coughlin, of course, came back to radio after the loss (he had promised that if this bid were unsuccessful, he’d quit radio) — whereupon he quit blaming the Bankers for everything and started blaming everything on the Jews.
Something that doesn’t follow with Smith in particular, but also Coughlin.  They blasted away at Communism, finding it under every rock — a Redistribution of Wealth.  The most public part of Gerald LK Smith’s career, when he was most important and influential, came under the tutelege of Huey Long — advancing a  “Share the Wealth” program — the goal of which is right there in the name — and then with Francis Townsend seeking a rather ludicrous pension program.

I guess these things have a way of tripping past left and right.  Consider this, tellingly un-specified reference to Barack Obama — an attack from his Left by a Adolph Reed, Jr. published in the Village Voice in late 1996.
In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices: one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program—the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics here, as in Haiti and wherever the International Monetary Fund has sway.

Today, the biggest named media figure spelling out a collection of “foundations” that Obama was “hatched” in is Glenn Beck, doing so at a chalk-board.  (The latest mocking tribute from Jon Stewart had him flip over the chalk-board to reveal, simply “News Corp. — $1 Million — Republican National Committee” — well, worth a gander, as is the more complicated earlier marathon performance).  Of course, Beck spells it out the “vacuous to repressive neoliberal” connections with the labels of Left Wing, Radical, or Communists.

There is something in first the Illinois Senate, and than the US Senate, that leads to an item of sympathy with Obama against the professional state Senators and US Senators observing and scoffing at the “Young Man in a Hurry”.  Consider first this exchange as Obama spoke on the floor of the Illinois Senate selling a low watt and entirely appropriate Community College booklet.

HENDON: Senator, could you correctly pronounce your name for me? I’m having a little trouble with it.
OBAMA: Obama.
HENDON: Is that Irish?
OBAMA: It will be when I run countywide.
HENDON: That was a good joke, but this bill’s still going to die. This directory, would that have those 1-800 sex line numbers in this directory?
OBAMA: I apologize. I wasn’t paying Senator Hendon any attention.
HENDON: Well, clearly, as poorly as this legislation is drafted, you didn’t pay it much attention either. My question was: Are the 1-800 sex line numbers going to be in this directory?
OBAMA: Not—not—basically this idea comes out of the South Side community colleges. I don’t know what you’re doing on the West Side community colleges. But we probably won’t be including that in our directory for the students.
HENDON: . . . Let me just say this, and to the bill: I seem to remember a very lovely Senator by the name of Palmer—much easier to pronounce than Obama—and she always had cookies and nice things to say, and you don’t have anything to give us around your desk. How do you expect to get votes? And—and you don’t even wear nice perfume like Senator Palmer did. . . . I’m missing Senator Palmer because of these weak replacements with these tired bills that makes absolutely no sense. I . . . I definitely urge a No vote. Whatever your name is.

In the course of Obama’s Illinois Senate career, as he tapped the Democratic Senate leader to make him a star and a king, it’s not all that difficult to see where Obama manuevered over toward — his “bridges” ran over toward the “forklift owner” who scored an upset victory in the suburbs and barely graduated high school.  He wasn’t going to get anywhere with this branch of arrogant career legislators, holding hypocrtical grudges about his electoral bid’s treatment of Senator Palmer.  But that exchange with Senator Hendon, from 1997, is kind of reminiscent of — from the Mark Halperin and John Heilemann book “Game Change”, pages 324 and 326
 Their very first entanglement had ended in a fit of unusually public acrimony.  It was in February 2006, when McCain asked Obama to collaborate with him on ethics reform. McCain had always kept an eye peeled for young turks who shared his propensity for bucking the system, and he didn’t care if they happened to be Democrats. […]  Obama indicated an interest in working with McCain on a bipartisan initiative. But after attending a meeting of a McCain-led splinter group, Obama backed away, neglecting to call the Arizonan to let him know, instead sending a formal letter on February 2 announcing that he intended to push the Democratic version of ethics legislation — a letter that was released to the press before it reached McCain.
McCain felt that he had extended his hand and Obama had slapped his face, and he directed Mark Salter to brush the whippersnapper back.  Over his boss’s signature, Salter fired off a letter bristling with scorn and oozing sarcasm.  “I’m embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in politics to make self-important partisan posturing appear more noble.  I understand how important the opportunity to lead your party’s effort to exploit this issue must seem to a freshman Senator, and I hold no hard feelings over your disingenousness.” […]
The Obamas were a good deal less emotionally wound up in their opinions of the McCains. […]  Barack, meanwhile, regarded his past run-ins with McCain as faintly ridiculous.  McCain had behaved like an arrogant jackass, happy if he could pat Obama on the head and have him follow his lead, but then all self-righteous and indignant if Barack took a different path.  Whatever.
On the other hand, regardless of recognizing some of the idiocies of the Illinois Senate and the US Senate as he skirted past them as quickly as possible to the next Big Job, Obama never really did challenge the encroaching problem of the Senate Rule of 60, something which wasn’t recently common wisdom but now is.  But that’s the problem with the predictable elevation of process over program—the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle class reform in favoring form over substance.
Isn’t it?

Leave a Reply