Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Reading

Glenn Beck goes for the William Jennings Bryan model, complete with Chautauqua-style revivals and book sales.

Glenn Beck, the popular and outspoken Fox News host, says he wants to go beyond broadcasting his opinions and start rallying his political base — formerly known as his audience — to take action.

To do so, Mr. Beck is styling himself as a political organizer. In an interview, he said he would promote voter registration drives and sponsor a series of seven conventions across the country featuring what he described as libertarian speakers.

On Saturday he held a festive campaign-style rally in The Villages in Florida, north of Orlando, in which he promoted his recently released book, “Arguing With Idiots,” and announced another book to come next August filled with right-leaning policy proposals gathered from the conventions.

Mr. Beck provided few details about his plans for the tour, making it unclear if he truly intends to prod his audience of millions into political action or merely burnish his media brand ahead of a book release.

Mr. Beck did say the conventions would resemble educational seminars, and he emphasized that while candidates may align themselves with the values and principles that he espouses, he would not take the next step to endorse them.

Frank Rich notes that Sarah Palin seems to be following the same route.

Culture is politics. Palin is at the red-hot center of age-old American resentments that have boiled up both from the ascent of our first black president and from the intractability of the Great Recession for those Americans who haven’t benefited from bailouts. As Palin thrives on the ire of the left, so she does from the disdain of Republican leaders who, with a condescension rivaling the sexism they decry in liberals, belittle her as a lightweight or instruct her to eat think-tank spinach.

The only person who can derail Palin is Palin herself. Should she not self-destruct, she will doom G.O.P. hopes of a 2012 comeback. But the rest of the country cannot rest easy. The rage out there is larger than Palin and defies partisan labeling. Her ever-present booster [Matthew] Continetti, writing in The Weekly Standard, suggested that she recast the century-old populist outrage of William Jennings Bryan by adopting the message “You shall not crucify mankind upon the cross of Goldman Sachs.” If Obama can’t tamp down that rage across the political map, Palin will at the very least pave the way for a demagogue with less baggage to pick up her torch.

Both Mr. Beck and Ms. Palin are carefully crafting these campaigns in carefully chosen fields where they know they will be welcomed, and they are avoiding larger cities — and media venues. They are tapping into a movement that is a mile wide and an inch deep, and they know that anger is easy to provoke — find someone to blame for all the problems. This kind of campaign works to a degree. To paraphrase Aaron Sorkin, whatever your particular problem is, neither Glenn Beck nor Sarah Palin is the least bit interested in solving it. They are interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. It sells books, it sells newspapers, and people talk about them. But if history is any guide, people don’t vote for them. William Jennings Bryan was the nominee for president three times… and lost each time.

Continued below the fold.

Leonard Pitts, Jr., has some thoughts on the trial of Kahlid Sheik Mohammed and what it says about us.

Americans have always been ambivalent about the ability of our justice system to give bad people what they’ve got coming. That’s why the action movie almost always ends with the bad guy shot, impaled or fed into a wood chipper: seeing him led away in handcuffs simply doesn’t impart the same visceral sense of just desserts.

But you have to wonder: Are our emotional needs the most important consideration here?

It’s worth remembering that even the architects of the greatest barbarism in history had their day in court. After burning away 11 million lives, the leaders of the Nazi regime found themselves facing not summary execution, but a trial before a military tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany.

As prosecutor Robert Jackson put it: ”That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason.”

And when the trials were over and the verdicts delivered — death or imprisonment for most, three were acquitted — the New York Times editorialized as follows: ”These sentences can neither atone for all the evil these men have brought into the world nor undo any part of it. But they help to assuage the conscience of mankind and to restore to honor the concept of the dignity of man which cannot be violated with impunity.”

Compare that with the Bush administration’s original, Supreme Court-rebuked vision of justice — minimal rights for the accused, torture allowed, the government’s thumb on justice’s scale — and maybe you’ll agree: We need this trial more than Mohammed does. For all its risks — and they are real — it offers a prize worth risking for: the promise of feeling like Americans again.

That feeling is arguably the most significant casualty of Sept. 11. On that day, we elevated a mob of stateless criminals, a mafia in cleric’s clothing, to the exalted level of rogue nation. But they were never that, never a threat to our national existence, lacked the forces to take even one square inch of American soil. What they could threaten — and take — was our sense of ourselves as a brave, reasonable and civilized people, inhabiting a nation of laws. They beckoned us into the mud with them, and we leapt.

It’s not the first time. Periodically, we have shed the burden of bravery, reason, civilization, laws. Always, it happens in moments of national stress, moments of overwhelming confusion, anger or fear, moments that make us prey to demons of expedience and moral compromise. Moments when we wonder if we can still afford to act like America.

But we face a band of bloodthirsty hoodlums whose dearest wish is to make us just like them. So maybe the better question is this:

Can we afford not to?

Doonesbury — a torturous schedule.