Monday, August 30, 2010

No Lingering After-Effects?

I was wondering how the mainstream conservatives would view the Glenn Beck Whitestock (HT to driftglass for the name) on the Washington Mall this past weekend. Since he’s the token conservative at the New York Times, I’d say that Ross Douthat is as good a barometer of the non-frothing/no-funny-hats/Spell Checked wing of the right wing as you can get. And he seems to be relieved that it turned out to be a white-bread love-fest without a lingering message.

In a sense, Beck’s “Restoring Honor” was like an Obama rally through the looking glass. It was a long festival of affirmation for middle-class white Christians — square, earnest, patriotic and religious. If a speaker had suddenly burst out with an Obama-esque “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” the message would have fit right in.

But whereas Obama wouldn’t have been Obama if he weren’t running for president, Beck’s packed, three-hour jamboree was floated entirely on patriotism and piety, with no “get thee to a voting booth” message. It blessed a particular way of life without burdening that blessing with the compromises of a campaign, or the disillusioning work of governance.

For a weekend, at least, Beck proved that he can conjure the thrill of a culture war without the costs of combat, and the solidarity of identity politics without any actual politics. If his influence outlasts the current election cycle, this will be the secret of his success.

Ever since Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy started bringing in the rednecks and the euphemistically labeled “lower-educated” to the GOP, the upper crust old-line-country club-Palm Beach-Orange County-Winnetka Republicans have been greeting them with the fixed smiles and limp handshakes that they usually use to greet the relatives of their cleaning lady. They’re grateful for the support for their party at the voting booth, but they are uncomfortable with the uncouthness of the monster truck rallies, NASCAR, Confederate flags, and televangelists in pomade and wide lapels. Their biggest fear is that somehow this kind of mean-spirited conservatism that brings with it the xenophobia and fear-mongering that they thought they were above — after all, they now let Tiger Woods play at Augusta — would come roaring back and, in their worst fear, turn on them.

Mr. Douthat seems to think that Glenn Beck and his brand of conservatism is a passing fad with not much staying power. If the current climate of Muslim and immigration-bashing is any guide, that’s a lot of wishful thinking on his part.