Last night I gathered with a group of knee-jerk liberal types who, nonetheless, packed a bar in Cobble Hill and managed to stay respectfully silent for not just almost all of the State of the Union address (some derisive hooting against John Boehner's sopoforic appearance aside), but even the dual responses. Paul Ryan leaned on Fox News keywords pretty heavily — "the wisdom of the founders" — and claimed to be "speaking candidly, as one citizen to another," but he behaved with far more decorum (and less buffoonishness) than Bobby Jindal last year or (especially) Michelle Bachmann's frankly embarrassing performance. In the hours leading up to the speech, Glenn Beck conducted a program that began with him stroking a bunny, then getting out a chainsaw and comparing Obama's "we need to keep spending or die" rhetoric (quick, reductive version) to threatening to kill a bunny (the economy) with underspending (the chain saw). Whatever.
Today it's snowing in Brooklyn, I'm bored, cabin fever. Let's see how Beck follows up the president's speech.
4:59: Cavuto just said he's a real patient guy.
5:01: Beck has a 16mm projector! First talking point: Obama's "Reagan rhetoric" last night ran hollow.
5:02: Cookies are "Reagan's yumminess." Fish sticks are Woodrow's politics. Bake them together, you get cookie fishsticks. Inedible!
5:05: "I've never heard anyone say 'I'm just a teacher.' But I've heard people say 'I'm just a mom.' I hate that."
5:06: Obama was wrong to call for more respect for teachers. (Beck appears not to understand how salary levels are a key component of how much we value education.) We should respect moms and dads more. Also, Obama looking at a Lincoln portrait is a liar, for some reason.
5:07: Lengthy Paul Ryan excerpt. On China: he was talking about "how bad we are, because they're building choo-choo trains."
5:09: He's said "choo-choo trains" at least four times now. "I think we can all agree on one thing: America doesn't need more choo-choo trains." Beck's unconvinced faster, more reliable service would change Amtrak. I'm not sure he's ever taken Amtrak. It would!
5:10: We can't invest in high-speed trains because, apparently, they would constantly collide into regular trains and kill everyone. I guess he's not into American engineering skills.
5:11: "Chugga-chugga CHOO CHOO!" Starting to feel like I'm watching a weird adaptation of "I Am The Walrus."
5:12: Obama compared to Dr. Evil's ransom, to Obama's disadvantage.
5:15: "So he gave a shout-out to a SHINGLE COMPANY. Hey Obama, you're giving me shingles." 30 seconds later: "he also said he wants to invest in biomedical insurance. Can you find that one in the Constitution?
5:16: Comparison of Obama and recently deposed Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
5:17: This is one of those thing I find totally infuriating. You can't constantly praise oil and endorse anti-solar/green energy all the time, then be surprised and claim green power's a total failure if you've been actively rooting against it the entire time.
5:20: First commercial break. "Hi, I'm Bill Kristol. I write The Weekly Standard." Yeah you do! Followed by the first gold ad of the hour. Then an add for solar generators. Struggling to imagine the mind of someone who opposes solar power except as a life-saving back-up, in which case it's OK.
5:24: Back to familiar motifs from the past few weeks, with an emphasis on The American Experiment ("Can man rule himself?") and the 4 E's (don't ask).
5:27: A brief lecture on the spacing of tree rings (far apart when healthy, close together in times of distress). "Even mother nature knows, better than congress or the government," etc. We must slow down to survive.
5:29: Another argument for slowing down: that's what pilots do during turbulence. Followed by gold ad #2 (the Rosland Capital ads featuring G. Gordon Liddy).
5:31: One strongly suspects "Americans Against Food Taxes" is powered by, say, the same people who make those pro-corn syrup ads.
5:34: Oh snap. Glenn's about to explain his daily routine! "It's insane what we're doing! It's insane what I do." ... "I didn't understand Frank Sinatra's song 'New York, New York' until I moved here. [...] There's about 9,000 people waiting to stab you in the back." Sounds like the Fox News jealousy situation in a nutshell.
5:37: I don't understand who Beck's friends are, obviously, but why does it take them a minimum of 75 minutes to commute to work each way? Even if they're in New Jersey, that seems flat-out wrong.
5:38 "Then your wife is like 'YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME.' So then you have to listen to her."
5:39: "Where's the god stuff? Where's the good stuff?"
5:40: Third gold ad.
5:44: OK. How to fix the overworking of America. First, prioritize: God, family, country. Eliminate "stuff." Such as: Beck does not carry a cell phone, so neither should you.
5:46: Some people do charity, some people think "the IRS is your charity."
5:47: You can't separate your personal and professional life. Prime example: Bill Clinton (!). Can't be a good president, because it's all one. Very zen.
5:49: More stuff about his wife (off-camera, someone named "Oscar" snickers). More stuff about post-9/11 values. 4th gold ad.
5:53: "Yes you can do something about your tax problems." Riffing on Obama to sell tax services. Nice!
5:56: "The middle seat" is a metaphor for being generous enough to let someone sit in the middle chair on public transport and talking to them. It's one of seven steps, the first of which is "work the problem," yet another invocation of Beck's former addict status.
5:57: Fifth gold ad.
Wrap-up: Like "The 700 Club," pretty much every single episode of Beck's show features at least one batshit moment, but it has to be said that Beck's far less compelling now than he was a year ago. After about 20 minutes of what passed for a point-by-point rebuttal of the state of the union address, Beck settled down into the same points he's found his stride in repeating and hammering home. Like the Breitbart websites (except, oddly, slightly less political), this comforting repetition keeps his audience in a self-created loop, while all the spiritual talk imbues the nasty politicking, endlessly ridiculous comparisons (Dr. Evil? Cookies and fish sticks?) and noise-making with a quasi-religious ambiance.
The conclusion I'm increasingly arriving at about Fox News (and the Tea Party in general) isn't just that it panders to people afraid to contemplate a post-American world. Americans watch a shit-ton of TV, or at least they did before the internet (I don't know the numbers anymore, but it's hard to believe the average household set is still on for 7 1/2 hours a day, as it once was). Judging by the many, many ads for life insurance, medical care, etc., the show's audience is very geriatric, old folks who were going to have the tube on anyway. All the god/crisis/constitution talk imbues a normally acceptable-but-hardly-laudable activity with patriotic dimensions, giving viewers the feeling of political engagement while asking nothing of them.