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The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama

de Will Bunch

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Bunch reveals the secrets he sees behind the crusade against Obama, exploring how forces like radical militia groups, the Tea Party, pro-gun zealots, and Glenn Beck have combined old-fashioned populist outrage with digital-age phobias to produce a wave of resentment that many have ridden straight to the bank.… (mais)

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There are many things that connect us all, no matter where we live, what color we are and which God we believe in. One of the deepest and most integral of those connections is fear. We all have it, whether it’s worrying about the spread of Communism, the shortage of scientific breakthroughs toward a cure for cancer, or maybe just late night jitters about the foul-smelling thing hiding underneath the bed. Most of it can be boiled down to a simple phrase, “fear of the other“. While some fears can be debated and argued as being justified, the underlying problem with fear is that once someone or something knows what your fear is, it can be used against you as a weapon. People throughout history have made their livelihoods based on that fact alone and it is on proud display here in the present day inside the formation of the Tea Party movement and the outlandish opposition to Barack Obama.

The Backlash by Will Bunch is a well thought out and deeply researched journey into the heart of the fear that sprung forth like snakes-in-a-can upon the inauguration of our new President. While many progressives and liberals clamor from the sideline, poking fun at the Tea Party and their growing membership, Bunch takes the honorable mission of tracing the movement to some of its more humble beginnings and the people actually at the ground level. What he discovers is real people with real fears who are being co-opted by big business and private interests in order to stop the change promised by the new administration.

One of the first things most people were introduced to when they saw the Tea Party crash onto the political scene was their fascination and fervor for protest signs and costumes. While this might have increased their news coverage, it also quickly devalued their message. From the subtle to the incredibly overt, racist slogans and imagery littered the reports of the fledgling movement giving an overall impression that everyone involved had the same color-coded mission, to purify the White House, and by extension, the country as a whole. On one side of the cable news spectrum (MSNBC, CNN, BBC, etc…) the Tea Party was characterized as rednecks that time had obviously left behind, while the other side (championed by Fox News) raised them onto the pedestal of patriots and grassroots revolution hailed as “real America”. The problem here is that neither description is true, but labels are sticky and even removed they can leave a nasty residue behind.

Another factor behind the proliferation of the “real America” illusion was those pundits and political commentators who saw the Tea Party as the lightning-in-a-bottle moment they were waiting for. Once they grabbed onto the coattails of fear inside the Tea Party, people such as radio/TV/internet phenom Glenn Beck wove those coattails around and around into each other until the fear escalated into paranoia, which in the ratings world is a wonderful thing. Beck had actually boiled it down to a simple equation, the bumper-sticker solution to all the fear in the country:

On his November 23, 2009 show, Beck went back again to the theme of a looming economic meltdown and recommended to his listeners what could just as well be a mantra of the right-wing movement in this new decade: “The 3 G system” of “God, Gold and Guns.”

Beck skyrocketed in popularity and influence, like many of the voices from the outer right-wing fringe, preying on the fears of people feeling like their country was forgetting about them. He wheeled out his chalkboard day after day, giving his viewers something familiar from their childhood, a symbol of learning which they all believed would never lie to them. Beck littered the surface of the chalkboard with various historical people and moments, drawing incredibly slippery and weak connections between them to prove any conspiracy theory he imagined that morning. Worse than that were those occasions where he blatantly misrepresented the views of historical figures to grant his own ideas more credence. Bunch illustrates that nicely in this section:

“Beck – and probably many of his listeners – would be turned off by many of the views of the real Thomas Paine. For one thing, while Beck has tried to argue that America’s true roots lie in Christianity, the real Thomas Paine was a Deist who loathed organized religion, writing in “The Age of Reason” that all churches “appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

You can be sure that particular quote from Paine never graced the esteemed surface of Beck’s chalkboard.

This is the thrust of Bunch’s message, that much of the Tea Party is being towed along by puppeteers and plagiarizers, purposely mis-informing them to wean the money from their wallets and the devotion from their hearts. The fervent devotees of the Tea Party should not be written off as a joke, especially since some of them actually won seats in our government during the last election. They should be listened to, but filtered through a lens of mis-appropriated fear. If we do not try and understand where they are actually coming from, people like Beck and his cohorts will continue to wield them like a bludgeon against the wall of this country until its inevitable collapse.

My recommendation, The Backlash by Will Bunch is a staggeringly human look into the real fear behind the so-called grassroots revolution of the Tea Party and how it has been co-opted, controlled and ultimately, how it will be condemned. ( )
  LukeGoldstein | Aug 10, 2021 |
One of the few nonfiction ebooks at the library that sounded interesting and was also available for checkout. I'm a little torn: some of it was LOLTEAPARTY, but then the last chapter argued that mocking them was a bad idea. And personally, quite a bit was familiar from the last year or two. I will admit that I find it utterly horrifying that Glenn Beck has a book called The Overton Window. (I find him horrifying in general, though.) The second-person POV ("you") was sometimes cloying, but done reasonably well. ( )
  epersonae | Mar 30, 2013 |
Will Bunch has written a decent piece of investigative journalism that covers large swaths of terrain already familiar to most political junkies. Even so, to read his book is instructive. Much of his effort is expended in trying to answer the question of why so many Americans have become acolytes of Glenn Beck and his hokey brand of libertarian politics. It turns out to be a more difficult task than one might expect. To begin with, many of those who self-identify with the "Tea Party" say that they are motivated by existential threats that are impossible to substantiate. Wading through the clutches of conspiracy theorists and profiteers of the apocalypse that populate the right-wing fringe, Bunch ultimately reaches some predictably pedestrian conclusions: people are motivated by fear and uncertainty, and their prophets are driven by profit.

Even though Bunch is an avowed progressive, he does a fairly decent job of presenting his case in a relatively objective and straightforward manner. Oddly, as someone who is more sympathetic to liberal ideology generally, by the time I finished the book I found myself less alarmed by the rise of Tea Party activism than I had been previously. Perhaps I'm naturally sympathetic to those who find themselves on the political fringe; which, incidentally, is an impulse manipulated to great advantage by those tasked with bringing fresh recruits into anti-government, anti-elitist, and anti-establishment movements. Mine is, to be sure, a sympathy for the underdog. Even as Bunch desperately tries to convey a sense of import in all this Tea Partying, the unmistakable and lasting impression is that this is a party of outliers and disgruntled misfits who mainly serve the purposes of those who are in the business of selling fear.

The almost inevitable obsolescence of the backlash against the Obama administration assumes a kind of omnipresence throughout the book, as Bunch relentlessly references the demographics involved: senior citizens, the unemployed, old school social conservatives, white people, more senior citizens, etc. The available polling data indicates that, over the long term, traditional liberal values and classic freethinking are shaping the country's political future (i.e., increasingly open-minded attitudes towards homosexuality, non-theism, anti-xenophobic immigration policy, health-care reform, environmental law, the rights of women and children, etc.); meanwhile, the expanding Latino population and the social values of younger generations of Americans are threatening to swamp the old political worldview of which "The Backlash" appears to be but a vestigial polyp. Viewed in this light, its hard not to feel some sympathy for the those who insist on haplessly protesting modernity. ( )
1 vote Narboink | Sep 22, 2010 |
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Bunch reveals the secrets he sees behind the crusade against Obama, exploring how forces like radical militia groups, the Tea Party, pro-gun zealots, and Glenn Beck have combined old-fashioned populist outrage with digital-age phobias to produce a wave of resentment that many have ridden straight to the bank.

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