The uprising against Hosni Mubarak in Egypt has left the US right wing confused and grasping for talking points: Unlike most political events, the crisis in Egypt can’t be neatly hung on one of their us-versus-them frames. Not knowing what side to take, unable to easily tell the good guys from the bad, they’ve been suddenly thrown from the comfort of certitude into a slush of self-doubt.
Should they side with Mubarak or the Egyptian people? Should the demonstrations be labeled jihadist, commie or Tea Party East? Should they attack Obama for not standing by Murbarak and “losing Egypt” (Dick Morris), or for not calling for his ouster loudly enough (Fox News contributor Ralph Peters)?
Let’s acknowledge that most of us are confused on Egypt: no one knows what will happen when Mubarak is gone, or how it will affect Israel, the region and the world. But if you’ve always shouted “USA is number one!” (and “Israel is number one-A!”), and you’ve tolerated talk of “Second Amendment remedies” against our own “tyranny” (led by a secret Muslim, no less), the cognitive dissonance has got to hurt your brain.
During Iran’s Green Revolution, less than two years ago, Republicans were livid that Obama wouldn’t intervene on the demonstrators’ behalf to overthrow the Iranian government (even to the point of demanding military action, though anybody with any sense realized that an incursion would have united all Iranians against the United States). Their line back then was 110 percent pro-democracy: "In the cause of freedom America cannot be neutral," Rep. Mike Pence essayed. Obama was a "cream puff," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher; he’s “timid,” added old “Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran” John McCain. Charles Krauthammer was boiling over: “The president is taking a hands-off attitude instead of standing, as Reagan did in the Polish uprising of 1980, and say we stand with the people in the street who believe in democracy.... it is a disgrace that the United States is not stating it as simply and honestly as that.”
Today? The GOP is all over the map: Krauthammer is griping that Obama has stated his support for the people too honestly. “It looks as if it was our decision, our pressure, and I’m not sure that we want a direct connection between our President and Egypt.” Not a word on Egypt from Pence or Rohrabacher; McCain, along with speaker John Boehner and minority leader Mitch McConnell, has decided to go along with Obama’s cautious approach.
Then there are those like Ann Coulter, who are torn—Murbarak is awful, Coulter said on Hannity (at 3:30), though “nothing good has ever come from riots like this in the streets”—but who deal with their cog dis by finding one consistent bad guy. “Contrast,” she said, Obama’s “response to this uprising to the uprising in Iran, when poor Neda was being shot and Obama was out getting ice cream, saying, ‘Oh, we don’t want to say anything.’ Well, as soon as this mob gathers, you see.... the Obama administration releasing secret information, they support the protesters, we support the protesters. Oh, couldn’t do that when the Iranian students were out on the street.” (Making her commentary even flimsier, Coulter went on to say Cairo isn’t Tiananmen or Tehran because no women are participating—even as the video running showed that to be completely wrong.)
You must also blame the president if you’re running for the Republican nomination. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee called Fox & Friends from Israel, where he was meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and, as Think Progress put it, “joining a ceremony for a newly built illegal Israeli settlement.” Huck reported “real shock and surprise down to the average, on-the-street Israeli citizen at how quickly the Obama administration abandoned a 30-year ally and a long-standing friend to peace and stability, President Mubarak.”
The most intriguing confusion, though, must be that addling the Tea Party crowd, for whom Muslims are generally a very dangerous “them.” And yet some TPers can’t help but identify with these Muslim protesters, filling Tahrir Square like so many anti-tax rebels tail-gating for Glenn Beck on the Mall. On Fox News a few days ago, a middle-aged man at a tea party gathering in Chicago cheerfully asserted, “We need to do what they’re doing in Egypt!”
But if you really want to see how Egypt has unhinged the right, Beck is the man to watch. On the one hand, he’s seen the light: Bush had it wrong when he claimed 9/11 terrorists hated our freedom. “They don’t hate our freedom. They envy our freedom,” Beck told Bill O’Reilly. On the other hand, the Egyptian uprising "is not about freedom. It is being orchestrated by the Marxist Communists and primarily also the Muslim Brotherhood."
On the other other hand (Glenn needs a lot of hands for this one), "We have to stand for something. [Mubarak] is torturing people with our money!" Yet, he says, if the Mubarak government falls, it could lead to “a caliphate” that would invade Europe and make the Mediterranean Sea an Islamic lake.
Wait, there’s more: a giant game of “Risk” spreading across the blackboard. “China,” he says excitedly, “will control Asia, the southern half of Africa, part of the Middle East, Australia, maybe New Zealand, and God only knows what else. And Russia, which will control all of the old former Soviet Union bloc, plus maybe the Netherlands. I'm not really sure.”
But do be sure of this, Americans: "This is not about Egypt,” he warns. “This is about your hometown and your lifestyle."
The conspiracy theories that hold all this together are so complex, Beck says, it’s going to take several days, maybe weeks, to explain. So you’re going to have to watch a lot of his show, and a lot of ads for gold.