As CPAC opened its annual convention last Thursday, the same day that computer engineer Joe Stack flew his Piper Cherokee into an IRS office in Austin setting it ablaze, the consensus about his violent anti-tax attack was remarkably sanguine.
On Friday Human Events editor Jed Babbin introduced Grover Norquist, the nation's most rabid anti-tax activist, with a little joke: "I was just really, really glad that it was not him identified as flying that airplane into the IRS building." Laughter all around. Then Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty strained to hit a Southern-sheriff note of populist threat by suggesting, rather oddly, that conservatives were cuckolded wives who, like Tiger Woods's spouse, should "take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government in this country!"--thereby managing to invoke both the wall of shattered glass windows at the Echelon Building and the marital troubles that may have contributed to Stack's anger.
It didn't help the damage control when conservative pin-up Scott Brown said of the attack, just hours after it happened, "I don't know if it's related, but I can just sense not only in my election, but since being here in Washington, people are frustrated." Which is scary close to saying Stack's terrorist act came from the same set of emotions and attitudes that put Brown in office (talk about saying "No"!).
But by Saturday evening, after CPACers had given Dick Cheney a standing ovation, straw-voted for Ron Paul as their next presidential candidate, and shouted down anti-gay natural law fan Ryan Sorba, a clumsy instinct for damage control seemed to assert itself. Just how much wreckage had Joseph Stack inflicted on the anti-tax Tea Party passions when he flew his single-engine plane straight into the heart of their rage? Was the GOP, and in particular its spokeschannel Fox News, edging a bit too close to a rightwing equivalent of the 1968 riots in Chicago, when a majority of Americans turned against the Democrats because of the violence they saw on TV?
Those questions cannot yet be answered, but one man at least was completely aware of their importance: Glenn Beck, who gave the closing keynote speech Saturday evening. Whether or not Joe Stack had ever watched Fox, dug Glenn Beck, or ever darkened a website run by a Tea Party outfit (and we may never know the truth about these things, either), Beck was fast to assume that Stack's nutty tax-and-big-government-hating manifesto would tarnish Beck's own nutty tax-and-big-government-hating shtick.
Beck had already risen to the occasion on his Fox show the day of the Austin tragedy. Bucking and weaving his way around the accusations he knew were coming, Beck offered a full-court mea no culpa (the 20-minute version here): He denounced violence, advising you to "get away from anybody who's calling for revolution"; he insisted that Stack could be as lefty as he was righty, and that allowing Van Jones to leverage community organizing with green energy jobs was somehow like flying a plane into a windmill. Or something.
Of course, Stack did not fly his plane into a capitalist redoubt, like a bank too big to fail; he flew it into an IRS office, which just happens to be the focus of radical constitutionalist anger. That Beck's daily rantings make about as much sense as Stack's suicide note--which, in addition to inveighing against the IRS, also attacked corrupt politicians, the Catholic Church, and George W. Bush--is telling. Beck's tremulous lectures have long since veered away from any real political themes to emotional analyses of impending doom and strange, fractured fairy tales about American history--he is always mixing the colors on the Polaroid before they set, creating wildly distorted pictures of who we are. Confusion and paranoia are his goals, not merely his means.
So, as he tells you to reject violence, pay no attention to the man over there who said that Obama and Democrats are vampires "going after the blood of our businesses," suggesting we "drive a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers."
And draw no Holocaustal, or plane-crashing, conclusions when he exhorts us, like a later day Elmer Gantry, to "find the exit closest to you and prepare for a crash-landing because this plane is coming down because the pilot is intentionally steering it into the trees!... We will thrive--as long as these people are not in control. They [the White House and progressives] are taking you to a place to be slaughtered!"
Later he denied using the word slaughter, but hey, consistency is really the hobgoblin of big minds, not small ones. After dancing around on the edge of the sword at least since the '08 campaign, Beck pulls back in horror at violent opposition to the government now, when everyone is mourning the dead and wondering who else among us might lose it. Beck has always been careful not to advocate literal violence. Instead, he does his "I am every man" thing, voice quavering, while stumbling onto viscerally violent metaphors (you're the victim of Hitler! of Stalin! of Obama!), whipping up such a conspiratorial spiral of fury that low-info fans might just want to defend themselves by any means necessary.
And if they can't quite follow what he's saying, they can damn well follow how he says it.
Anyway, in his keynote speech at CPAC, Beck didn't mention a word about Stack or violence. Cutting taxes and spending, and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps when you're down, were the only practical policies offered--the speech was more AA than RNC, by a mile. He did tell Republicans that they needed to admit their addiction to spending. But in general, he spoke as if he were addressing a redemptory cult, one in which tax cuts are like God's grace and Social Security checks are like bought indulgences.
Cultists are the perfect political creatures--they will forget what they were praying for five minutes after you give them a new Sign.
Which reminds me, where's the outcry? Why aren't the rightwing media and their auditioning politicians getting hysterical over Obama taking so much time to make a statement about the IRS attack as they did over Obama's "slow response" to the Christmas bomber? I mean, Stack killed himself and another person and injured 13, two of them critically; the Nigerian guy just scorched his privates.
Why see the mote in thy brother's eye, but not the beam in thine own?