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.