(Previously published at The Gay-Atheist.)
Remember six months ago when Glenn Beck went on his Fox News show and tearfully lamented how partisan and divided we had all become, and expressed his sincere and innocent and completely selfless wish that we all come together like we were the day after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks? He challenged us to remember how united we all were after that terrible day eight years ago, and to put aside our political and philosophical differences and get to work doing what’s right for the country — not for our own parties or movements, but for all of us. “It’s six months until 9/12,” Glenn told his audience back in March. “I’ve got some things I’m working on that should take me about six months.”
Ooooh! That’s . . . a little terrifying coming from Glenn Beck. He promptly put up a website for his newly christened 9/12 Project, and published a mission statement that reads in part,
This is a non-political movement. The 9-12 Project is designed to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001. The day after America was attacked we were not obsessed with Red States, Blue States or political parties. We were united as Americans, standing together to protect the greatest nation ever created.
That same feeling — that commitment to country is what we are hoping to foster with this idea. We want to get everyone thinking like it is September 12th, 2001 again.
At the heart of Glenn’s non-partisan, all-inclusive 9/12 Project is a list of 9 Principles, and 12 Values. They express the— hey, hang on! There are 9 Principles, and 12 Values — 9/12! What are the odds that the core beliefs of Glenn Beck’s pet project just happen to naturally shake out into groups of nine and twelve? It must be the very hand of God.
These 9/12 Principles/Values sound pretty important. So what are they? I’ll let Glenn explain, again quoting from the mission statement:
At the origin of America, our Founding Fathers built this country on 28 powerful principles. These principles were culled from all over the world and from centuries of great thinkers. We have distilled the original 28 down to the 9 basic principles.
So, how do we show America what’s really behind the curtain? Read The 9 Principles. If you believe in at least seven of them, then we have something in common.
So the Founding Fathers were a little too wordy? The wisdom of their “28 powerful principles” can actually be expressed just as well through 9 basic principles? Doesn’t sound very originalist to me, but very well. (Having read the 28 principles, I think Glenn has a point. At least ⅔ of them are total bullshit. That might be because they aren’t actually the 28 principles the Founding Fathers relied upon to craft the Constitution, but rather the 28 principles asserted by paranoid ultra-conservative Mormon W. Cleon Skousen in his book The 5000 Year Leap, the most recent edition of which includes a foreword by Glenn Beck.) Here are Glenn’s 9 Principles. Let’s go through them one at a time and see how many I agree with. I’ll try to be objective, despite the incredibly strong disincentive of knowing that agreeing with seven of them means I have something in common with Glenn Beck.
1. America is good.
This is the sort of drivel I’ve come to expect from people like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Declaring that your country is good regardless of the context, refusing to apologize for your country no matter what, asserting the superiority of your country just because you say so is not patriotism. It’s something you say to pander to an audience. It’s cynical and it’s dishonest and it’s deeply stupid. Yes, America is good. America is downright fucking great — sometimes. It’s not an absolute. Blind, unquestioning, uncritical love does your country no favor.
2. I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life.
Way to be inclusive there, Glenn. I guess all those atheists and Buddhists and Wiccans and what-have-yous don’t have a role to play in the vital work of reforming American government. What possible use could they be, seeing as how their personal religious beliefs are not very close to your personal religious beliefs. Thomas Paine — the great human being whose legacy Beck has polluted this year by stealing the title Common Sense for his own deluded, intellectually bankrupt rant — was a deist, and therefore believed in God. But it was emphatically not the God of the Jews, Christians, or Muslims (Joseph Smith had not yet invented Mormonism by the time Paine died). I doubt God was the center of Paine’s life. More likely his life revolved around friends and family, reason and science, and genuine interest in improving society and the lot of his fellow human beings. I’ll go with Paine.
3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday.
Okay . . . seriously? Are we kids in kindergarten here? Are we drunks in a 12-step program? Is there a difference, pedagogically? I don’t need Glenn Beck, one of the most brazenly dishonest people in the history of popular media, patronizing me about the importance of honesty. Yes, Glenn. Telling the truth is important. We must all strive to be honest — with others, and with ourselves, regardless of what the political and religious dogma we have imbibed tells us we should do.
4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.
I thought God was the ultimate authority. Seeing this from Beck is surprising, since I always thought the Mormon hierarchy of loyalty went God, Joseph Smith, Jesus, Spouse(s), Children, Government. I also mistrust the usage of “family.” The religious conservative definition of “family” is a lot narrower than mine. And while giving the individual, or the parents, authority in the home ahead of the government is a sound idea in general, there are plenty of instances where the government can — and must — assert its authority. Parents have no right to harm their children, for instance. Their authority doesn’t reach that far. This is the problem with absolutist principles like these. It’s easy to find a ton of exceptions, especially when the guy who came up with them is a slobbering imbecile.
5. If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it.
This one I agree with, no exceptions or reservations. That’s one, Glenn.
6. I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results.
Ehhhh . . . no. I have a right to life, and there is no guarantee that I will succeed in my endeavors. That much I’ll give you. But my rights to liberty and happiness are conditional — the first on my obeying of the law and respecting the rights of others, the second on how I choose to pursue my happiness. If killing, raping and barbecuing babies makes me happy — and it does — I don’t have the right to pursue that happiness (outside of Thailand). I refer back to my absolutist principles/slobbering imbecile statement above.
7. I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.
Why not just come out and say, “I don’t want to pay my taxes”? Being candid is a form of honesty, Glenn. And honesty is very important.
8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.
I agree with this one, too. Though I feel like I have to point out that many prominent voices from Glenn Beck’s area of the political spectrum spent most of the George W. Bush administration implicitly and explicitly questioning the patriotism of those who spoke out against their policies — prominent voices like the Vice President of the United States.
9. The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me.
Practically speaking, there are circumstances where the government answers to me, and there are circumstances where I answer to the government. It’s not one or the other. Also, let’s remember that (ideally, now — I’m not saying it’s anywhere near this simple) the government is not just empowered by, but composed of the people. The key to government reform isn’t to put a shorter leash on the government, but to stop treating the government as an alien entity. The government is us. And are we accountable to each other? Absolutely we are.
So let me see . . . if I believe in at least seven of the 9 Principles I have something in common with Glenn Beck, and I believe in . . . one . . . two . . . thr— . . . two. I believe in two of the nine. The rest are horseshit.
That was fun, though. What about the 12 Values? I wonder how many of those I’m down with.
Is there really a difference between Honesty and Sincerity? And Honesty already has a Principle — does it really need a Value, too? Why not leave Honesty off the Values list and just go with Sincerity? Then it would be the 9/11 Project — which would be more honest. Improvement all around.
“Reverence”? Reverence to what? Reverence to the Constitution? To the Book of Mormon? To the staggering musical talents of the Osmond family? Just reverence in general? No. I don’t much care what people will say about me after I’m dead, but I do hope with all my heart that no one is able to stand over my grave/crypt/unmarked-ditch-into-which-my-ashes-have-been-dumped and say “Here lies a reverent man.” Just . . . no.
Hard Work, Courage, Personal Responsibility and Gratitude are all good, but I get stuck on Thrift, Humility and Moderation. It’s not that they aren’t positive values, but come on — they sure as fuck aren’t American values. Jesus Christ, even the so-called fiscal conservatives don’t really lose their shit over excessive government spending unless there’s a Democrat signing the checks. Thrift? Humility? Moderation? In this nation of proud, willful, obnoxiously entitled Hummer drivers? Honestly, Glenn? Sincerely?
And I could swear I’ve heard about Hope from somewhere else just recently . . .
Yesterday being 9/12, and 9/12 being a date of some importance to the 9/12 Project, Glenn Beck put up the following message on his 9/12 Project website, a transcript from his live broadcast on the Fox News Channel:
It’s Saturday, September 12th. Friday was the eighth anniversary commemorating September 11, 2001. In the spirit of 9/12, the day after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history — when even French newspapers proclaimed: “We’re all Americans” — we were united.
It was said by so many: “America has changed forever.” But so many were wrong.
We changed for a brief time and then slipped right back into bickering, partisan, factions. What happened? How did we lose that 9/12 feeling so quickly?
Well, for one thing, we don’t trust each other any more. It’s always Republicans against Democrats, Democrats against Republicans and independents against them both.
Then we have the media continually beating that partisan drum. Let me ask you a question: Who, in everyday life, ever worries about political party affiliation? When was the last time you asked someone at a barbeque, “Hey, are you a Republican or a Democrat?”
When you’ve had an accident or you’re sick and you’re in the emergency room filling out insurance forms, how many times have you been asked what political party you most associate with?
When you die and you’re standing at the gates of heaven, will the proverbial St. Peter, who proverbially stands at the gates, have you check Republican or Democrat before entering? No! It’s ludicrous! Who cares?
Again with the presumption of religious belief, but whatever. Fair enough. Partisanship is bad. We should all be working together. How upsetting it is, then, for me to read this from a little later in the very same piece:
One of the issues we have is the spreading sentiment that capitalism is evil. That redistribution of wealth is a good thing. Any time you mention the words Marxism or communism, the left paints you as some sort of nutjob, a McCarthyite.
First of all, that’s just ridiculous. I’m not a U.S. senator. I have no power to subpoena witnesses, launch investigations or accept huge contributions from George Soros or GE.
Second, with any of these radicals in the Obama-sphere, we’ve just used their words and asked questions about them[.]
Whoa, wait a minute there — complaining about being victimized by the left? Rationalizing your own partisan demagoguery by pointing out that at least you’re not as bad as Senator McCarthy? Bitching about congressional subpoenas and rich liberal George Soros throwing money around? Going after radicals in the “Obama-sphere”? That all sounds rather partisan. But that can’t be. It’s that very partisanship that Glenn Beck is crusading against!
Except that it’s all a load of bullshit. Beck pays lip service to pressuring Republicans to clean up corruption in their own party, but the targets he really cares about are all on the other side. He might claim to be opposed to crooked conservatives, but he is an avowed enemy of Obama and those on the liberal end of things. His Fox News show has been hemorrhaging sponsors ever since he called President Obama a racist, someone who obviously has a deep-seated hatred of white people. He raised a ruckus a few years ago by questioning the loyalty of newly elected U.S. Representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat whose religious affiliation earned him Beck’s suspicion — he was the first Muslim elected to Congress. And when was the last time Beck called a Republican on his or her racism? When has he ever stood up to challenge the lying and race-baiting of Sarah Palin, or the spiteful, self-serving vitriol of Ann Coulter or Mark Levin? Why does he strain so hard to detect the racism and extremism of Barack Obama, yet ignore those very things when they are screamingly obvious in his fellow conservatives? I’ll take his call to end partisanship seriously when he does.
So what was it that Glenn Beck had planned for 9/12/2009? What was his big secret project that took him six months to plan? It was . . . a political protest rally in Washington, D.C. And lots of smaller political protest rallies at various locations across the country. Which is a lot like the so-called Tea Parties held around the country this past April by people who wanted to bitch about having to pay their taxes.
(Forgive me. I know, of course, that the Tea Parties which were held on April 15, the deadline for most Americans to file their Federal income tax returns, were not about taxes, but about freedom. Just as I know “LIBERTY!” screeched at the top of one’s lungs is a cogent argument against healthcare reform.)
The first thing it made me think of (and I think this clearly and somewhat damningly reveals my frame of reference) was the last act of Return of the Jedi. I imagine the first creative meeting between George Lucas and his writers, producers, etc., must have gone something like this:
The time has come to complete my epic Star Wars saga by producing Return of the Jedi!
WRITERS, PRODUCERS, ETC.
Sounds great! What is this one going to be about?
. . . It will be about the Rebels defeating the evil Galactic Empire!
WRITERS, PRODUCERS, ETC.
Right, right. But what’s going to happen? How will the Rebels achieve this ultimate victory?
They will blow up the Death Star!
WRITERS, PRODUCERS, ETC.
Except they already did that. In the first movie.
So maybe we should have them do something else.
They will blow up . . .
(a long beat as George thinks deep thoughts, calling upon all of his considerable creative faculties)
. . . ANOTHER Death Star!
WRITERS, PRODUCERS, ETC.
Swap “GLENN BECK” for “GEORGE LUCAS” and “hold political protest rallies!” for “blow up the Death Star!” and . . . it will seem like a confusing conversation, because they’re still talking about making the third Star Wars movie. But keep in mind that it’s Glenn Beck talking, and therefore the conversation was unlikely to make much sense anyway.
Seriously, this was Glenn Beck’s big master plan? A (from all reports rather anemic) rally in Washington, D.C.? Where mostly Republican politicians and pundits gave pandering speeches to largely conservative crowds, railing against the Democratic president and his policies? This is supposed to return us to the spirit of unity and partnership we all felt in the aftermath of 9/11?
I remember how I felt on 9/12/2001. I did feel pride in the courage and selflessness of the firefighters and cops and paramedics who rushed to the aid of their fellow human beings in New York and at the Pentagon, at great risk to themselves. I did feel united to my fellow Americans, and I did see that the lines we draw around ourselves — conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Jew, Atheist — don’t amount to shit. But I knew that already. So did most of you.
There are other things I recall about that day: I felt angry, and afraid, and confused. Now look at the people who attended those Tea Parties, who shouted down Representatives and Senators at town hall meetings last month, who showed up at these 9/12 rallies carrying signs and shouting slogans. How do they look? Do they look proud and grateful and ready to put aside differences and unite with their fellow Americans? Or do they look angry, and afraid, and confused? When Glenn Beck told his audience six months ago that he wanted to get everyone thinking like it was September 12, 2001 again, he was being honest. He just wasn’t being sincere.
So yes, there is a difference.