Friday, February 19, 2010

The Road to Perdition

Every now and then a malignant ideologue rears their ugly head in the body politic. Some are charming, some charismatic, and some just intimidating and ugly. They all have three things in common. First, they are generally liars, usually fanatics and always name callers. Without exception they seize upon a term with which to define others as social pariahs and use it freely. Secondly, they are not interested in the common good. For all their mouthing off about freedom, patriotism, Christianity and the wonder of democracy they are without exception self promoting power junkies. Finally, they all come to an ignominious end generally at the hands of the institutions that supported them.

In the 1930’s - during the Great Depression - a priest known as Father Charles Coughlin took the job. He was a rabid anti-Semite and supporter of many of Hitler and Mussolini’s policies. He hated Communism. After initially supporting Roosevelt Coughlin turned on him and the New Deal. He spewed his detestable venom over the public airways via a series of radio broadcasts. In 1942 the Bishop of Detroit, Edward Mooney, ordered Coughlin to clam up and go back to his parish duties. He did until he retired in 1966. However, this particular ideological nut case introduced the world of demagoguery to the media. Therefore, he is the grandfather of the Rush Limbaughs and the Glenn Becks of today.

Some twenty years later along came Joseph McCarthy, Republican Senator from Wisconsin. This guy was a paranoid tyrant who saw little red communists under every car and dining room table. Using the bludgeon of the Senate’s subpoena power he brought countless innocent people before that august body to be intimidated, slandered, filleted and ruined. They were all communists to him, and all communists looked alike. He served from 1947 until his death in 1957. It is worth noting that McCarthy was never able to prove any of his charges of Communism, and that in 1954 the Senate voted to censure him by 67 to 22. This effectively put him back in his box for the duration of his tenure.

The brilliant journalist Edward R. Murrow once said of McCarthy, "His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. . . We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law." (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

If you substitute the word terrorism for the word communism you will have exactly what is going on today. The right’s lies, the blatant hypocrisy, the false accusations and the distortions are all designed to confuse, muddle and mislead the electorate. This has nothing to do with serving the public good. It is about power and political gain pure and simple.

There are so many demagogues slithering through the political scene today that one is hard pressed to identify a single primary perpetrator. Like Coughlin and McCarthy they are for the most part on the far right tending toward the lunatic fringe. Unable to articulate any kind of coherent public policy argument, lacking any pretense of a serious commitment to the electorate, willing to say anything to get their face in front of a camera, profoundly judgmental, prone to name calling and hypocrisy - at times cruel - they are the most destructive personalities on the public stage. Most of them have a large following as did Father Coughlin and Joe McCarthy. All of them are extremely adept at inspiring fear, hatred, and anger. As were Coughlin and McCarthy.

How far they will rise in the political world isn’t so much up to them or the Republican power brokers as it is up to us. We are a people who love to follow a Pied Piper with a mouth full of ear candy until it becomes obvious that we are being taken for a ride. By then we have generally paid dearly for the privilege. I give you George W. Bush, the run up to Iraq and the subsequent fear mongering of the next several years.

McCarthy was worse than Coughlin, because he was more powerful then Coughlin. The new breed of ideologues have a definite potential to be worse than McCarthy because they have access to greater wealth and a slavish media. With only a few exceptions there are no more Edward R. Murrows.

When someone inspires fear in me I don’t automatically think of following them. Fear mongers are fear mongering for a reason, and it is never a noble or honorable reason no matter how well it is wrapped in Christianity, integrity or patriotism.

If we believe that it is possible ". . . to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. . ." then we had better stop following every snake oil salesman with a false face and a fall guy down the road to perdition.


  1. Interesting linking Father Coughlin to Rush Limbaugh. I certainly agree with this and wish that those who are now attending the CPAC convention were persuadable to common sense views.

  2. These people have no sense period. They have finally found a legitimate outlet for all their pent up rage. The damn politicians who are stiring them up will pay dearly my friend.