Saturday, June 26, 2010


What is it about modern right-wing thinking that so perfectly complements snake-oil-style hucksterism? We know that Glenn Beck combines ideology with what Salon's Alexander Zaitchik calls "cross-platform self-marketing" -- TV broadcasts, radio broadcasts, DVDs, nonfiction books, novels, kids' books, live appearances, movies, some of it selling notions like his hundred-year "Plan." And the fans eat it all up -- being part of the movement (which means buying the merchandise) makes them feel like part of a massive human-potential cult. And they like that.

Well, in today's New York Times I see that Tim Scott -- a black Republican who's almost certain to be elected to Congress next fall from South Carolina -- has a bit of Beck in him. Unlike Beck, he's not selling human potential blather to others -- he seems to have sold it to himself, after a mentor sold it to him:

... Now a business executive, Mr. Scott said he never used drugs and worked since he was 13, wiping windshields at a gas station and serving popcorn at a movie theater. But he acted up in class to seek attention, he said, and by ninth grade, he was failing several courses, including civics, English and Spanish.

He was rescued by a man named John Moniz, who ran the Chick-fil-A next to the movie theater. Mr. Moniz became his mentor, imbuing him with his conservative, Christian philosophy and, as a graduate of the Citadel, teaching him the importance of structure and discipline. He also introduced him to the self-help views of the motivational Christian author Zig Ziglar.

... Mr. Moniz died of a heart attack at 38, when Mr. Scott was 17. That prompted Mr. Scott to write down a "mission statement" for his life: to have a positive effect on the lives of one billion people before he dies.

From there he developed what he calls a "life matrix," a script for living, which is a blueprint for his future, blocked out in five-year segments.

Every day in every way he's getting better and better! But even though the current item in Mr. Scott's plan now involves getting a job in government, don't think for a second that he actually has anything good to say about government:

... He believes that President Obama is driving the country toward bankruptcy and socialism.

... His goals are to shrink government, repeal the new federal health care law and eliminate earmarks, even those that would help his state. In the state legislature, he has co-sponsored an Arizona-style immigration bill, earning him the endorsement of the Minutemen.

(How that last item actually shrinks government I'm not sure, but let's move on.)

... Mr. Scott said that if elected, he would limit himself to four terms in Congress....

"If you really believe in something and that the government shouldn't do it, you better be busy," he said.

Government, he said, allows too many people to be unaccountable, while individuals can achieve great things.

"That's why I need to invest my time, my talent and my treasure in getting things done," like helping people develop self-discipline and financial security, he said. "That's my ambition."

Quite a bit of this, obviously, is hypocritical. For a guy who doesn't like government, he's sure tried awfully hard to be in its employ -- as his primary opponent noted in a debate, he's run for four offices in three years.

But I really believe Scott believes he hates government (and will feel the same way years from now, when he's the party's presidential or vice presidential nominee). And I think, as with Beck, anti-government thinking syncs up perfectly with the nonsense of human potential thinking.

I suppose a lot of government wouldn't be necessary if we could all just turn our lives around and become fabulously successful through sheer force of will (and the strategic employment of techniques found in pricey books, DVDs, and seminars), as hucksters like Zig Ziglar and Glenn Beck tell us we can. It's brilliant to throw that wingnut boilerplate into the sales pitch -- negative forces are holding you back from achieving your maximum potential, and one of those negative forces is ... big government! Which no one should need, because anyone can really do anything! Anyone can go from failure to success! Jut attend this expensive weekend seminar and you'll find out how!

Maybe there'll be more Glenn Becks and Tim Scotts in movement conservatism. Maybe this will replace the human potential hucksterism of old-fashioned televangelism. These guys are going to need something when they take over the country eventually and their utopian libertarianism fails. This is a perfect way to explain their failures away: it really could work if you'd just believe.

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