Hitchens on Beck and the Tea Party

December 12, 2010 • 4:10 pm

In his latest Vanity Fair column, “Tea’d off,” Christopher Hitchens goes after the Tea Party, its guiding light Glenn Beck, and all the more “moderate” Republicans who excuse Beck’s palpable racism and lunacy in the interest of political power.  It’s a hard-hitting and truthful column, and brings up an elephant in the room that I’ve long perceived:  much of the opposition to Obama is based, pure and simple, on the fact that he’s partially black.  I’ve never been able to fathom the vehemence of the opposition without this hypothesis.


Most epochs are defined by one or another anxiety. More important, though, is the form which that anxiety takes. Millions of Americans are currently worried about two things that are, in their minds, emotionally related. The first of these is the prospect that white people will no longer be the majority in this country, and the second is that the United States will be just one among many world powers. This is by no means purely a “racial” matter. (In my experience, black Americans are quite concerned that “Hispanic” immigration will relegate them, too.) Having an honest and open discussion about all this is not just a high priority. It’s more like a matter of social and political survival. But the Beck-Skousen faction want to make such a debate impossible. They need and want to sublimate the anxiety into hysteria and paranoia. The president is a Kenyan. The president is a secret Muslim. The president (why not?—after all, every little bit helps) is the unacknowledged love child of Malcolm X. And this is their response to the election of an extremely moderate half-African American candidate, who speaks better English than most and who has a model family. Revolted by this development, huge numbers of white people choose to demonstrate their independence and superiority by putting themselves eagerly at the disposal of a tear-stained semi-literate shock jock, and by repeating his list of lies and defamations. But, of course, there’s nothing racial in their attitude …

68 thoughts on “Hitchens on Beck and the Tea Party

  1. When you get into a situation where tea partiers let their guard down, a non trivial minority will indeed use crude racial epithets. A minority sure, but make no mistake about it, there is conscious racism behind a lot of this.

  2. Although I was raised in an era of segregation, bussing, the integration of Blacks into sports and entertainment, and, finally, into national politics, I am still shocked (in denial) as to how shallow the undercurrents are. We’re back in the 50’s as if nothing happened.

    1. I thought it was the Arabic version of the Hebrew, “Baruch,” with a shared root of the word, “blessing”?

      Wikipedia gives بارك as the Arabic rendition of “Barack,” and states it’s a variant on the more common “Mubarak” (with the Egyptian president being the best-known example).



      1. I’ve seen the etymology explained as either “blessed” or “lightning” or both [www.thinkbabynames.com/meaning/1/Barack]. I don’t know which side is right, or if anyone really knows anymore. Crypto-Muslim winged horses named Lightning are cooler than blessings, so that version will always deserve some weight, no matter the truth.

          1. Now I finally get it. If you don’t like someone in the USA, you search hard for an Arabic translation of his/her name that implies depravity; if you like the person, you look for a Hebrew translation meaning “the blessed, enlightened, brave”.

            1. Huh?

              The only translations of the name, “Barack,” I see in this thread are stvs’s original of “lightning,” a name shared with one of the foundational archetypal heroes of Islam; and mine of “blessing,” where I pointed out that the two words from closely-related languages share the same root.

              I don’t see even a hint of anybody equating anybody’s name with an Arabic translation of any word that implies depravity. What Web site are you reading?



  3. The only possible consolation in the on-coming fascist tyranny is that George Will will be immediately behind me in line for the firing squad.

    Of course it won’t help then to say “I told you so,” but of course I’ll say it anyway.

  4. I have to take issue with Hitch on a significant point that he merely glossed over:

    And this is their response to the election of an extremely moderate half-African American candidate[….]

    Obama has turned out to be the most conservative president in American history. Not only is he pouring gas on the war in Afghanistan; not only is he still running the Guantànamo Gulag; not only has he given an unfunded mandate to the public to line the pockets of the worst insurance racket in the history of the planet; not only has he ordered his security goons to strip search and / or molest toddlers in airports.

    No, not even that has been enough for Obama.

    He has just announced his intention to kill Social Security by gutting its funding.

    He is, in other words, doing exactly what the most conservative of conservatives have been most anxious for administrations to do for ages: kill the social safety net of the New Deal. It’s the ultimate conservative wet dream, and Obama has just handed it to them on a silver platter.

    (If you think the payroll tax cut will only be temporary, and especially if you think that Social Security has even a theoretical possibility of remaining solvent without the payroll tax, you’re as far out of it as a young-Earth creationist.)

    No other president since the New Deal would have even hinted at killing Social Security. It’s long been considered the “third rail” of American politics, and for good reason. Yet Obama is poised to do exactly that. In this respect, he is socially to the right of…well, everybody else. And his position on American military imperialism is to the right of everybody else, too; his position on taxes is to the right of all his predecessors — way to the right of Reagan, in fact. Pick just about any subject of any significance, and Obama’s position is to the right of both Bushes, Reagan, Nixon, and every other conservative president throughout American history.

    Obama is far more than John Birch could ever have hoped for, and it’s still not enough for Beck and his ilk. That’s the true nature of the insanity of the Tea Party. It also points to the power of the Overton Window, and the brilliance of PZ’s observation about staking out a “middle-of-the-road” compromise just putting you halfway to crazy town.

    The Chinese didn’t have to curse us with “interesting times.” We’ve done it all to ourselves. Those storm clouds on the horizon are awfully dark, and they’re headed right for us.





    1. I wouldn’t call Obama conservative, he’s more a populist. And a pandering populist at that. He received his political training in Chicago, and it shows in what he does and how he does it.

      As for Glenn Beck; I have watched the man and I have listened to him. While he is is wrong about a number of things, to call him a racist is to call a kangaroo an archosaur. The man is strongly pro civil rights, and opposes racism. How do I know this? Because I listen to what he says. Not to what somebody else says he said, but to what he’s said himself. Primary sources folks, primary sources.

      So what does Beck get wrong? He gets climate change wrong, he gets evolution wrong, I’d go so far as to say he gets God and what God wants of us wrong. But then again, I’m a strong supporter of free will and freedom of conscience. But I have yet to hear him say anything disparaging of non-whites, unless you twisted her words out of all proportion, or you were determined to show him a racist.

      I am aspers (at least I have reason to suspect I am), so I don’t see things the way others do, but I just don’t see how any rational person could call Glenn Beck a racist. I have not heard him speak like a racist, I have not seen him act like a racist. I can and do differ with him where climate change is concerned, but that does not mean I must condemn his stand on race based on what some bigot said.

      There, I’ve said it, a bigot. One so anti Beck he attribute to the man qualities and flaws he does not bear. Damn him for the wrongs he has done, but not for the wrongs he is innocent of.

      One last thing; I am aware of the various vids on UTube and what they purport to show. Let me ask you this, have you seen the original? Have you seen the video the snippits were taken from? Have you watched them before they were edited? And doubt not that a fair number of them were edited to give the impression the accuser wanted them to give.

      Primary sources, good people, primary sources. Keep that in mind where any subject is concerned, but especially people you disagree with.

        1. Yup. Beck pushes right up to the line of what’s currently socially tolerable, and then goes a bit past. The sorts of things he rants about wouldn’t even occur to a civil libertarian or a humanist. Even those bits he rants about that’re backed by facts wouldn’t be on the radar of anybody but a racist.

          My own money would be that he’s really sorry he can’t dress up in a bedsheet and walk around with a torch, but — at the very least — there’s no doubt but that he’s at the opposite end of the civil rights <=> Jim Crow spectrum from the ACLU and the NAACP.

          Remember, Beck is a devout Morm^Hon. It’s only been recently that they’ve stopped officially denying membership based on melanin expression, and their church is still the whitest branch of Christianity you’ll find outside of the Dominionists and their ilk. Unabashed racism is as prevalent in the multitude of Moron splinter factions as is old men “marrying” multiple child “brides.”



        2. You trust Media Matters? Well I don’t. On subjects I know something about I find them unreliable. Can’t mention any specifics, because my brain don’t work that way, but my experience with Media Matters is of a collection of people who will spin and twist data to fit their own beliefs.

          1. On subjects I know something about I find them unreliable. Can’t mention any specifics,…

            This is a chickenshit response. Whether you trust Media Matters or not, they’ve supplied specific references to Glenn Beck’s rantings. That means you can check them without any reliance on Media Matters say so.

      1. “…gets God and what God wants of us wrong.”

        Oh, good. Please elaborate. I’m sure the world is anxious to hear the true Will of God, as he’s (God’s obviously male) revealed it to you.

        Of course, the above was sarcasm. On a more serious note, it takes formidable self-delusion not to see that alterity plays a huge role in the conservative worldview. Even if not made explicit.

        1. Alan, if you choose to reply to JS1685’s post, do me a flavor and start by explaining which of the multitude of gods eponymously named, “God,” it is whose presumably-incomprehensible mind it is you’re so finely attuned to.



            1. If you’re only guessing, how do you know Beck’s “got God wrong”?

              I see “progressive” theists make this move all the time. It seems to me to be a form of the Eddington Concession. But it doesn’t score them any points. The reasoning goes: if I admit there’s no good evidence and that “God” is in fact just a hypothesis, it will show how rational I am, and help prove my case.

              Um, no. It only weakens your case. On top of which, you undoubtedly say to yourself, immediately after making the concession, “but I know I’m right.”

    2. Obama is far more than John Birch could ever have hoped for

      I’ll agree with you, but probably not as you intended. And I think you mean Robert Welch. We really don’t know what John Birch would have hoped for.

    3. It’s even worse than that really. It’s not because he’s conservative. It’s because he buys into the importance and superiority of the “swing voter” more than any politician in recent history.

      I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that’s generally what “middle class” is basically saying. And in this mind, the middle class wants low taxes, rising investments, a struggling lower/working class, the illusion of perfect security for them and theirs, etc.

      That’s why we’ll see that the “middle class” tax package, in 6 months will be paid for by deductions in services to the most vulnerable and needy in our society. Wait for it.

  5. The tea party’s nothing new to me. I grew up in white flight suburbs. It’s always been the government taking the hard-earned money of good white people and giving it to the niggers. I don’t use the word fascism lightly, but inciting this long-standing neo-Confederate worldview in a deep recession seems a predictable route to it.

    1. I’m sorry, but consider the fact the during the Bush administration, the Patriot Act was put into place, and the govt. had the right to wire tap into the phones calls made by US citizens, checks your bank records, etc. and basically give you no privacy whatsoever. There was also silence and arrests of journalists who were writing articles about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, which was torturing exclusively Muslims (some who were affiliated with terrorism, but some who were innocent). In Nazi Germany, the government was budding into phone calls, silenced the press, and did hold those secret concentration camps where they held Jews, gypsies, POWS, gays, etc. Where was the tea party then? Why weren’t they defending the constitution then? Why are you calling Obama a Fascist?

      Fascism is not the Same as Socialism.
      Fascism is right-wing ideology and Socialism is left-wing ideology. So please don’t mix those up. Socialism is not bad at all. There are plenty of socialist countries that are the happiest places to live b/c of free healthcare for example (Sweden, Netherlands, etc.)

      I’m sorry that people like you can’t deal with someone who is BIRACIAL
      (aka. half Kenyan, half European American so if you are going to call him the N word and other racial terms towards blacks, you are going to have to call him “whitey” “cracker” and “honky” and other racial terms towards whites as well) with a more African than European name, too bad. Not everyone in the world has to be like you. (and it would be better if they were not like you no matter their skin color, ethnic, and religious background) and the reality is non-Whites are just as much American as Whites (In fact Native Americans are and should be called the REAL Americans)

  6. Because I never pass up an opportunity to give Hitchens a well-deserved smack when it comes to politics:

    Bottle-scarred veteran of the Sending-Other-People-Off-To-Die-In-Wars Wars Christopher Hitchens has apparently stumbled off his barstool and wandered outside for a smoke (‘kazzle-frazzle Liberal anti-smoking law fascists mumble-grumble …’) and lo and behold! There’s a bunch of total fucking nutters gaining real political power in this country!

    Thanks for noticing, Chris. But no thanks for helping to seed the ground for their emergence in your small way by reliably playing the role of ‘even-the-liberal-Christopher-Hitchens-thinks-killin’s-too-good-for-Muslims-and-anyone-who-says-different-is-a-traitorous-appeaser’ for the last decade.

    via Sadly, No!

  7. I have nothing that makes this better, except to refer you to Van Morrison–“Into the Mystic”.

    It’s not a lot, but it’s the best I can do, in a post that’s about Glenn Beck.

  8. Heh, This article is 100% wrong. The fact that you bring up mediamatters makes your case even less credible J.C. Just to let you know MediaMatters(MM) is a character assassination site. What they do is that they takes entire videos an edit clip pieces and paste em together while reducing the frames as to make it seem it’s all one big clip. Or they just cut off parts of a clip to make you seem like an a-hole in any way they want. For example, in one clip a homosexual was talking to O’Reilly about the flak he gets for his sex life, O’Reilly responded by saying “Why dont you just shut up about your sex-life and no one will bother you?” MM took the clip and cut it off at “Why don’t you just shut up?”.

    MM is their to get get ppl they don;t like fired.

    Also Beck is anything but racist. I will let you know he actually adopted a black baby, if you search for the interview alongside his wife you will see. So the race card = 100% bull shit, especially when it comes from a liberal, and this is coming from an Hispanic.

    So you think much of opposition towards Obama is partially because he’s black? while that is true to some extent it would be a SMALL # of people. Not “much”.

    How about the fact that he is way to spend-thrift?
    You CANNOT spend yourself out of a recession/depression it’s keynesianism.

    He wants to raise taxes on everyone especially the rich which also does not work.

    The financial regulation bill

    Health care bill which was passed without even informing the public what was actually in the bill. Obama did not even know WHAT was in the bill himself, but that it would ” first have to be passed in order for us to know whats in it” ( so much for transparency http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJT6XNChso0 )

    The health care bill is 1018 pages long and was introduce by scum like Charles Rangel and Pete Stark. ( Pete Stark is the first atheist congressman btw and he actually believes that having more national debt is better then a surplus ).

    I can go on and on why there is so much opposition to such a president that really the race card is hardly effective at all.

    1. Hm, you may be right in your assessment of Beck’s non-racism, but you certainly make no sense when speaking about economics. Oh well. I am a pluralist; it takes all kinds.

    2. “You CANNOT spend yourself out of a recession/depression it’s keynesianism.”

      ‘Keynesianism’ works just fine. This fact is demonstrated by history. The problem is that people didn’t pay attention to what he said.

      You can and should spend your way out of a recession – that’s the only way we’ve ever ended one, except to just wait it out while people starve and freeze. Keynes also said you shouldn’t run a deficit during booms, and he was ignored completely on that front.

      The problem here is that Conservatives have a world view based entirely on the acceptance of any claim asserted boldly by someone who passes their ideological purity test. As a result, most of their actions and beliefs proceed from whatever lies happened to benefit the people in charge over the course of history history. Actual facts are irrelevant, and indeed undesirable, to the point that right wing christians are hard at work on a new, conservative bible, edited to remove the liberal bias. Apparently the innerant word of god, while sufficient justification for any piece of violence or oppression they might feel like implementing, is clearly incorrect and in need of editing down in other areas.

      I mean seriously, these people can’t even deal honestly and consistently with their own (supposedly sacred) mythology, and we’re supposed to take them seriously when they’re interpretting economic history for us?

  9. Like most Fundamentalist/Creationists the Becks can’t shake it. They cannot give in to reality and refuse to look at the facts. When I read something like their and Palin’s politicing profession of faith I go back and listen to Obama’s speach in 2008 about religions. I don’t care what color he is; he is a very, very intelligent persona and there is no doubt in my mind that he stands with us. Anyone that can publicly refute the billboards around the country which falsely claim that the US was founded on Christian Principals has a lot of moxy. To me Obama is one of the evolving improvements in the human race and has a lot of Jefferson in him but the Becks refuse to go back to the founding fathers and see and admit where they stood. Obama repeated their stance.
    Gayle Stone

    1. I agree with you, but I’d trade Obama in a heartbeat for a Born-Again Christian who would get us out of Afghanistan, who would shut down Guantanàmo and the underground international trade in government kidnap and torture victims, who would stop the mass warrantless strip searches of travelers, who would stop the warrantless wiretaps and other flagrantly unconstitutional police actions, and who wouldn’t gut the New Deal social support infrastructure, and…

      …and who wouldn’t, in general, see the tyrannies and heartless cruelties of past administrations as things we need even more of. Being able to understand that Jesus is Santa for grown-ups is so trivial in comparison it’s not even funny.



  10. “much of the opposition to Obama is based, pure and simple, on the fact that he’s partially black.”

    Most of the support for Obama is based on the fact that he is black. Sure, there are a few racist whites who hate him because he’s black. But there are tens of millions of racists who support him because he is black. He won 98% of the black vote; it wasn’t all because of policy positions.

    It’s just as racist to support a candidate because of his race as it is to oppose a candidate because of his race.

    Obama was elected because he is black. If it were not for his skin color, who would vote for a left-wing Chicago pol and agitator with no executive experience and little political experience whose sole skill is the ability to read a teleprompter.

    Racism (pro-black) helped Obama far more than racism (anti-black) has hurt him.

    1. Geez, I thought most of Obama’s support was because 1) he wasn’t Bush, 2) didn’t have Sarah Palin for a running mate and 3) didn’t seem, at the time, to be batshit crazy.

      1. I thought most of Obama’s support

        Ray, that is where you made your mistake, you thought, others know the truth and of course, that would make you wrong…

        If you just listened to Glenn Beck (disclaimer, I used to watch him on HLN*) then you would understand what he is about. Wait, let me should you on this chalkboard how you thinking leads to death panels for the elderly.

        *My wife would leave the room for two reasons, one, she found him disgusting and two, I was laughing too hard.

      2. Yup. And let’s not forget that, historically, blacks have always voted overwhelmingly Democratic at the national level.

        According to CNN, Obama won the African-American vote by 95% / 4% / 1%, and Kerry won the African-American vote by 88% / 11% / 0%. For comparison, Obama won the self-identified liberal vote by 89% / 10% / 1% and Kerry by 85% / 13% / 0%. In both cases, blacks favored the Democratic candidate by about five percentage points more than liberals as a whole.

        While I’m sure there were some blacks who voted for Obama because of his melanin expression as opposed to his expressed ideology, they’re a statistically trivial minority-of-a-minority. Just by the numbers above, we’re talking at absolute most 2% of black voters, assuming that the entire swing was due entirely to race and not to other factors. And blacks are only about 12% of the population as a whole. We’re talking less than half a percent of the electorate at absolute most.

        Mike’s notion that “Racism (pro-black) helped Obama far more than racism (anti-black) has hurt him” is laughably absurd.



    2. “It’s just as racist to support a candidate because of his race as it is to oppose a candidate because of his race.”

      No, it’s not. And even if it was, you have no way of showing that his support among blacks is racially motivated. None, that is, except your own sense of certainty that this is what is going on … which says more about you than it does about Obama’s black supporters.

        1. Can you give a single example from the mainstream media of somebody actually claiming that Obama is above criticism, let alone because of the color of his skin?

          Even his most ardent supporters have criticized him on various matters, and the House Democrats are debating whether or not to throw him under the bus on his tax proposal.


  11. I’m so glad Hitchens has stated this…and you’ve quoted him. When I first observed — with a sense of horror — the bizarre ugliness of the anti-Obama “movement,” my only thought was racism. When I’ve said this to friends I assumed were rational and intelligent, I’ve been amazed at how many say, in response, “Oh, it’s more complicated than that.”
    It isn’t.

    1. As a general guideline, if somebody is upset at Obama for being a socialist, chances are good that the real reason is they think he’s too melanistic; if the claim relates to the relationship between his tax policy and the deficit, race probably doesn’t play a factor.

      If somebody rants about “Obamacare,” suspect racism; if they complain about specific deficiencies of the health care reform act, don’t.

      Somebody who thinks Obama isn’t doing enough to fight terrorists because he’s a secret Muslim is a racist; somebody who’s livid with Obama for making strip searches and groping prerequisites for travel likely doesn’t give a damn what he looks like.

      It’s not 100% foolproof, but it’s an excellent first approximation.



        1. I’ll answer that as soon as you can show me where I claimed Obama is a socialist; when I’ve ever referred to the President’s health care reform attempts as “Obamacare”; when I’ve complained that Obama isn’t doing enough to fight terrorists; where I’ve suggested he’s a secret Muslim; or when you can demonstrate that you’ve stopped beating your underaged male prostitute.



        2. What? This reply makes no sense. What I took to be the thrust of Ben’s comment was that reasonable people capable of thinking intelligently about the issues generally have specific things to say about specific concerns they may have. If, OTOH, they offer only silly buzzwords like “Obamacare,” you can bet there’s not a lot going on upstairs. And racism is often a symptom of “uneducatedness.”

      1. BTW, I think Barack Obama is doing too little against terrorists because he’s cheap. Hell, I think George W. Bush did too little against terrorists because he’s cheap. Fighting wars are expensive, and trying to save money in the short run means wasting far more in the long run.

  12. I’m against a number of Obama’s policies. I’m against government funded health care for everybody, because I have to deal with government funded health care as an individual. I’m against the current health care law because it tries to do too much and does it poorly.

    There are aspects of Obama’s personality I don’t like. His condescending patronizing of people below his station, which is something one can see in populists of most any stripe. What I dislike most about the man is that he sees people as hapless, hopeless fools who need constant supervision and constant tending. To put it bluntly, he doesn’t trust you and me to do anything to our benefit. This impression I get from what he has done and how he speaks.

    Ladies and gents, not everybody in the world needs constant supervision. If that were the case we wouldn’t even have representative democracy.

  13. What I’d really like is a cogent explanation of American paranoia. The Russians are also paranoid but when you look at their history it’s not hard to see why. But the US has not been invaded since that little stoush in 1812 and its people are the wealthiest and most powerful in the history of the world so what the hell is the problem? I really don’t get it.

  14. This is my second comment on this . I am, in the words of Dawkins’es noble friend Douglas Adams, a radical atheist! Raised as a Southern Baptist Covention CHILD by a mother who taught Sunday School and a father ostricized from that church, some say “your” mother would be shocked for what you have become. I say NO, she would say, “THAT’S MY BOY,he does what he thinks is right!” Atheists are mild and understandng people but radical christians are veheminent red necked people who can not admit that, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, ‘the last 2000 + years have been for naught.’ People with the attitude of Beck should review the calm approach of Marshall J. Gauvin with the screaming abruptness of Billy Sunday, contemporaries of 90 years ago. We are all Africans! The problem is that all FAITHS do no want to admit that their forebares have been wrong for the past 2000 years, they just can’t shake it. These thousands of church spires that try to reach to a mythical heaven are a monument to futility and they still cant let go of something they have put so much WORK AND SWEAT into.

    1. being atheist isnt radical.its honesty,pure and simple.dont give them ammo.theres to many of them with real ammo.

  15. Here we sit with problems to be solved galore,and we are all forming up in a circular firing squad(all of us)endlessly responding to each others opinions.The reality in this vast howling(undesigned) universe,we are closer in size to a microbe,or a redwood tree or a blue whale than we are to the galaxy.we better get our predicament right,or nature will just roll over us whatever we believe.We need a no holds barred honest discussion about everything.As Bucky Fuller said honesty isnt the best policy its the only policy.go wikileaks

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