Analyzing the colorful language of two of the right's loudest voices is Jonathan M. Metzl, author of The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease. Metzl is associate professor of psychiatry and women's studies and director of the Culture, Health, and Medicine Program at the University of Michigan.
Glenn Beck suggested as much in his in his recent keynote address to the Conservative Political Action Conference when he parlayed his own history of substance abuse into a critique of so-called big government. "I'm a recovering alcoholic," Beck explained. "I screwed up my life six ways to Sunday." Beck argued that his experiences as an alcoholic privileged him to critique the seemingly different "addictions" to government perpetuated by progressives and liberals. "It is still morning in America," he decried. "It just happens to be kind of a head-pounding-hung-over-vomiting-for-four-hours kind of morning in America."
For much of the following week, Rush Limbaugh used his own, well-publicized addiction to prescription painkillers—"Have you ever had a genuine addiction to something? Well I have and let me tell you about it"—as a jumping off point into full-throated damnation of President Obama and his "liberal" followers. "Liberals," Limbaugh told his radio listeners, "their lives are basically meaningless, their addiction to power and dominance and control is what drives them."
Such language is, of course, a savvy political construction. Beck and Limbaugh paint the fight against addiction, and by extension against liberalism, as a redemption narrative in which the fallen overindulge earthly sin and then disavow it in what Beck calls "come to Jesus" moments. Beck literally dropped to his knees during his CPAC speech to demonstrate how "I was completely out of control," then rose to show how "I'm going to stand up on my own two feet, figure it out, and because of that failure I can stand here today." Addiction testimonials do the dual work of appealing to a presumed base of religious conservatives and placing the ex-addict, like the convert, on higher moral ground. Former President George W. Bush, who to his credit would never dream of using his own substance issues to critique others, employed such salvation to enhance his evangelical credentials. Riding Bush's coattails, Beck and Limbaugh craft the angry, white, male addict in remission as the embodiment of a new American conservative ideal.