Why Glenn Beck is not entertainment

We all knew he loves America, but just look how much he loves his grandmother.

We all knew he loves America, but just look how much he loves his grandmother.

Those of us who spent the last two days eating Twix for breakfast and hurtling across America in a rocket-powered supertruck missed out on a few current events, not the least of which was Barack Obama’s speech to Congress about health care reform. Fortunately, it turns out that we didn’t need to listen to the President’s speech, because it didn’t matter. That’s the contention of Glenn Beck in this editorial at Fox News.com, brought to our attention by the vigilant and unmerciful Ben Fowlkes. Beck’s argument—which he calls, eerily, The One Thing—is that the content of Wednesday’s speech didn’t matter because the Obama administration is pursuing a broader course of action that is not yet clear. Presumably, a speech to Congress about what that course of action is might address that problem, but Beck isn’t interested, and he doesn’t think you should be, either. “While we don’t know what their grand plan is,” he writes, “it feels more and more like a plan designed by the Teamsters, the seemingly criminal elements that run ACORN or Hugo Chavez’s regime.”

Probably, Hugo Chavez is designing White House domestic policy—everybody knows that. Let’s examine the two primary clauses in Beck’s sentence, though. If I read it correctly, he’s saying that A) we don’t know what Barack Obama’s plan for the nation is and B) the plan appears to be the work of unions and socialists. These two statements are, of course, utterly contradictory. I don’t know what the contents of Glenn Beck’s head are, but it seems more and more like several bundles of hair and string, plus about fifty Slim Jims. His piece is a masterpiece of bogeyman-ism, filled with unfalsifiable assertions like “The tools to build their ultimate new America will be buried in these bills — tools that you won’t even see because you don’t know what tools they need.” The Obama plan for America is total and reprehensible, and we can’t see it because we don’t know what it is. It’s everywhere, like the Force, and it’s nowhere like, um, the Force. All we really see are its architects, and as Beck says, “until we know where the people in Washington stand on the Constitution, nothing should pass.”

Frankly, we should have made these people swear some sort of oath to uphold the Constitution before we even let them take office, but it’s too late for that now. Beck then embarks on a long digression about Cass Sunstein, Obama’s newly-appointed regulatory czar who, according to Beck, believes that dogs should have lawyers. It seems possible that Sunstein’s position is being misrepresented, but that’s not the point. The point is that anyone involved in the federal government is prima facie unqualified to run the federal government. “People in Washington don’t get it,” Beck reminds us, without specifying what “it” is. “You know it.”

At this point, if you’re like me, you are once again cruising eBay for a long, curved sword. My usual course of action when presented with such arguments is to remind myself, for the purposes of stable functioning, that Glenn Beck is an entertainer. That’s the standard argument deployed by right-wing blowhards when confronted with their evidently deleterious contributions to political discourse. Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly don’t really have to believe that Barack Obama is equivalent to Hilter, because they’re just putting on a show. It’s all in good fun, as Beck’s theatrical crying and baffling logic signal to the reasonable viewer. Glenn Beck is not a man to be taken seriously. He is a clown dressed up as a political pundit, and his exaggerated goose-stepping and accusations of socialism are just a grotesque of real American politics. It’s entertainment, and nothing more.

Except that while he’s just entertaining them, Glenn Beck is also constantly urging people to do things. CSI: Miami doesn’t end with the characters turning to the camera and telling me to go out and solve crimes in my hometown, but Glenn Beck keeps saying that I need to “Go to D.C. Go to your town squares. Get your neighbors to go to your home, local bar, restaurant. Take a stand. Enough is enough.” And what stand should I take, exactly? Beck doesn’t even know what the pervasive agenda is that we’re supposed to reject; he only knows we should reject it. He’s not selling a political position so much as a lifestyle. Glenn Beck’s audience tunes in knowing they will agree with him in advance, and their political positions are no more the subject of debate than are punk rock hairstyles or hippie vegetarian diets. Being against health care reform and opposing all non-defense manifestations of the federal government is an identity for the Glenn Beck fan, not an opinion. Tea Parties and health care town hall protests are made for these people. They get to go out and yell, and their refusal to debate isn’t a flaw in their position but its cornerstone.

So we’re looking at a countercultural movement after all—and not a moment too soon, because Combat! was in danger of becoming a political blog. What are the hallmarks of the Glenn Beck Lifestyle? What does it mean to “never let these people tell you anything other than the truth?” As near as I can tell, there are two defining characteristics. The first is the refusal to participate in American political discourse, and the second is active participation in American politics.

The Glenn Beck person knows that just because you can’t prove something doesn’t mean it isn’t true. He can’t be convinced by the arguments of elected representatives or professional policy analysts, because those people are out of touch with Real America and probably have a secret agenda anyway. He only listens to the truth, which means he has to detect it in advance. He’s not sure what Glenn Beck is going to say next, but he agrees with him. Most importantly, he knows he has to stand up—stand up against the federal government, stand up against creeping socialism, stand up against death panels. His Senator can tell him there are no death panels in the actual health care bill, but he doesn’t get his opinions from some Washington type. As Beck puts it, “I can make the decisions for my own life. And if the government doesn’t like it, they can get the heck off my land.”

That last part sounds a little militant, doesn’t it? Beck’s primary concern is not that the American people be well-informed, but that they be strong. Like the guy who’s always urging his retarded cousin to go lift weights, he wants a force disembodied from any decision-making process. He is building a big, dumb voting bloc in American politics, presumably so he can deploy it whenever his own position becomes logically untenable. There’s a word for that kind of person, and it’s not “showman.” It’s “demagogue.” Call him a panderer, call him intellectually dishonest, but don’t call him an entertainer. He is writing a play about what happens in America tomorrow. His audience brought their guns to the theater.

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  1. I remember when I was growing up, there were always those braying pudgy caricatures spewing sophistry in the books and comics I read about dystopian futures. I never thought that future would actually come to pass in reality, though. Ah, how I miss youth, when the horror of the masses buying into reactionary propaganda was fantasy and not regularly broadcast on a major network.

  2. Do you think Glenn Beck knows that police officers are teamsters?

    Do you think Glenn Beck knows that native americans have a prior claim to “his land”, off of which he demands government get?
    (Parse THAT! Who says English majors can’t have fun???)

    Do you think Glenn Beck knows that his sweater looks like Tommy Hilfiger on acid?

    Do you think, as my dear old dad would say, that Glenn Beck knows his ass from a hole in the ground?


    The thought occurred to me hat a logic class should be a required course for all high school students. People don’t grasp the difference between a valid and an invalid argument: Straw man, red herring, modus tolens, ad hominem, all that good stuff (and venn diagrams, too) really taught me how to parse through rhetoric and get to the truth of a statement. We need it in our society.

    Does make me an elitist?

  4. LJS isn’t his mom. Mothership is.

    I took a college logic course in high school, and I completely agree. You’re not an elitist, smick. You’re also not a moron. Take pride in that!

  5. Great stuff. Beck has even ruined things for the real right wingers. He stole Ron Paul’s revolution and added some conspiracy theory / crap. A lot of real conservatives feel lost now days given that this crap has taken over the right.

  6. The one thing you fail to mention… Glenn Beck is willing to debate. The administration IS NOT. So if he so wrong and his view or perception is wrong than give him a reason rather than point fingers at him for questioning the way America is ran. That is his right, and yours, until your administration takes that away. Example: “White House wages war on Fox”… … Think about it. Obama’s little Mao loving soldiers call F.N.N. a joke or a smear campaign only because they ASK QUESTIONS!!! But the sad thing is he cant get any answers. And when you start questioning the gov. you wont either.

  7. In what way is the Obama administration unwilling to answer questions? They can be as evasive as anybody else who’s occupied the White House, but they hold press conferences pretty much every day. The idea that Fox News is being attacked because they “ask questions” is absurd—every media outlet in the country is constantly asking the President questions. I see no indication that the present administration refuses to respond to criticism or threatens to abridge freedom of the press. Look at the health care debate, and the months of negotiations in which the Democratic party has engaged even though they control both houses of Congress. Even in the administration’s declared opposition to Fox News—which I don’t think is a good idea, either—they made any sort of move to “take away” their right to question the government.

    Also, who are Obama’s “solders,” and in what way do they or the White House love Mao? Do they support a Maoist economic agenda, emphasizing the collectivization of agriculture and the government supervision of industrial development in order to bring our manufacturing capacity up to par with the economic juggernauts of Europe? Or are they pursuing a Maoist cultural agenda, by outlawing opposition parties and purging their own political organization of suspected dissidents? Or do you not really understand who Mao was?

  8. Yes they hold press conferences and interviews. Do you remember the interviews with the new Pay Czar and remember which network was excluded? The only one that shows opposition to the aministration and the only one that would ask questions they cant answer. Now that is absured.

    Now on Health Care Reform, I believe that the president is determined to pass a bill no matter how the public feels about it. With the incredible deficit do you think now is the time to add a trillion more to it. Imagine buying a new car, owning for five years and paying it for 10 years. WHAT THE HELL!?!?!?! That is the exact plan for this Health Care Reform.

    Mao Fanatics-
    Ron Bloom, Manufacturing Czar
    Anita Dunn, Communications Director

    Just to name a couple. Both also believe that capitalism is a joke and an outdated system. As Glenn Beck put it best, why cant we have leaders who quote and seek wisdom from our founding fathers.

  9. First of all, it is not the role of a news network to “show opposition to” an administration. News outlets and the journalists who operate them are obligated by their professional ethics to report in the least biased manner they can. Certainly, other networks than Fox have shown bias for or against various administrations over the years, but to the degree that they do so, they are not good news networks. Again, I think it’s a bad idea for the Obama White House to exclude Fox. But their rationale for doing so—that the network consistently displays a right-wing bias, and is therefore not a news outlet but an opinion organization along the lines of, say, the Huffington Post—is pretty much incontrovertible.

    Second of all, adding one trillion dollars to the deficit is not “the exact plan” for health care reform. The bills in the House and Senate, as well as the overall package described by Obama, are to be financed entirely through cost savings in other programs. That seems a little ambitious to me, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that proposed reforms will add $239 billion to the deficit over the next decade. That’s a lot of money, but it’s far less than, say, the war in Iraq, or the war in Afghanistan, or the interest on the debt accumulated during the Bush administration, or any number of other federal programs.

    Third, are you sure that Ron Bloom, who graduated from Harvard Business School and worked as an investment banker for ten years, thinks that capitalism is “a joke?” I assume that when you call him a “Mao fanatic,” you’re referring to the time he quoted Mao while addressing an investing conference in 2008. Bloom used the quote—”Power flows from the barrel of a gun”—to describe the cutthroat investment climate at the time; it is perhaps the most famous thing Mao has ever said, and is regularly quoted by people all over the ideological spectrum. Just because you quote someone doesn’t mean you agree with their political views. People quote Shakespeare all the time; it doesn’t mean they believe we should restore the English monarchy.

    Finally, you don’t think Barack Obama seeks wisdom from the Founding Fathers? The man was a lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago for twelve years. He cited Washington, Jefferson and Madison regularly during his campaign, along with Lincoln and the Bible and Martin Luther King. This guy is the President of the United States. If he were a Maoist, or a socialist fascist or whatever, do you think the Democratic Party would have nominated him? These are the same people who think Dennis Kucinich is too liberal.

    There’s a lot of misinformation out there, on both sides of the political debate. If you only get your news from one source, your political views are going to wind up being a copy of that source. It seems like you like Glenn Beck, and that’s cool, but sometimes Glenn Beck is misleading. He’s pushing a viewpoint, and he edits his show to present what supports that viewpoint. That’s fine if he’s right all the time, but I don’t think he is. The next time Glenn Beck says somebody in government is a Maoist, take a few minutes and do a Google search—I found that Ron Bloom quote on the first try. If Beck is right, it won’t hurt anything to check his sources. If he’s wrong, you’re preventing him from misleading you.

  10. I read the transcript, so I didn’t exactly see it, but his quote begins with “we get the joke.” The next several sentences are about cutthroat investing practices and the unfairness of financial markets, and as I read it, that’s “the joke” he’s referring to, not the economic system of capitalism itself. Again, if he considers capitalism a joke—whatever that means, exactly—why would he devote his entire life to business, labor relations and economic advising?

  11. Liberalism is Communism sold by the glass, and I can see you here in the echo chamber are about over the legal Constitutional limit.

    Why don’t y’all spend some MORE time confirming that Beck is a nobody. Because if you jabber loud enough, you might even convince yourselves.


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