Friday, September 18, 2009

Is Glenn Beck Healthy for the Right?

Following the anti-Obama festivities of the weekend of September 11, 2009, headlined by Glenn Beck’s 9.12 Project and march on Washington, one must certainly attest that the radio and TV host wields some amount of influence on the grassroots Right and beyond. Beck’s exposure of the depravity of ACORN and a rare willingness to sharply criticize the Bush administration make him stand out among the conservative commentariat. But could Beck be just as much of the problem of the Right as its solution?

Watching in 2009, it might appear as though Beck would be a suitable spokesman for a Bush-less Republican Party. He wails against the bank bailouts and the readiness with which Dubya expanded the government. Beck’s eagerness to attack the Bush administration is commendable and many of those attacks are those which Republicans and conservatives need to hear because if someone’s goal is to cut government, restore individual liberty, and be governed by laws instead of men, the first fact that must be grasped is that today's Republican Party is not your friend.

The problem with windbag talkers like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and their minor league impersonators, is that they never seriously challenge the status quo of their party. This is done to the point that conservative talk radio may as well be called Republican talk radio. After all, these are the folks who jumped on the bandwagon for pro-choice, state-run health care Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. The speed with which they followed the empty suit perfectly illustrates how empty the vessel of contemporary American conservatism is. And it is why the talk radio medium ought to be generally, but not completely, ignored.

Is Glenn Beck different? It’s true that he frequently has Ron Paul as a guest, as well as his son, Rand. Judge Andrew Napolitano, who readily calls Republican and Democratic politicians the criminals that they are, is a regular guest host. Another regular is Professor Kevin Gutzman, a contributor to, among the most anti-Bush and anti-GOP establishment webzines, Left or Right, to talk about states’ rights, an issue faux conservatives avoid like the Bubonic plague. Plus, Glenn Beck openly criticizes the Republican Party when the sycophants are still tip-toeing around the fact that maybe Bush might have, possibly, done some things that might not have been quite okay.

I actually somewhat like Beck. His schtick can get a little tiresome, going from crying to yelling to having a fire-side chat all in the same afternoon, but he also does some relevant reporting. Everyone following the news right now has heard about Beck’s reporting of the ACORN scandals. He’s the only TV or radio personality I can think of who has actually taken a skeptical view of the Federal Reserve and the insane monetary practices of printing a trillion dollars. He’s also the only TV host I’m aware of who actually has members of Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty for segments on his show. To people like Rush and Hannity, Ron Paul is still a four-letter word.

Beck’s 9.12 Project is admirable and rather uncontroversial. “Common Sense” was a decent read and was actually pretty independent-minded, calling out both parties for their extravagance but most of it falling on the Democrats.

However, a recent mash-up video has surfaced where Beck can be seen calling Ron Paul a “crazy, kooky guy,” suggesting that last year’s bank bailout “wasn’t nearly enough” and that he “supported the Patriot Act.” Interspersed were neocon party lines of Ahmadinejad as Hitler who was making preparations for a second holocaust. (Also see this video where he contemptibly smears Ron Paul supporters for having a “money bomb” on November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, as domestic terrorists, oddly foreshadowing the Obama administration’s reports about potential right wing domestic terrorism which Beck would ironically denounce.)

Such a video obviously has the potential to be easily taken out of context and spliced together in Michael Moore fashion to make Beck look like a despicable flip-flopper. Indeed, anyone could be embarrassed by seeing their worst predictions all glued together. For example, in a needlessly rambling blog from over a year ago, I implied support for the war in Afghanistan over the one in Iraq, a position I certainly do not hold today.

Since the material from the nefarious video was originally uttered, Beck has admitted that he did support the Patriot Act but regrets it. In a more surprising video, Beck reveals that

“I guess the scales are falling off my eyes. . . . In 1900 with Teddy Roosevelt . . . we’re going to tell the rest of the world, ‘We’re going to spread democracy.’ . . . in Latin America, we really became thuggish and brutish. It only got worse after the next progressive came into office . . . the next one was a Democratic progressive, Woodrow Wilson, and we did, we empire built. The Democrats felt we needed to empire build with one giant, global government, it was originally . . . League of Nations . . . then it became the United Nations, one world government. The Republicans took it as ‘We’re going to lead the world and we’ll be the leader of it.’ I don’t think we should be either of those. I think we need to mind our own business and protect our own people. When somebody hits us, hit back hard, and then come home.” (emphasis mine)

If there is one issue that continues to unite the mainstream Right, outside of opposition to Obama, it’s the unwavering support for Bush’s wars. Even if it took him more than seven years, Glenn Beck should be commended for speaking out against enduring military occupations. May he keep it up.

But it’s still quite precarious that Glenn Beck has shed his more odious positions once the Republicans were thoroughly repudiated. His antics are a bit annoying, bordering on bad soap opera acting, but he still displays better independence than his more unoriginal talk radio colleagues.

So, is Glenn Beck healthy for the Right? Maybe, maybe not. Is he part of the solution or is he part of the problem? If he’s part of the problem, he’s far less of it than Rush, Hannity, Levin or Coulter.

Conservatives have been betrayed in an unrepentant fashion for the entirety of this century. If the evolution of Beck’s positions mean anything, it means that he might be a spokesman and a platform for an effective and genuine anti-government movement. It also means he’s someone who’s worth keeping at an arm’s length for any Republican Party that wants to move past the errors of the Bush administration.