Glenn Beck, Community Organizer
The Fox News star’s plunge into political activism is more than rank hypocrisy. It’s the work of an unprincipled propagandist who’s draining his followers’ bank accounts.
Remember when Glenn Beck accused President Obama of winning followers like a totalitarian demagogue, warned against the nefarious tendencies of community organizers, and was himself defended against critics by Jonah Goldberg, who called Beck "a libertarian populist?”
Now the cable television host is touting a "radical," details-to-be-announced mass movement that promises to save the United States.
Even if Mr. Beck adopts my every political position, however, I'd still count him a man that all principled people should denounce.
Its name: "The Plan." It includes a series of adult education seminars where citizens will be taught political activism, self-reliance, and the dread community organizing. The often tearful Fox News personality also promises a book that will include more specifics. "We need to start thinking like the Chinese," Mr. Beck said at a recent rally. "I’m developing a 100 year plan for America."
• Benjamin Sarlin: The Man Who Beat Glenn Beck • Watch Glenn Beck’s Craziest Moments At long last, prudent conservatives and libertarians are growing uncomfortable with Mr. Beck's rhetoric. I hope Mr. Goldberg is among them, as there isn't anyone better to write a National Review take-down of The Plan, titled Libertarian Fascism: How Glenn Beck Got Cover from the Right Until It Was Too Late to Stop Him. It wouldn’t require much work. Large excerpts could be copied and pasted from the paperback version of Liberal Fascism, Mr. Goldberg’s recent bestseller:
And then something funny happened. A self-proclaimed ‘transformative’ leader formed a self-declared 'movement,' powered in large measure by a sense of historical destiny ('This is the moment!'), yearning for national restoration ('We will make this nation great!'), demanding national unity at all costs, and glorifying itself for its own youthful energy. At times his most conspicuous followers were blindly devoted to a cult of personality with deeply racial undertones and often explicit appeals to messianic fervor.
• Reihan Salam: How Glenn Beck Saves Lives Lucky for us, the change that Mr. Beck most desires is the kind his followers give the Barnes and Noble cashiers. Earnest revolutionaries sometimes lay out first principles in written manifestos, but I've never known one to sync the revolution itself with Simon and Schuster's book release schedule. It is nevertheless unfortunate that this "crazy-as-a-Fox-News-personality" blowhard will continue his outsize influence on public discourse, and continue to deplete Red American bank accounts in increments of $29.99 plus sales tax.
If the best overall account of Mr. Beck is the three part profile in the online magazine Salon, the most concise distillation of his style belongs to the libertarian scholar Charles Murray: "Beck uses tactics that include tiny snippets of film as proof of a person’s worldview, guilt by association, insinuation, and occasionally outright goofs like the fake quote," he writes. "To put it another way, I as a viewer have no way to judge whether Beck is right. I have to trust that the snippets are not taken out of context, that the dubious association between A and B actually has evidence to support it, and that his numbers are accurate. It is impossible to have that trust." What Glenn Beck does "is propaganda," Mr. Murray concludes. "Maybe propaganda has its place, but let’s not kid ourselves."
So long as Mr. Beck aimed his propaganda at the left, too many on the right were content to refrain from criticizing him in public. What they failed to appreciate is that he has always been a mercenary entertainer intent on maximizing his audience—and that folks disgusted with the Republican Party are a huge and growing demographic.
As it happens, I’d be perfectly happy to blow up America’s two-party system, so the newest incarnation of Mr. Beck puts him closer to my political preferences than he's ever been. How tempting to fantasize about all the good this charismatic entertainer could do by bamboozling America into trusting him, were the effect a politics freed from the pernicious distortions of the Republican and Democratic party machines.
Even if Mr. Beck adopts my every political position, however—lobbying to end the War on Drugs, stop the most pernicious aspects of the War on Terror, and implement my own idiosyncratic immigration reform package, among many other things—I'd still count him a man that all principled people should denounce. A political movement built on the rhetoric of a mercenary propagandist is a bit like a house built on a flatbed truck: once you've built it up all nice and strong, the driver is liable to move it somewhere you hadn’t any intention of going.
Alas, that isn’t an argument that’s going to persuade a subset of Mr. Beck’s audience, so I’ll try to conclude with words more likely to appeal to them:
I've been studying history lately. And I'm shocked by how many orators I've found who manipulate people through propaganda. They play on nostalgia, feign emotions for rhetorical effect, and hold themselves up as someone to be trusted in a scary world of far-reaching conspiracies.
It is only because I care so much about America that I want you to be careful of men like this. You'll know them by the millions of dollars they make from media corporations and the machinery of established political movements, even as they denounce the media and political establishment. The anti-Christ, Godlessness, atheism, Richard Dawkins, Simon and Schuster, Glenn Beck, Fox News, Karl Rove, George W. Bush, Medicare Part D, huge budget deficits. Don't you see the connections!!!
Today I am announcing a one year plan to radically diminish Glenn Beck's malign influence: stop buying his books!
Conor Friedersdorf, a Daily Beast columnist, also writes for The American Scene and The Atlantic Online's ideas blog.