Glenn Beck Declares War

Wingnuts author John Avlon reports from Glenn Beck's rambling CPAC keynote, in which the ultra-conservative talk sensation declared progressivism a "cancer" to be defeated, and compared America to a recovering alcoholic—like himself.

Glenn Beck’s closing keynote to CPAC was a rambling culmination of the conference's themes—a unified field theory of political philosophy that could be boiled down to this bumper sticker: Everything Bad in America is the Progressives’ Fault.

Glenn Beck declared war on “the cancer of progressivism” last night—and traced its persistent rot back to any 20th-century U.S. president not named Coolidge or Reagan.

In Bad Beck’s worldview, there’s not much room for civic debate between conservatives and progressives. It sounds like it’s time for a pogrom.

Like surprise straw-poll winner Ron Paul, Beck placed special blame on both Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, re-opening a musty century-old grudge match that allowed him to criticize both Democrats and Republicans for being too liberal. In this selective narrative, the only path to truth is doctrinaire conservatism. It’s a neat trick that achieves complete absolution. George W. Bush, for example, was not a true conservative because of his big-government spending and desire to export democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is not only a self-serving analysis of American politics—in Beck’s hands, it was a very self-referential prescription for America’s future. The Republican Party, and America itself, needs only to follow Beck’s own vividly recounted recovering alcoholic path to redemption: first admitting it has a problem—an addiction to overspending—and them committing to a path of personal responsibility. It is still morning in America, Beck asserted, but it’s “a head pounding vomiting hung-over kind of morning in America,” with a painful purge still yet to come.

The showman brought all his props to bear; the iconic chalkboard, his naïve Muppet-voiced foil known as “Clydie Clyde,” a long list of statistics and history lessons capped off with dramatic readings of Tiger Woods’ apology and Emma Lazarus poetry. If this kitchen-sink combination strikes you as palpably weird, you weren’t in the audience. Perhaps dazzled by celebrity, the connection of conservatism to self-help philosophy made the crowd roar with appreciation and applause.

But a less-invested listen revealed the contradictions that emerge whenever the Good Glenn Beck wrestles with the Bad Glenn Beck in front of a live mic. On the one hand, the Good Beck assures us, “If you have a different opinion, that’s OK… It takes the exchange of ideas” to make America. But the Bad Beck declares that progressivism was “designed to destroy the Constitution,” therefore “we need to address it as if it was a cancer—it must be cut out of the system because it cannot coexist. It must be eradicated.” In Bad Beck's worldview, there’s not much room for civic debate between conservatives and progressives. It sounds like it's time for a pogrom.

The Good Beck declares his essential optimism and belief in the strength of the American system. The Bad Beck warns “an economic holocaust is coming” while warning, “our government looks at the American people as the bad guy.”

The bottom line in Beck’s worldview is that conservatives have God and the Constitution on their side, while progressives represent a slow, intentional, and insidious slide to communist dictatorship. It’s absolutism disguised as apple pie, and the crowd at CPAC ate it up, newly assured that they own the exclusive rights to freedom, the Bible, and the American flag.

John Avlon's new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback. He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.