Against Glenn Beck

Surveying the blogosphere, you’d think that the most important question about Glenn Beck is whether he helps or hurts the conservative movement. How upsetting. This three part Salon profile is easily the richest portrait we have of Mr. Beck’s career. It shows him to be a pompous opportunist perfectly willing to transgress against truth, morality and good taste in his quest for ratings. One scene details a rivalry he had during his days as a Top 40 disc jockey. The host at the competing station, an old friend and colleague named Bruce Kelly, suffered a personal tragedy. Mr. Beck responded by calling his wife on the air, and asking if she’d in fact had a miscarriage. When she replied yes, Mr. Beck joked that his rival couldn’t do anything right — not even have a baby.

Perhaps Mr. Beck is no longer as depraved — his biography includes a recovery from drug addiction and conversion to the Mormon religion. In any case, he remains demonstrably willing to engage in the most farcical sensationalism imaginable for the sake of ratings. This is a man who pretended to pour gasoline over a guest’s body as he brandished a book of matches beside him, who regularly employs the affectation of tears, who deliberately cultivates the mannerisms of an unstable loon, and who most recently pretended to throw a live frog into a pot of boiling water. All this on a show that prominent conservatives are defending!

Any halfway sensible person should be able to see that giving a man like that a national platform is the height of cynical, irresponsible broadcasting — the cable “news” equivalent of those Fox reality tv shows that pander to the worst impulses of the American public, and that conservatives know enough to denounce, despite their high ratings, for the corrosive effect they have on national culture. Mr. Beck is so awful “because he theatrically combines and conflates performances of ultimate sincerity with performances of ultimate sarcasm,” James Poulos writes. It is indisputable, anyway, that Mr. Beck employs misleading hyperbole, farcical sensationalism, and paranoid rhetoric on a nightly basis (afterward proving himself unable to offer even a semi-coherent defense of his own provocations).

Yet Jonah Goldberg defends him because “he’s fundamentally a libertarian populist. He’s not clamoring for the government to do more, he’s clamoring for the government to do less.” Ah, well. If he happens to hold or advance some of the same political tenets as you do, who cares if he lies or debases the culture or makes a mockery of public discourse?

David Horowitz is even more explicit.

Glenn Beck is daily providing a school for millions of Americans in the nature and agendas and networks of the left – something that your fine books do not do, and Mark Levin’s fine books do not do, and Pete Wehner’s volumes of blogs and speeches and position papers – all admirable in my estimation, also do not do. How are conservatives going to meet the challenge of the left if they don’t understand what it is, how it operates and what it intends? And who else is giving courses in this subject at the moment?

Now I have to confess my own vested interest in this. Because the fact is that I have been attempting to do this from a much smaller platform than Beck’s for many years. Five years ago I put an encyclopedia of the left on the web called Discover the Networks. It details the chief groups, individuals and funders of the left and maps their agendas and networks. Since I put it up five years ago, 20 million people have visited the site, many of whom have written articles and even books from its information. So far as I can tell, this site has never been mentioned by you or Wehner or Mark Levin or National Review or the Weekly Standard or the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. But it has been read by and profoundly influenced the producers and anchors at Fox News. Among these no one has used it so systematically and relentlessly and to such great effect as Glenn Beck…

Intellectuals like us have a role to play, but if you want to influence masses and affect real politics, you need someone who has the talent to command a mass audience and the dedication to put the information on the radar. Beck has done that with the most important intelligence of all: knowledge of the enemy.

So that’s why I’m defending Glenn Beck the broadcaster. I’ve devoted twenty frustrating years to revealing who the left is and what they do, while conservatives have continued to pretend that leftists are simply confused liberals. No they’re not. They’re malicious, and calculating and devious, and smart. And Glenn Beck is helping Republicans and those conservatives who will listen to understand that.

On reading Mr. Beck’s defenders, I can’t help but think that their judgment and integrity are being corroded by politics. The ideological battle between conservatives and liberals has become for them the most important struggle in American life — in order to win it, they are willing to defend and count as allies anyone in their insular world who advances the appropriate side in what they regard as a two-sided battle for the country’s soul. The most honest among them are explicit in arguing that their ends justify whatever rhetorical means it takes to achieve them. Even worse, they are using this total political warfare as a litmus test — temperament and political philosophy are insufficient to be a conservative in their minds, because they’ve redefined the term such that it demands loyalty to a political coalition and even the particular tactics it employs.

That the tactics are ill-conceived are grounds on which they’ll engage debate (even if they don’t see they’re on the wrong side of it), but if the tactics are merely abhorrent they’ll apparently abide them. These conservatives are neither evil nor tyrannical, but they are adopting less extreme, less harmful versions of the same approach to politics that characterized French and Communists revolutionaries. It is therefore no surprise that Comrade Beck is now being turned on by Comrade Limbaugh and Comrade Levin (the one among the trio who actually believes most of what he says), men who were content to hold their heavy fire through all manner of madness, but can’t abide the heretical Glenn Beck statement that the United States would be in worse shape under a President McCain than it is under President Obama. Even assuming that Mr. Beck is wrong, it is absurd to count that as the most objectionable aspect of his farcical stardom!

Can conservatives please agree that American society is best served if its citizens object to bad behavior even when it is committed by someone on their own side in a political battle? Can those liberals who are still defending ACORN please agree to the same proposition? Can we all agree that, a few outliers aside, people on the other side are well-intentioned, and not evil? The American republic is robust, and has survived acrimony far beyond anything we’re experiencing today, but surviving and flourishing aren’t the same things. Apologias for obviously bad behavior exact a cost. Let’s stop them.

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12 Responses to “Against Glenn Beck”

  1. Tweets that mention Conor Friedersdorf - Metablog – Against Glenn Beck - True/Slant -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stop Glenn Beck and Dave Drever. Dave Drever said: Against Glenn Beck: In any case, he remains demonstrably willing to engage in the most farcical sensationalism .. […]

  2. Against Glenn Beck - Southern Maryland Community Forums Says:

    […] […]

  3. Brian In NYC Says:

    Conor I agreed with everything you say except when you came to ACORN. In the first place what exactly has ACORN done that is so worthy of scorn from the right. We know the voter reg fraud charge is bullshit and aside from some stupidity on the part of a few hourly employees I’m very hard pressed to find fault with ACORN. Due to rabid insanity of the right thousands of people desperate for help will no get it because of funding cuts. We of the left are not defending ACORN because we approve of the stupid actions of a few employees, we defend ACORN because we see the attacks against it exactly for what they are, attacks against poor people or more often than not people of color.

    • cowboylogic Says:

      Brian, I have seen you emphatically defend ACORN on several stories.

      Even if ACORN is as pure as snow, I don’t see why they should get a penny of federal money.

      They were given special consideration in the Stimulus Package and as a group associated with the Apollo project, they had a hand in writing the Stimulus Package….Participation promised to them by Candidate Obama.

      This is as bad as La Raza being invited to have a seat at the table for the drafting of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Legislation, (McCain Kennedy) while we in the public were left in the dark about it’s existence till the last minute, and then outrage of outrages John McCain along with colleagues on both sides of the aile tried to get it voted on WITHOUT any debate and zero public input.

      This act was for me the act that shattered my image of law-makers carefully deliberating on bills and putting the COMMON GOOD before all else, especially pet organizations or special interests.

      Try to reconcile the activity of ACORN with the life of the man in the biographical movie “The Pursuit of Happiness”.

      There is nothing wrong with helping a person, but there is such a thing as that help becoming detrimental to the persons growth and dignity.

      We are catching fish daily for people who would better served if we taught them to fish. If you are able, are you not happiest when you are productive and running on your own steam, and able to help take care of the needs of those closest to you?

      I am.

  4. davidlosangeles Says:

    Mr. Friedersdorf,

    Politics is a full contact sport, it is not for the faint of heart. It involves (no less than) two teams who are battling for dominance on any given issue (or Sunday). There are usually plenty of undecideds who are to be won over but only after seeing how the partisans fight it out. Any given political battle is rarely decided by the “reasonable” people at the center sitting down in some Jeffersonian tea parlor to dispassionately discuss the issues. The great civil rights battles of the middle of the last century were not won by conservatives and liberals agreeing to dispense with annoying extremes voices. It was a knock-down drag-out fight and in the end the right side won. Let the champions of each side battle it out and the let the better side win.

    The people is not that “we can’t just get along” and if we all just take a long, deep breath we can work it out. Glen Beck & Co are speaking to and for people who have a fundamental set of economic and political interests that are completely hostile to the economic interests of President Obama. They have nothing to gain by compromising so why should they do so? These people are uncivil for for a reason, they cannot prevail in a civil discussion. If uncivil discussion gets the job done and a civil one does not, what other choice do they have? Without the social base that Beck & Co. play to, what do the Republicans have? They have nothing to gain by disavowing the Limbaughs and everything to loose.

    So there is no point is sighing and wistfully hoping for more civility from those who profit from incivility. Let everyone play hard and let the better organized team win.

  5. jamesgw Says:

    Van Jones and the other Czars, then ACORN.
    Glen Beck covered these stories when you did not, Conor.
    He covered these stories when nobody else did.
    He drew genuine blood from the President’s Administration and his allies.

    That is why you have a problem with Glen Beck.
    Because he picked up true information and told people about. It was information the Obama Administration didn’t want to talk about, so no one else did. But he did, and forced the President to confront those issues.
    If he weren’t for that, he would not exist for you.

    As long as Beck has no competition in disseminating new information, he will continue to thrive.

    It is *your* integrity and ideology that have been corroded by politics. You find Beck’s method’s abhorrent because they are successful.

    Lately I notice Beck has been talking about the Federal Reserve monetizing its own debt. I don’t hear anyone else talking about this.

  6. “These Are Not the Liberals You Are Looking For.” « In Tacet Veritas Says:

    […] any of the rhetoric of the right. And now the world is all in a tizzy over defending Glenn Beck. From Conor Freidersdorf: On reading Mr. Beck’s defenders, I can’t help but think that their judgment and integrity are […]

  7. billf Says:

    I am not a liberal who is defending ACORN, but I am also not a liberal who can believe any longer that both sides are equally well-intentioned. Any olive branch provided by the Left is used as a weapon by the Right. Any compromise is looked upon as a sign of weakness and advantage. For 8 years I watched while the constitutional beliefs behind our democracy crumbled, but never questioned the basic underpinnings of Bush’s legitimacy, the Right could not even give Obama a few months. If we were attacked today by terrorists, would the Right stand behind him as we united behind Bush, or would they use it as a justification that Obama should be impeached or assassinated?

  8. kirstin Says:

    The precious time you are spending spreading old dirt on Beck (and Limbaugh?) could surely be used to better purpose? We conservatives have to stop our old habits of finding endless reasons to split off from each other and use our time constructively to find as many reasons as possible to unite the greatest number of people in order to replace the misguided or intentionally deaf miscreants who currently sit comfortably in many an elected office in Washington. Our situation is extremely serious here in the U.S.A.? Our financial situation is dire. Our personal freedoms are dwindling more by the day. Our government won’t properly secure the border and often is more interested in accommodating illegal “immigrants” than its own citizens. Our jobs are leaking away. Yet, you seem to think that it is so very important to take aim at populists who are speaking out. Doesn’t something seem wrong to you with that value system?

    Glenn Beck can take care of himself. I’m not posting here as his defender, as he is not in need of my help, and I am not concerned with the state of his reputation per se. I say there are much bigger fish to fry (such as the state of our country) and I’m simply hoping that you and any others of like mind will reconsider your priorities.

    You ask whether conservatives can agree that “American society is best served if its citizens object to bad behavior even when it is committed by someone on their own side in a political battle?” My answer would be: yes. However, sometimes being emphatic is necessary in order to impress upon a particularly unwilling-to-listen politician the absolute gravity of one’s viewpoint. We are not playing “nice” in the backyard sandbox with nothing more at stake than good manners, making friends, and having a nice time together. We are talking about a pivotal time in our country’s history — perhaps it will turn out to be as pivotal as the 1770’s and 1780’s were for America. We are talking about possibly changing the U.S. into something besides the republic is has thus far managed to remain (well, loosely, anyway). So, I think it is entirely appropriate for citizens to be a little unruly in town hall meetings if that’s what it takes to penetrate the thick hide of a senator or representative.

    And Beck? Hey, he has to decide for himself how he will behave. Do I think he sometimes is over the top? Sure. But that isn’t a fatal flaw, and he is hardly alone. Check out “Ed” on MSNBC or some of the other media people who think diametrically differently most of the time if you have doubts.

    The point is that conservatives have to get out of the habit of holding themselves out of the fray because it is too dirty. Tough for us. If we are going to save our republic and re-stock Washington with people who respect and will abide by the Constitution, we have to get out there, and we have to recognize that everyone who may be something of an asset to the cause won’t necessarily be completely pristine and won’t necessarily do everything as each of us might prefer. We conservatives should, of course, maintain our principles, but we have to do that without such theoretical pugnacity that we take arrogant swings at anyone or anything that we don’t agree with 100%.

  9. medwards2 Says:

    I was going to give your article a true look and judge your input to make sure that I wisent being taken by the Glen Beck’s rhetoric. However when I got to the part about the live frog being thrown into a pot of boiling water I knew something was wrong! I wonder if you actually watched that episode of the Beck show, or had you just heard about what happened! There are two possibilities.

    A) No you didn’t see the show. In which case, you should not propagate hearsay … That will make a fool out of you. You should know better!


    B) Yes, you did see the show. In which case you are very naive and fell into a trap that Beck set-up and you were too stupid to understand. If this is the case you my friend, are the very people that he is warning about. You are a person that can’t understand the deference between right and wrong. I should not explain this to you, but Beck gave many hints that the frog in the pot was just a stunt. He knew, and you should have known, that only part of the story would be reported and he knew he would be called a frog hater and cruel by those who only want to hear part of a story.

    So I stopped reading your article at that point and concluded that you are the first case, just a fool!

  10. Against Glenn Beck - Page 4 - Southern Maryland Community Forums Says:

    […] […]

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