Glenn Beck has done a lot of good; he is a defender of Israel and an opponent of Islamic radicalism, and he has exposed many of the worst far left appointments made by the Obama administration — most notably, that of Van Jones. He has also unfairly been accused of anti-Semitism, of being a modern day version of Father Coughlin, and much worse. These charges are so out of whack that even one honest liberal has come to his defense on some of these charges. On the website of the New Republic, writer Peter Duffy explained that despite the charge made by the likes of Al Hunt, Keith Olbermann, NYRB writer Mark Lilla, and Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, “Beck is no Coughlin.” Being a left-liberal, Duffy doesn’t thinks much of what Beck says is defensible, but he writes that “the comparison to Coughlin is not only flawed — it is historically illiterate, denying Coughlin, pastor of the Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan, his rightful place as one of the most odious characters in American history.” Odious Coughlin was, and as Duffy acknowledges, Beck himself has spent much time letting his viewers know the truth about Coughlin, and why he despises him.
So one has good reason to be suspicious when leftists take after Glenn Beck, and one has to learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Nevertheless, sometimes even a person on the political left can be correct in some of the charges he makes. Such is the case to be made for Beck’s dependence on the views of the late W. Cleon Skousen, a name still rather unfamiliar to many Americans — although thanks to Beck, many Tea Party groups have adopted Skousen’s old books and taken them to heart.
The first writer to most recently take on Skousen in a major way and to criticize Beck’s endorsement of him is a leftist writer from the webzine Salon.com, Alexander Zaitchik. In his columns and his book, Common Nonsense, Zaitchik convincingly reveals the conspiratorial mind of Skousen, and shows in meticulous detail how Beck relies upon his analysis for many of his own theories. Yes, I fully realize that the author is a man of the left, and his book is marred by the invective and nasty tone that he constantly uses against Beck. But his reporting on Skousen is first rate. If you are the type of person who insists on dismissing every argument and analysis offered by someone on the left, and believe that there is absolutely nothing you can learn from a political opponent, you are ignoring his data at your own peril.
Next was conservative writer Mark Hemingway, previously at National Revie, and now a columnist for the Washington Examiner. Writing three years ago in NR, Hemingway pointed out the following:
Skousen had written a book entitled The Naked Communist, which even for 1958 is so irrational in its paranoia that it would have made Whittaker Chambers blush. According to Skousen, The Manchurian Candidate was a documentary — he earnestly believed Communists sought to create “a regimented breed of Pavlovian men whose minds could be triggered into immediate action by signals from their masters.”
Hemingway also points out that Skousen “was active with the John Birch Society throughout the 1960s, even going so far as to write another book titled The Communist Attack on the John Birch Society, accusing those that criticized Birchers as promoting Communism.” Since critics of the Birch Society included none other than William F. Buckley, Jr., you can finish the thought for yourself. Then in the 70s, in an analysis that is eerily similar to Beck’s thoughts on matters today, “Skousen accused the Council on Foreign Relations and the Rockefellers of puppeteering the election of Jimmy Carter to pave the way for One World Government, his new favorite topic. Things got so bad that the Mormon Church eventually issued an official communiqué distancing itself from Skousen’s organization, the Freemen Institute.”
Now, in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, law professor and author Jeffrey Rosen writes about Skousen’s view of the origins of the U.S. Constitution and how Skousen’s views have been adopted in a full-fledged endorsement by Glenn Beck, and from him to various members of the Tea Party. Rosen writes about the newly elected Republican (and Tea Party) senator from Utah, Mike Lee, who will replace the defeated Democrat, Sen. Bob Bennett. Lee, he argues, “has a truly radical vision of the U.S. Constitution,” one that “sees the document as divinely inspired and views much of what the federal government currently does as unconstitutional.”
Thus Lee proposes getting rid of HUD and the Department of Education, and favors the phasing out of Social Security. As I argued recently at the panel on the future of conservatism at the Restoration Weekend (see the addendum at the blog’s end), conservatives should support a fiscally responsible and necessary safety net that includes Social Security — paid, after all, out of taxpayers’ contributions taken out of their paychecks. We should be for a less powerful and bureaucratic federal government, but not, as Lee evidently believes, taking away almost all of its powers.