Defending Glenn Beck

He’s been called a “fearmonger”; a “buffoon”; a “fake revolutionary”; a “loudmouth idiot pundit”; “easily the stupidest,” compared to Michael Savage and Ann Coulter, “in this pool of incredible stupidity”; “clearly psychotic and paranoid”; “ a “spokesdouche”; a “ranting hobo”; a “right-wing blowhard who talks endlessly about stuff he doesn’t have a clue about”; a “crybaby purging every last tear from his body”; an “insane, delusional, and paranoid whack job”; “a perverse and high-impact media spectacle”; a “wife beater”; a “moron in a hurry”; “a dick”; a “demagogue”; a possible murderer; a “lying scumbag”; a “complete and utter tool”; and, to make a very long story short, conflating from many other sources, a purveyor of hysteria, lies, ridiculous rants, and pathological utterances. The yada yada appears to be endless.

There is no question that Glenn Beck’s native exuberance can propel him into the ozone of the intemperate. Is Barack Obama really a “racist,” as Beck claimed, “a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture”? The basis for this verdict was Obama’s premature and blundering intervention in the Gates-Crowley controversy, claiming the white police officer reacted “stupidly” in arresting the black professor, which made the president look as intemperate as Beck is purported to be. One might criticize the president for unseemly haste, lack of judgment, failure of imagination, or personal bias -- all worrisome traits in a head of state -- but the charge of racism is clearly beyond the pale.

Ron Radosh points to a polemical earnestness in Beck that can render him prone to misreadings of events and embarrassing assumptions. Some of Beck’s statements obviously do tend to soar over the top, but such fulminations are also a function of talk radio or TV advocacy and are common to media hosts on both sides of the political spectrum. Keith Olbermann, when he is “on,” can reduce Beck to the status of a Trappist monk. Consider the hatchet job that Olbermann did on new Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown who, according to the MSNBC pundit, is an “irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against woman and against politicians with whom he disagrees.” I can’t think of anything Glenn Beck has said to rival this upchuck of vulgar bombast, yet Olbermann has largely gotten away with his logorrheic obscenity. Nor does Beck traffic in the trademark snideness of, say, Jon Stewart. And we must remember, too, that political commentary in this day and age has left the requisites of decorum far behind. David Frum’s serial pummeling of Sarah Palin, for example, looks more like the airing of a private vendetta or some lurid obsession than the development of a reasoned analysis.

As for George Bush’s treatment at the hands of a liberal-left press, let’s not even go there, for fear of infection.

Where Beck differs from his detractors, whose vehemence and malice know no bounds, and from his media competitors, whose use of the tar brush is often far more problematic, is in his undoubted patriotism, his historical erudition, and the acuity of his argumentation. This is especially true of his published writings. For example, his Common Sense brings Thomas Paine, a major architect of the American Revolution, back into the contemporary American political scene at a time when he seems to be needed most -- at precisely the moment when the founding principles of the Republic seem to be at risk. Beck’s little volume turns to the past in order to consolidate the future, a conservative treatise in the true sense of the word “conservative.” Or alternatively, a liberal manifesto in the true anti-authoritarian sense of the word “liberal,” as understood in John Locke’s seminal Two Treatises of Government with its emphasis on the sanctity of life, liberty, and property.