I Come Not to Praise Glenn Beck, But to Bury Him

When originally endeavoring to write an approximately 800-word opinion piece on Glenn Beck, I hadn’t taken into account what a truly difficult task it would be. I’ve no desire to alienate some of my many friends on the right currently embracing Beck. But I do have this terrible habit of usually speaking my mind. Glenn Beck deserves credit for what he is doing to hurt Obama -- there is no question about that. But in thinking about the man overall as a media figure today, one allegedly aligned with the right, I also have serious concerns. I tried to do my best to address the topic fairly, and I regret that so complex a topic took me almost 1,800 words.

Given the down feeling across the right after last year’s elections, it’s almost exciting to watch Glenn Beck inject a new vitality into the nation’s political discourse. Nearly every one of Beck’s shows packs the respect, depth, sincerity, and intelligence of a good joke at a funeral parlor into one uproarious hour after another. I don’t know how anyone can keep from snickering ... at least a little bit. So, what’s the harm in a good joke?

The harm as I see it is that so many seem to be taking the joke seriously. But can you blame them? No, probably not. The media culture of today has done everything in its power to prevent the right from seeing a serious, effective leadership emerge on the national stage. One need only look back to the recent -- in fact, ongoing -- mistreatment of Sarah Palin to demonstrate that. A deeply informed and experienced radio host, Mark Levin, has broken out in the radio world with ratings that make Glenn Beck’s real numbers look like the third tier radio host he actually is. Levin also wrote a significant New York Times bestseller, moving well over a million copies by now. But there was no Time cover, no Newsweek splash, no Katie Couric interview for that. Have you ever paused long enough to ask yourself why?

Full disclosure -- yes, Mark Levin has become something of a dear and trusted friend. But please don’t mistake this as carping or defense on his behalf. Mark is the last person I know who needs or wants to be defended by someone else. My opinions in this matter have nothing to do with Levin and everything to do with the future of the right and the desperate need we have of winning a large number of state and district elections in 2010. And I am not suggesting that Glenn Beck should somehow shut up, go away, or stop pointing a finger at this out-of-control leftist White House whenever he can. Let’s be clear about that. What I am suggesting is that at least some relatively small but vocal amount of people are misunderstanding why Beck is getting the media exposure that he is.

In short, the elitist media gets the joke. They are not putting him up there because they find him an effective, articulate spokesman for the right. They find him an oddity, something they can pin prick and laugh at. And consciously or not, they also know he has the potential to do tremendous damage to the right while having accomplished very little if anything much at all to help it himself. And that’s a fact. He was given a non-prominent microphone and television show in a mostly uncompetitive time slot, replacing a very decent but relatively uncompelling and beyond-his-prime John Gibson. And piggybacking on the efforts of others, Beck has displayed tremendous marketing ability, or his handlers have, in making the absolute best use of it while also doing damage to a politically dangerous White House. He deserves praise and full credit for that.

However, we should not confuse what it is and what it is not, nor lose sight of the extremely dangerous time bombs he has planted for the right as he’s gone so thoughtlessly and carelessly on his way in doing it. First some facts as to what Beck has and has not actually done in terms of damaging the Obama administration. From the 9/12 tea party march, to Van Jones, the NEA scandal, and ACORN, none of these were the genuine work of Glenn Beck. He did no heavy lifting on any of those stories other than ginning up noise around them on his show, often milking them for days while, to genuine observers, all the facts were out there for anyone of a mind to find them out. That isn’t an insult. He has a television presence and it’s good that he’s currently using it to capitalize on stories that help the right and undermine Obama. I’m not begrudging him that.

But his attempt to co-opt the tea party movement with that silly 9/12 Project nonsense that never actually caught on was the most ham-fisted and perhaps only insulting one of them all. Nine principles and 12 values? Can anyone even name them today? They were supposed to be what it was all about once. Oh well, at least one of his marketing schemes hasn’t tracked, so we do know he’s human after all. The D.C. tea party protest was always planned to come off. All Beck did was come up with a scheme to weave into it, trying to make it his, and it failed. I know because I was there. Aside from whatever more rabid fans he may have encircled himself with for his broadcast that day, nothing about 9/12 was about Glenn Beck. The movement preceded him, just as it preceded Obama, having started under Bush. And frankly, getting off one’s duff and getting involved in local or state party politics or actively joining up with the tea party movement is the only thing that’s going to help take back America and set the Republican Party right for the center-right. In that sense, Beck is a distraction, if nothing else. But he is also something far worse. He’s a genuine danger to us and we need to sort that out.