The GOP's 'Beck Problem'

The debate over Glenn Beck is fascinating, but both sides have missed the real truth. Glenn Beck’s current position of prominence is a problem, but not for the reason that his opponents imagine.

The debate has come down to a question of whether Beck is good for conservatism. Dan Riehl argues Beck is made prominent by the media because he hurts conservatism. Bernard Chapin provides the counterpunch that Beck is under attack by the media because he’s good for conservatism and revitalizes it.

The problem is that few people are as strategic as Chapin or Riehl suggests. Certainly, Fred Phelps and his ghoulish family are given prominent media play to tar actual conservative Christians, and the media never mentions Phelps’ support for Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 1988. Similarly, I’ve seen people I know to be reasonable, decent folks turned into monsters by the media in order to marginalize them.

However, this can’t be said of all media action. Would anyone say conservatives are attacking Keith Olbermann to make him prominent to give us election wins? Your average voter could care less about the latest outrageous statement by the Sportscenter alumnus. Conservatives attack Olbermann because they don’t like him. If there’s some grand strategy behind it, it’s not working. Nor would anyone say that Sean Hannity has James Carville or Bob Beckel on his show in order to make Democrats look like buffoons. Well, they wouldn’t say it about Carville, anyway.

The news media is about passion, energy, and novelty. “George Will writes bland intellectual column” isn’t news. “Glenn Beck throws down the gauntlet to the Obama administration on national television while wearing lederhosen.” Now, that’s news.

It’s silly to charge Glenn Beck with being bad for conservatism and bad for the Republican Party. Do Beck bashers imagine that people are going to say, “The economy may be awful and I may agree more with the Republicans, but I can’t stand that Glenn Beck, so I’m voting for the Democrats”? Will that show up in the exit polls?

The job of a talk show host is not to help or hurt a political party, and it suggests a soulless view of politics where we exist only as creatures of “the party.” His job is to be informative and entertaining. Beck has done that for many years. Those who have become aware of Beck’s existence in the Obama years may not be aware that Beck has done several non-political concert tours across the country. In 2007 and the early part of 2008, when you tuned into Beck on the radio, you were as likely to hear about the previous evening’s episode of American Idol as you were the political issue of the day.

However, in the last couple of years, Beck’s show has begun to change, taking on a darker, more concerned, perhaps even apocalyptic tone, and with good reason. The country’s political elite has begun to take steps that move our country into immediate peril.

Beck has done something unusual for a talk show host by bringing forth ideas and agendas. Beck as a political commentator is not a problem; Beck as a political leader is a problem. Think of how well it would work if somebody had quarterback Brett Favre pitch a Major League Baseball game. Beck knows as much about leading a political party as Favre does facing down the Yankees.

Beck’s solutions sound like clichés -- populism with a touch of Oprah. At the march on Washington, Beck focused on corruption because corruption is bad and we all agree on that. Beck further extended an offer to fifty-six members of Congress to come clean, bash their own parties, and become one of the exclusive set of re-Founding Fathers (operators are standing by). And of course, Beck suggests non-partisanship as a solution to everything. “It’s not about right vs. left; it’s about right vs. wrong.”

The problem with Beck’s non-partisan/corruption approach is twofold. First, rank corruption is a problem, but solving corruption is not going to avert catastrophe. There is $9 trillion in debt coming our country’s way over the next ten years, $44 trillion in unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare. The idea that getting rid of corrupt politicians will solve this is like expecting that firing the first mate of the Titanic for embezzlement would save the ship.

However, I don’t blame Beck for offering shallow solutions. Beck is stepping forward because, like a lot of Americans, he’s scared and there’s a void. I blame the Republican Party in Washington. Americans are hungry for real political leadership that will understand the state our nation is in and take steps to remedy it.

Yet, Republicans in Congress seem to live in Neverland. They act like grown children with big credit cards, spending like there’s no tomorrow. My senator, Mike Crapo (R-ID), is determined to bring Amtrak back to Idaho. He and other supporters of the Amtrak line insist those who came out with a study showing the line would cost $493 million to reopen and then require $20 million a year in subsidies overestimated costs and suffered a lack of imagination. Of course, we all know how government-requested studies constantly underestimate cost. Certainly, Senator Crapo has no shortage of imagination if he thinks that we have hundreds of millions of dollars to expand a service that’s losing money throughout America.

And it’s that same way across the country. After having their majority reduced to an eighty-seat minority, Republicans still can’t find the nerve to ban earmarks. There is no sign of slowing in the pork-filled gravy train that stops in most Republican districts in this country. Watching these leaders spend like there’s no tomorrow and ignore the mammoth-sized deficits reminds me of Christ’s description of how people lived in the days of Noah. Like members of Congress, they were living their lives as they always had until the flood came and carried them away.

An economic flood is coming. It doesn’t require being a prophet in the desert to see it. The massive debt obligations being taken on by this government are going to become an economic tsunami that will wipe out the economic prosperity and liberty of the American people. We know this debt is bad news. It’s a problem for which Americans are awaiting a solution while GOP House and Senate members continue with business as usual. No wonder 71 percent of Republicans say that GOP members of Congress are out of touch.

Perhaps the king of the out-of-touch crowd is Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). He completed the transformation of the NRSC from a campaign committee that helps Republican nominees for U.S. Senate to a committee which expresses its supremacy to every Republican Party in the nation from Colorado to Florida for the promotion of leaders who will fit right in with the out-of-touch Republican leadership in Washington.

It is not that NRSC recruits liberal Republicans in states where a conservative couldn’t easily win, such as Delaware, Connecticut, or New York, but the NRSC recruits and backs such candidates in states where a more conservative Republican could win, such as Colorado, Florida, and even Illinois. Nearly every candidate backed by the NRSC, if elected, will become part of the problem the day they are sworn in.

Now isn’t the time to forget the Republican Party; it is time to fight for the soul of the Republican Party. To abandon the GOP is to abandon the Marco Rubios of the world to the Charlie Crists. It is time to fight for those who are conscious of the times in which we live and will not hide their head in the sand. It is time for some primary challenges to those who refuse to face up to their responsibilities and have forgotten their conservative values, if they ever had them in the first place.

The prominence of Glenn Beck should be taken as a sign that says, “Help Wanted: Leadership.” The question is whether anyone will answer this call for help and begin the hard work of saving our republic.

If they do, in a few years Glenn Beck can go back to talking about American Idol.