Glenn Beck and the Paranoid Center

You may have seen Christopher Hitchens' essay in Vanity Fair attacking Glenn Beck, the Tea Parties, and "the manner in which the more sophisticated conservatives attempted to conjure the nasty bits away." Ross Douthat, one of the sophisticates under attack, has written a capable response, and I'm not just saying that because he's kind enough to quote me in the process:

Hitchens is absolutely right that paranoia can lead to disastrous follies, and crackpottery to violence. But do you know what else has often led to folly, disaster, violence and human misery? The "moderation" and "centrism" of the Western governing class. It wasn't Glenn Beck who mired the United States in two neverending overseas occupations, where "gun brandishing" is the least of the everyday horrors that flow from our policy failures. It wasn't the Tea Party that decided to create two new health care entitlements (Medicare Part D and Obamacare) just as America was about to go over a fiscal waterfall. It wasn't kooks and reactionaries who got the European Union into its current mess. It wasn't the radicals of the left and right who risked the global economy on a series of disastrous real estate bets, or locked our government into a permanently symbiotic relationship with the banking and financial sectors, or created a vast labyrinth of unaccountable bureaucracies in the hopeless quest for perfect security from terror attacks. And to bring things up the present day, it wasn't the more "extreme" members of the Senate -- be they Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn on the right, or Bernie Sanders on the left -- who just voted for more short-term spending and tax cuts without any plan to pay for it.

The point, again, is not to justify paranoia or conspiracy theorizing. But an outsize paranoia about paranoia -- what Jesse Walker has dubbed the "the paranoid style in center-left politics" -- seems like a rather odd response to a political moment in which nearly all of our overlapping crises are the result of disastrous misgovernment at the center, not "gun brandishing" and violence at the extremes. The Tea Party's politics are not my politics, but the movement has virtues as well as vices, and at the very least it represented a possible alternative force at a time when our politics desperately needs alternatives, whether right-wing or left-wing or something else entirely, to the policies that have led us to our present pass. Nothing good may come of it, but an awful lot more ill has come from politics-as-usual of late than from grassroots populism.

It's true that while Glenn Beck isn't to blame for those eternal occupations, he did support them at the start. It's also true that Beck has moved steadily away from that earlier interventionism; his foreign policy stances today have more in common with those of Ron Paul than those of George W. Bush. Pop quiz: When did Beck's public reputation take on its current demonic dimensions, when he was a hard-core hawk or a relative dove?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Tim||

    Glenn Beck durbatulûk, Glenn Beck gimbatul,
    Glenn Beck thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.

  • ||

    Rob Schneider derp de derp.
    Derp de derpity derpy derp. Until one day, the derpa derpa derpaderp.
    Derp de derp. da teedily dumb.
    Rob Schneider: Whoa!

  • Joe M||

    I think it was when he got a job at Fox News.

  • ||

    While talking about the ridiculous "No Labels" party, Jonah Goldberg made a good point about rampant centrism. It was that there is no iron law that says what is considered centrist is always the best or even a desirable position when compared to the radical fringes. A hundred years ago the measured centrist position of the David Brooks and Tom Friedmans of the day was that while slavery was bad and Jim Crow not very good, blacks were still an inferior race that were not worthy of full participation in society or due the same respect whites were. It would have been entirely centrist and reasonable to say blacks and whites should never marry and that blacks were as a race intellectually inferior to whites. To say otherwise would to have been by any reasonable measure of the day a radical.

    People who constantly whine about the extremes and the need for centrism want to claim a monopoly on what is reasonable. And they want to freeze what is reasonable to its current standard with no exceptions for change.

  • ||

    Very good point.

    "Centrist" is, in dictionary terms, ultra-conservative.

  • West Texas||

    People who constantly whine about the extremes and the need for centrism want to claim a monopoly on what is reasonable. And they want to freeze what is reasonable to its current standard with no exceptions for change.

    Exhibit A: The Rally to Restore "Sanity".

    Because anyone who actually cares enough to have a strong opinion - especially those on the right who disagree with Obama - must be insane.

  • Neu Mejican||

    From my read, the no-labels thing isn't really about centrism as much as it is about a willingness to cooperate and dialogue to come to a worthwhile solution.

    Political centrism often is about taking the good from both sides.

  • ||

    Well what is the "good from both sides"? That is the problem isn't it? And from what I read No Labels is about controlling political thought and speech as much as anything else. If we can just get people to shut up and stop saying things the no labels people don't like, things will be great.

  • SFC B||

    Yeah. THAT'S what they're trying to do.

    Unless you're reading something about the "No Label" (nee Coffee Party) group that I'm not, their definition of cooperation is that you agree to what they want.

    Any group which has Michael Bloomberg as a speaker needs to be viewed with a healthy dose of skeptism.

  • Leftist Play Book||

    When our policies hit a brick wall, and our popularity drops like a lead balloon, time to feign pragmatism.

  • ||

    Political centrism often is about taking the good from both sides.

    "Look everyone! More ends!"

  • Jill||

    The no-labels thing seems to be more about loser Democrats hiding under a new rock.

  • I don't even have the energy||

    to make a joke about RINOs from New England and NY and FL. Just fill in pathetic attempt at justifying party switching and electoral losses here.

    No labels, dude! Sounds like an earnestly naive 80's L.A. hardcore band.

  • Brett L||

    Except that its a banally cynical group of has-been establishment figures who bet wrong on "moderation" as the path to power and influence in the post-2006 climate.

  • I don't even have the energy||

    Nice point. I would venture a lot of them are just as you describe.

  • ||

    Okay, Neu Mejican, do me a favor. Explain to me why we should end the War on Drugs. Just don't imply that the issue of freedom is at stake. After all, opponents of the Drug War don't have a monopoly on believing in freedom. And all that talk about individual freedom really hurts opponents, as it makes them feel like you're trying to paint them as anti-freedom.

  • joel mendez||

    agreed. the 'centrist' view today is hardly reasonable.

  • ||

    In a successful species, most mutations are for the worse. Likewise, in most cases it's better to reject a radical idea and stick with the status quo. I know I sound like gaius marius here, but centrism and moderation represent an attitude that, while not perfect, has withstood the test of time and whose bad effects are relatively minor compared to the ill effects of radical ideologies.

  • Tim||

    Three Rings for the junk bond kingsunder the sky,
    Seven for the investment banks in their halls of stone,
    Nine for investment banks doomed to die,
    One for Glenn Beck on his dark throne
    In the Land of Palin where the Shadows lie.
    Tea Parties to rule them all, Tea Parties to find them,
    Tea Parties to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
    In the Land of Palin where the Shadows lie.

  • Pants-Wetting Paranoid Center||

    I CAN'T STOP WETTING MY PANTS!!!!! Tim is so right!!!!!!!

  • Kolohe||

    You know, regardless of one's politics, that's not too shabby.

  • RyanXXX||

    Glenn Beck just ignores foreign policy 95% of the time. If he has become an anti-interventionist, he likes to hide it

  • West Texas||

    I'm ambivalent on the question of ignoring foreign policy necessarily. Lately he certainly doesn't advocate certain foreign policies over others, but he certainly likes to rant about foreign affairs from time to time - the Euro situation, North Korea, Iran, borrowing from the Chinese - and lament how certain issues that affect U.S. interests are either ignored or underemphasized.

  • ||

  • ||

    Why? You gonna spear and torch some fatties?

  • ||

    Nah, I gave up on that. They're really tough to caramelize correctly.

  • ||

    You have to turn the spit really fast. With those behemoths the momentum makes this quite easy.

  • ||

    How is this a national security threat, anyway? I WANT really fat people in the Army.

    If I ever have to fight in a war, dammit I want to be standing right behind the fattest person I can find when the bullets and shrapnel come flying!

  • ||

    War is the health of the state, buddy!

  • Warty||

  • ||

    "If you die of heart disease over here, you can't die in battle over there!"

  • Old Mexican||

    It's also true that Beck has moved steadily away from that earlier interventionism; his foreign policy stances today have more in common with those of Ron Paul than those of George W. Bush.

    Uh... -ish.

  • ¢||

    When did Beck's public reputation take on its current demonic dimensions, when he was a hard-core hawk or a relative dove?

    I just wasted several minutes hunting down the anti-Beck media surge (as a statistical entity), and it looks like the code red was ordered in summer 2009. There was no war news for Beck to talk about then, because Obama's ascension had ended all war (coverage). So, neither.

  • Old Mexican||

    You may have seen Christopher Hitchens' essay in Vanity Fair attacking Glenn Beck, the Tea Parties, and "the manner in which the more sophisticated conservatives attempted to conjure the nasty bits away."

    I only know of the existence of that magazine because of their peddling of child porn(*)






    (*)Yes, the Miley Cyrus photos. What else???

  • Dogged Lee||

    She's like 16. Don't your old countryman marry 12-year-old girls?

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Dogged Lee,

    She's like 16. Don't your old countryman marry 12-year-old girls?

    Not without parent's consent... which is just as difficult to obtain as from American parents of 12-year-olds, if not more.

  • prolefeed||

    Miley Cyrus is 18. And if she was only 16, she would still be legal to fuck in Hawaii.

    Child pr0n isn't what you think it is.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: prolefeed,

    Miley Cyrus is 18. And if she was only 16, she would still be legal to fuck in Hawaii.

    Unfortunately, I don't live in Hawaii. FORTUNATELY, I don't live in Hawaii AND have a 16-year-old daughter. And MORE fortunately, I don't have a 16-year-old daughter AND live next to you... you're creepy.

  • Pro-fessor David Epstein||

    Here at the Huffington Post and Columbia University, we like for our daughters to ripen a bit before we bang 'em.

  • gooch||

    pedophile is not the correct term for guys who lust after teen age girls, I call it heterosexualism, but I be damned if I can remember what the doctors call it.

    Just don't fall into the scaredy cat date line mommy trap of mislabeling everything.

  • ||

    Speaking seriously, the term for attraction to pubescent persons is ephebophelia. And yes, it's fundamentally different from pedophilia which is the attraction to prepubescents.

  • ||

    Age of consent /= legal age for porn

    For the purposes of federal child porn statutes, 18 is the legal age nationwide.

  • jasno||

    Beck scares me - it's like he believes all(most) the right things for all the wrong reasons.

    Oddly enough I just watched a few minutes of GB the other night with my wife. She was curious as it was the first time she's seen his show. It didn't take long before he tried to link the attack on the British royal's car and the slogan 'off with their heads' to the idea that Europe was about to undergo a full-scale meltdown/revolution. The facts are right, but the analysis is wrong.. so wrong. That, to me, makes guys like him really dangerous.

  • ||

    It is certainly speculative. But I don't see how it is exactly beyond the pale to think that Europe, facing financial collapse and an imploding welfare state, might undergo a full scale revolution. It is not like it hasn't happened before. Why were 1792 or 1848 just one time occurrences?

  • T||

    Wait, a wrong analysis makes a talking head dangerous? I'd think there are more dangerous people out and about than Beck, since some of the bloviating, pertrouserating fucktards ain't been right yet.

  • West Texas||

    And some of them are actually elected officials with power, too.

  • joel mendez||

    um...yes, it does. When people actually base their voting on what you're telling them, being constantly wrong is a recipe for disaster--lots of people listen to gb...statistically there must be a few who aren't playing with a full deck...http://www.bnet.com/blog/advertising-business/6-lunatics-inspired-by-fox-news-and-glenn-beck/6399

  • T||

    When people actually base their voting on what you're telling them, being constantly wrong is a recipe for disaster

    And look, we have a President in office to prove it.

  • C'mon man||

    I believe that about wraps that nonsense up. Indeed, T. Indeed.

  • ||

    Joel,

    We've got a tax cheat as the Treasury Secretary, another tax cheat until recently was the head of the House Ways and Means Committee, the banks on the hook to the government, a deficit of over a trillion dollars, the auto companies in bed with the government, the government shutting down websites that have the potential to violate copyright law but leaving websites that publish state secrets alone, airport security guards fondling passengers' scrotes, and socialized medicine on the way. Glenn Beck is the least of our worries.

  • Keith Olbermann||

    I agree. We don't need scary radicals like Beck. Where do the networks come up with these guys? Bloviating Bullshit all the time.

  • Alan Grayson||

    Good call, Keith. Beck is nuts.

  • Ed Schultz||

    Agreed. Beck is a nutjob.

  • prolefeed||

    who just voted for more short-term spending and tax cuts without any plan to pay for it.

    Oh for fuck's sake, not this again. The government CAN'T "pay for" tax cuts -- especially when they aren't "cuts" at all, it's just the government continuing to steal the exact same huge amounts they've been stealing all along.

    The only thing that the government can "pay for" is spending.

  • ||

    agreed and also for fuck's sake, the 60 or so new republican house members aren't even in congress yet. why would anyone think the democrat controlled house and senate would cut spending to offset tax cuts anyway? jesus h christ on a crutch, let's hold the gibberish until the new house is in session before we crucify the right wing for continuing ethanol subsidies, expanding the military role in the middle east, bailing out more banks, oh wait.

  • ||

    Any retailer who keeps their Black Friday sales going all year round is going to have to find a way to pay for the lower-than-normal prices.

    2003-2010 was the government's Black Friday sale for the wealthy.

  • hmm||

    It's true that while Glenn Beck isn't to blame for those eternal occupations, he did support them at the start.

    Saying that in the face of some of the justifications of Reason staffers for voting for Obama is kind of funny. Even if some still think he was the better choice.

  • ||

    One should also note that some of Reason's staff were a bit hawkish about the Iraq war as well.

    Note: I am no innocent I supported the Iraq war from when it started to about 2005 or 2006.

    2nd note: I never voted for Bush.

  • hmm||

    I'll never claim innocence about making stupid rash decisions. The key is recognizing them for what they were and changing them. Not the initial decision itself.

  • 107th Congress||

    You fucking hypocrite.

  • Iraq Liberation Act of 1998||

    You've got some nerve, joshua corning.

  • ||

    The only ones left who voted for Obama are Bailey and Cavanaugh, if I recall correctly.

  • Daniel||

    I think it's fair to point out that the Bush policies were not at all "centrist", as Douthat slips in there, whether you agree with them or not. Those policies were full-blooded neo-conservative, which is very different than traditional American conservatism: its more ideological in domestic policy, and more focused on international games.

    People at the center, from my perspective, generally want to be leveled with like adults, to be allowed to pay for things that are important (whatever you think those things are), and to have somebody in government keep an eye on big companies so we don't get taken for a ride again. They're mostly good people, but, sad to say, I don't think they have a role in the modern GOP.

  • West Texas||

    Oooh, big scary companies!

    Everyone knows that the best way to combat the damages from rent-seeking through over-regulation is through even more regulation and oversight!

    If there is no role for that in the modern GOP, sign me up.

  • ||

    Yes West Texas, if only there were no such place in the GOP for such people as opposed to the reality which is such people run the whole damn party.

  • ||

    So you are saying people at the center believe in meaningless platitudes? Sadly that makes more sense than it should.

  • nj||

    I am not sure dove is the right word to describe Glenn Beck's foreign policy views. Frankly, his foreign policy views tend to change on a daily basis.

  • joel mendez||

    this is common in schizophrenia.

  • Jesse Walker||

    I am not sure dove is the right word to describe Glenn Beck's foreign policy views.

    I called him a relative dove. Compare where he is now to where he was five years ago.

  • West Texas||

    I think that's a function of where he saw us domestically five years ago. He's preoccupied with thinking that the U.S. is going off the cliff, so to some degree, he's dovish only in the sense that he thinks we should take care of our own house first and our purposely using foreign adventures as a distraction from that. He's not dovish just because he thinks it's none of our business or responsibility, necessarily.

  • ||

    When did Beck's public reputation take on its current demonic dimensions, when he was a hard-core hawk or a relative dove?

    about 2008 when he moved to Fox News and about the time Obama took office.

    I know this not because i watch his show but because someone accused me of mimicking him over the issue of racism in the lefts long history of Jim Crow and FDR and good ol Woodrow Wilson. So I looked it up...mostly on wikipedia....and noted that i was talking about it as early as 2006 with fun debates with Joe.

    He basically reexamined his politics when Fox news gave him a platform that allowed him to reexamine it.

  • joel mendez||

    Sorry, Jesse, the fact that you call an ad hominem attack by Douthat a 'capable response' puts you squarely in the wrong. Fact is, no matter Hitchens' gripes (which, btw are wholly justified), arguing that Hitchens should 'take the beam from thine [his] own eye' is hardly intellectually competent-though in Douthat's defense, I cannot see how he could do anything else--a statesman he is not. See how that works? When you attack a person and not his position, you aren't smart, you're a child-and when you defend an ad-hominem attack, you're a sycophant. But thank you for playing.

  • Jesse Walker||

    At no point in the passage that I quoted does Douthat engage in an ad hominem attack.

  • C'mon man||

    Let me try and clarify for Comrade Joel: you're nothing but a goddamn right-wing apparatchik, Jesse. Reading comprehension aside, you're a sycophant.

  • Prohibition Kills||

    Quote the ad hominem part please.

  • Prohibition Kills||

    Sorry dude. 1 minute late.

  • ||

    ad hominem == disagrees with me

  • ||

    From my read, the no-labels thing isn't really about centrism as much as it is about a willingness to cooperate and dialogue to come to a worthwhile solution.

    To me, it looks like the usual establishment liberals trying obfuscate business-as-usual under a new marketing wrap, following the vicious electoral beating establishment-liberal business-as-usual got in November.

  • T||

    That's exactly what it looks like to me. Whenever liberals get their ass handed to them, they try to rebrand.

  • ||

    I wonder what Glenn Beck would start saying tomorrow if he read Mein Kampf. It's like he just discovered good ol' book-learnin'.

  • C'mon man||

    I like Hitchens, but that column was a joke. He also makes a reference to Obamacare as being bipartisan if I remember correctly???

    I've watched all of Hitchen's debates, read a couple of his books, and regularly read his columns. I couldn't agree more with most of what he has to say.

    Unfortunately, he's seems to desperately need to see racism in everything like most on the left. It seems like this must be a generational thing.

    For all of the profound, poignant arguments/diatribes he has made about religion, it's a shame he doesn't stand in the mirror and make the same ones while replacing the word religion with the word state!

    Religious totalitarianism will eventually die, but state totalitarianism not so much!

  • ||

    Any man who does not bow before God will bow before a tyrant.

  • Max||

    "I'm not just saying that because he's kind enough to quote me in the process"

    Yes, you fucking are, you attention-hungry libertoid asshole.

  • Brett L||

    Wasn't Hitch an "invade Iraq on Human Rights grounds" guy? I'm pretty sure I remember reading that article in 2002 or 2003. If Beck's views have evolved, that would be great. The 12 Steps and Spiritualism for America is a little creepy, but at least it features responsibility and is against government nannyism. I don't mind joining up with him until we get to the end of our common ground on that stuff.

    Anti-establishment figures in the modern era are always painted either too stupid, or too crazy. See Goldwater, Reagan, Paul, etc. Maybe its true, maybe its not, but just because the establishment press labels someone that way doesn't mean I'm going to buy in without investigation.

    I'm not a particular fan of Glenn Beck, but the more people dismiss him as crazy/dangerous/stupid, the more convinced I am that he's a threat to the establishment.

  • MlR||

    When he became a dove and started talking nicely about Paul.

    That's what cost him his protection from the mainstream Republicans.

  • BWM||

    I'll go with Rand on this one; if everyone compromises, if everyone gives up a chunk of what they care about, no one is happy. Compromise politics just makes everyone feel cheated, and promotes the politics of pull. Not that we can't compromise ever, but the mainstream political class today sees compromise as a stand-alone virtue, not as a necessary step for government. To sacrifice your principles "just because" is a horrible policy.

  • waite||

    Here's Hitchen's takedown of Michael Moore, but also includes some of his arguments for intervention in Iraq.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2102723/

  • filbert||

    Actually, I think Beck's always made an attempt to question the "received wisdom" of the conservative side of the house. I'm not exactly sure when he started calling himself "libertarian" instead of "conservative" but he seems to be fairly steadily edging away from the Limbaugh-Coulter style conservatism towards some sort of weird strange faith-based libertarianesque . . . uh . . . um . . .
    FoundingFatherWorshipism?

    It would be interesting to get Beck's current take on the whole "entangling alliances" thing, as well as Jefferson's little adventure against the Barbary pirates . . .

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement