I Like Glenn Beck Because He's Fun to Watch
I am very shy about doffing my dainty kid gloves, hoisting up my petticoats and wading into the new libertarian-purity argument, a tidepool of insults, mutual excommunications and accusations of purge-ery that I don't understand. I'm not sure how the departure of a couple of metrosexuals from the Cato Institute counts even as notable, let alone as news. I predicted the term "teabagger" would by this time have been boldly adopted by Tea Party attendees themselves, and you can see how that turned out. I thought the disrespectability of libertarianism was the main attraction and am unsure why the style has become the object of sad-but-predictable kiss-offs.
I don't watch as much TV as I'd like to, so it had been at least a year since I'd caught Beck's program when news began breaking about all the new forms of radioactivity the Fox News host is emitting. It's not enough to call him a bigot, a religious undesirable, a gay marriage lunatic, a closet collectivist, a Marxist/Alinskyan or blind; rejecting Beck has now become shorthand for "I'm a libertarian but not that kind."
I smell a rat.
My right honorable colleague Michael Moynihan has amusingly limned Beck's freedom from accuracy, but the real reason I and my fellow coastal elites are wary of Glenn Beck is a lot more basic: He's the fat kid you don't want to be seen with at the lunch table. I'll admit it! I find Beck a little bit creepy and gross and needy, and he gives me this sense that things are not going to end well. But after hearing all this carping about him, I checked out a recent episode of his show to see if it had somehow changed from the breathless, flop-sweating dormroom tirade I remembered with some fondness. (It was the August 21 ep. if you want to check my math.) And my impression remains: Why is everybody down on this guy? Above all why are libertarians down on this guy?
Yes, he's trying, as Moynihan memorably put it, to learn history and teach it at the same time. But so what? Like the dumpy woman with low self-esteem we all dream of, Beck makes up in enthusiasm what he lacks in natural gifts. I like the sense that he's bringing you his findings as fast as they come in. You get the impression that two weeks ago Beck had never heard of Woodrow Wilson, yet now he has figured out that Woodrow Wilson was one of the most evil people of the 20th century, and he wants to tell everybody. There's something fun about that, a performance that invites you to help fill in details and fix errors. It's certainly something you don't see anywhere else on TV, a medium populated almost entirely by people who are more cocksure about everything than I am about anything.
And he's right about Woodrow Wilson.
It's understandable that you don't want to lose all your invitations, and the dismissive pose toward Beck stems from a well founded fear my fellow rootless cosmopolitans have—that if we seem too close to the cars-on-cinderblocks, chicken-coops-in-yards, shotguns-and-rockingchairs variety of libertarianism, we will lose the respect of liberaloids in New York and D.C. It's a real concern, but if the trade-off means you reject the Tea Parties—by far the biggest popular movement with a clear anti-government mood that has occurred in my lifetime – and in exchange you get to be comfortable at table with David Frum, well, that deal sounds like a loser to me. (Then again, I've never had dinner chez Frum/Crittenden. Maybe it's really worth it.)
So to the new up-from-libertarianism faction, I say: Allah makun; you're welcome back anytime, no questions asked. But I actually like this doughy Mormon over in his spooky little study, who as of the other day was advising his college student viewers in this way:
Don't you just take from [teachers]. You question them. You read everything they tell you not to read. You read everything they tell you to read, and then you read everything they tell you not to read. You find out why they don't like it. Challenge them. Find out on your own what's true.
I have no problem with that advice. Does anybody else?