No one much will ever likely care that Sarah Palin endorsed Glenn Beck in a puffy little capsule bio for Time Magazine’s 2010 list of 100 influential people, but I think it was a bad move for her – in what it required of her and and what it seems to say about the direction she’s heading.
Supporters of Palin and fans of Beck – or would it be fans of Palin and supporters of Beck? – will be happy to see them “together,” and enemies of both will be happy, too, if for different reasons. Getting closer to Beck may help Palin and other politicians with a wing of the conservative movement (or Beck’s x-million viewers and listeners), but I don’t see it helping with anyone else – to put it charitably.
For those keeping score on what everyblogger thinks about anything, I won’t pretend neutrality on Beck. Though I felt he played a mostly positive role in 2009, I was dubious of him even then, and am less and less able to approve of his impact on national politics and the national political discussion. In my opinion he gets too much wrong, and gets it wrong in a divisive and offensive, not to mention paranoid and kitschy way. His Christian-themed Fairey-ized Founder posters, for example, are no credit to the subjects, and you would have to be a conservative who despises Barack Obama and all of the Obami already – or just insensitive – not to understand immediately what a cheap, bizarrely combative, and insular gesture it is to use the images as an everyday backdrop: The depictions aren’t innocent, positive celebrations of the Founders: They’re disses of Obama and all of those “cancerous” progressives who are progressing – everyone with me – progressing toward what? The gulags! Concentration camps! Che! VAN JONES IS A COMMUNIST!! Anita Dunn loves Mao! (Play tape excerpt thousandth time.)
Governor Palin describes Beck as “like the high school government teacher so many wish they’d had.” Well, maybe on the surface, on the level of style – you don’t make $30 million+/annum if a lot of people don’t find you congenial – but, if I had a kid at school, and his “government teacher” came on like Glenn Beck, rightwing or leftwing or just plain peculiar, I’d have a problem with that. I’d have a problem with a high school teacher who said, as I heard Beck saying the other day before I had a chance to switch him off after Cavuto, “don’t trust anyone, everything you hear is wrong,” with the inescapable subtext “except for and from me, Glenn Beck.” I think he might have been talking about the Puerto Rico statehood plebiscite bill, which he apparently has some number of his fan-supporters believing is part of the big cancerous progressive plot progressing toward what? The gulags! The concentration camps! Euthanasia! Woodrow Wilson was a RACIST! TIVO my next show!
America, Sarah Palin should not be pretending that Glenn Beck is normal. Maybe you’re a fan or supporter of Glenn Beck with a tolerance for criticism that has allowed you to read this long at least. Maybe, objective sort that you are, you can admit further that GB’s not precisely normal – middle of the road, mainstream – and that someone led to his show by Sarah Palin might begin to wonder about her, or, more likely, have whatever pre-existing doubts about her judgment and where she’s coming from confirmed.
It would be clear to such a someone within a short while that Glenn Beck does not, again quoting Palin, “desire to teach Americans about the history of the progressive movement.” That’s ridiculously bland, a phony whitewash. Glenn Beck wants, as he has said, to destroy the progressive cancer to the last cell, and he insists that politicians (like Paul Ryan) adopt his language. Beck is not “doing to ‘progressive’ what Ronald Reagan did to ‘liberal’ – explaining that it’s a damaged brand.” Toyota is a damaged brand. No one is running around saying that Toyota is driving us, where?, to the Gulag! Buy Gold! Catch me and Bill O’Reilly live in your town! (For $160/seat.)
Ronald Reagan did “damage” the liberal brand, but he didn’t do it by treating liberalism as sub-human, a lethal disease. He declared the Soviet Union the “evil empire,” not the Democratic Party. Liberals were “our liberal friends,” “our friends on the other side” – and sometimes “our” golfing and drinking buddies, too. Aside from reflecting the fact that Reagan had liberal friends and even a few liberal/progressive notions from time to time, Reagan’s cordiality and openness gave him the political advantage over all those on the left calling him an “extremist” and using other brain-switched-off terms for him.
And those people who don’t bother to ring up Glenn Beck’s red phone? They’re not, as Palin puts it, “self-proclaimed powers that be.” They’re supposed to be the duly elected President of the United States and his administration. I’ve never heard them “proclaim” themselves “powers that be.” If they happen in fact to be the powers that are, they were proclaimed as such by Congress, after the tabulated votes of well over 100 million citizens in 50 states reached Electors, empowered as per Article II, Section 1, Clause 2, and the 12th and 23rd Amendments of the Constitution.
If and when someone replaces our current “powers,” it will, one may hope and expect, be by the same process, and it will very likely require many millions of those same citizens changing their minds. If polls and anecdotes are to be trusted – poll after poll and anecdote after anecdote – a lot of those citizens seem to have doubts about Sarah Palin, in part because they, perhaps wrongly perhaps rightly, consider her a captive and symbol of what Glenn Beck also represents to them.
Furthermore, if the current powers that be are replaced by ones more to Beck’s and Sarah Palin’s liking, it will be presumably through that same system that new winners will be proclaimed and invested with responsibility. At that point, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin will probably feel disappointed if the new powers don’t receive the respect they’re due from leaders and followers on the electorally vanquished other side. But a further erosion of respect is what Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin seem to be pursuing in their rhetoric, and, I’m forced to conclude, what they’re currently progressing toward.
I’m not arguing that conservatives need to denounce Glenn Beck and all his works – though, given his ratings decline from the commanding heights and his dependence on escalating political melodrama, we might anticipate some truly excessive excess, the hammer of nonsense finally exploding the anvil of desperation for a story, someday requiring one or more rightwing Sister Souljah moments from ambitious politicians, if only to make up for past conspicuous acts of self-interested ring-kissing. On that day, those who’ve established some healthy separation, in an abundance of good conservative caution, would be less likely to be hit by burning debris, trapped in the flaming pyre, or tumbled over and trod upon by those rushing panickedly for the exits.
In the meantime, America, politicians interested in distinguishing themselves for their clarity of mind, seriousness of purpose, and honesty should be willing to call out Beck, or anyone else, as they really see him. If they prefer to pander to his crowd and kneel before his mediatized eminence, or if they simply remain non-cognizant of everything that makes Beck Beck, then we’ll be forced to draw a different set of conclusions about their character, their capacities, and their aims.