Mad Man of the Year
If Time’s David von Drehl had his way, he’d have us believe that all Glenn Beck is is a harmless entertainer on a par with Michael Steele’s dismissive appraisal of Rush Limbaugh, some polemical magnet who draws out the sweaty liberal kooks with their mimeographed paranoid conspiracy theories as well as the madding crowd of passionate conservative activists who unconditionally love him. Von Drehl doesn’t actually avail himself of the bromide but his obvious intention is to lead us to the conclusion that, between both the haters and lovers of Glenn Beck, the truth is to be found somewhere in the middle.
Admittedly, under normal circumstances, when dealing with fairly normal subjects, that’s exactly where the truth usually resides. And it’s a very safe position to take when dealing with (what do they euphemistically call people like Glenn Beck? Ah, yes, an “iconoclast”) controversial subject matter. Unfortunately for von Drehl, and even more unfortunately for his readers, there’s absolutely nothing normal whatsoever about Glenn Beck or the effect he has on self-styled conservatives.
Indeed, if you could get a pictorial image of what goes on in the mind of Glenn Beck a la The Cell, you would likely get a restless, howling panorama of a Hieronymus Bosch/Salvador Dali painting come to life. Indeed, the same could be said for other fellow conservative “iconoclasts” such as Ann Coulter, who in April 2005 had benefited from the same kid gloves treatment as Beck, courtesy of John Cloud.
The first paragraph set off warning bells in my head:
On Sept. 12, a large crowd gathered in Washington to protest ... what? The goals of Congress and the Obama Administration, mainly — the cost, the scale, the perceived leftist intent. The crowd's agenda was wide-ranging, so it's hard to be more specific. "End the Fed," a sign read. A schoolboy's placard denounced "Obama's Nazi Youth Militia." Another poster declared, "We the People for Capitalism Not Socialism." If you get your information from liberal sources, the crowd numbered about 70,000, many of them greedy racists. If you get your information from conservative sources, the crowd was hundreds of thousands strong, perhaps as many as a million, and the tenor was peaceful and patriotic. Either way, you may not be inclined to believe what we say about numbers, according to a recent poll that found record-low levels of public trust of the mainstream media.
Note here how von Drehl is quick to use the tactic of last Saturday’s actual numbers as being somewhere in the middle. Liberals are deliberately downplaying the number to undermine Beck’s spectacular success while conservatives may have been a little guilty of padding the numbers a bit. In truth, it wasn’t liberals who’d arbitrarily chosen the number at 70,000 (firefighters in DC had said that 30,000 was “a bit generous”) but virtually every mainstream media outlet, including Beck’s own network. Also, the likes of Michelle Malkin weren’t saying the crowd was a mere million but bloating their estimate to 2,000,000, citing as evidence deliberately misleading pictures that were taken years ago of a Promise Keeper's march on DC.
Undeterred by facts or any appreciable proportion of what’s true and actual, von Drehl offers up what seems to be a representative of Beck’s camp: A portrait of a cheerful, church-going, economically hard-hit Alabaman who is legitimately concerned about the health care debate. She and her congregation even held up signs saying "We ♥ G-l-e-n-n B-e-c-k." All that's missing are the brownies and hot chocolate served on doilies.
Then von Drehl says in the next paragraph, “Between the liberal fantasies about Brownshirts at town halls and the conservative concoctions of brainwashed children goose-stepping to school, you'd think the Palm in Washington had been replaced with a Munich beer hall.” Uh huh.
And I suppose we were imagining things when astroturfers beat up SEIU members during a St. Louis town hall or when gun enthusiasts were kept under close surveillance by the Secret Service at Obama town halls in New Hampshire and Arizona. I suppose we were all just being needlessly paranoid when Rev. Steven Anderson said repeatedly from his pulpit and on the radio that he wanted President Obama to die. I suppose we all jumped the gun a bit when Democratic congressmen were tarred, feathered and hung in effigy and when town halls presided over by these same Democratic lawmakers were disrupted time and again by incoherent screaming.
Von Drehl then offers this appraisal of Beck as if he's some kind of prognosticating, benign Rasputin:
No one has a better feeling for this mood, and no one exploits it as well, as Beck. He is the hottest thing in the political-rant racket, left or right. A gifted entrepreneur of angst in a white-hot market. A man with his ear uniquely tuned to the precise frequency at which anger, suspicion and the fear that no one's listening all converge. On that frequency, Frankowski explained, "the thing I hear most is, People are scared."
The problem with this is that Glenn Beck doesn't represent the vox populi anymore than did Cindy Sheehan for the progressive movement. To present Glenn Beck as some infinitely perspicacious social observer who has his finger squarely on the pulse of what's ailing America and who can sound the warning bells in time is, frankly, potentially dangerous. It's reckless, irresponsible and dangerous because it would give Beck and his army of screaming zombies the impression that something evil is truly afoot.
In the next section, "Fears of a Clown", von Drehl states,
Beck is 45, tireless, funny, self-deprecating, a recovering alcoholic, a convert to Mormonism, a libertarian and living with ADHD. He is a gifted storyteller with a knack for stitching seemingly unrelated data points into possible conspiracies — if he believed in conspiracies, which he doesn't, necessarily; he's just asking questions. He's just sayin'.
Again, von Drehl is feeding the delusion of Beck's and that of his audience that he can "(stitch) seemingly unrelated data points into possible conspiracies" with the genius of a John Nash breaking secret codes hidden in plain sight. Except that, his prodigious mathematical skills notwithstanding, John Nash was almost completely insane. And like Nash, Beck actually believes in the conspiracies he weaves out of gossamer. Anyone who saw his breathless performance seeing Communist iconography in the bad reliefs of Rockefeller Center and NBC headquarters saw not a man calmly proposing a valid theory but a sweaty man with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder breezing his way with breakneck speed through a conspiracy theory that was almost as insane as he is.
Indeed, "(I)t is Beck — nervous, beset, desperate — who now channels the mood of many on the right." Von Drehl obvious never entertained the thought that perhaps Beck doesn't channel a national mood as much as he's creating it just as Hitler didn't merely "channel" German nationalism. The paranoia on the downtrodden right may be a pre-existing condition but it's Beck who's largely responsible with rubbish about death panels, killing grandma, Obama's birth certificate and Communist (Communist?!) bas reliefs on public buildings. These are not the musings of a sane man.
And Glenn Beck is indeed insane to even the most casual yet impartial observer. If you cry on national TV more than John Boehner and if you're wrong more often on as many issues as Jerome Corsi, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Dick Morris and Bill Kristol combined, you have serious issues, period.
Later, von Drehl asks, "What's this rich and talented man afraid of? He is afraid of one-world government." Let's just leave aside for the moment that Glenn Beck is talented at anything besides breathing and defecating and go for the author's implication that Beck's fears of a one world government are legitimate. The notion of one world government, especially one run by Jewish bankers and papists, has been a rallying call and a favored conspiracy theory of right wing activists ranging from the KKK, neonazi white supremacists to militia groups to nativists who'd devoted their entire lives to kicking out the Japanese, the Chinese and other ethnicities. The one world government/New World Order has been a favorite conspiracy theory of every right wing lunatic fringe outfit in the last 80 or so years and if von Drehl would read David Neiwert's The Eliminationists or any other book that dealt even tangentially on the subject, then perhaps he wouldn't be holding up Beck's paranoid ravings about it as legitimate and justified fears.
"He is afraid that Obama 'has a deep-seated hatred for white people' — which doesn't mean, he hastens to add, that he actually thinks 'Obama doesn't like white people.'"
Yes, von Drehl writes this apparently with a straight face without once calling attention to Beck's reversal of himself mere seconds after saying that Obama had "a deep-seated hatred for white people."
There's a lot of things that Beck has said over the years that von Drehl blithely likes to pretend Beck never said, such as Beck saying, "It took me about a year to start hating the 911 victims' families." (Later in the clip, he also famously referred to the Louisiana victims of Hurricane Katrina as "scumbags.")
So what does von Drehl choose to remember? Not Glenn Beck calling hurricane flood victims "scumbags" or hating 911 victims' families but this inspirational moment:
On the recent anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Beck grew afraid that Americans may no longer be the sort of people who cross mountain ranges in covered wagons and toss hot rivets around in bold bursts of skyscraper-building. Tears came to his eyes (they often do) as he voiced this last fear. But then he remembered that the fiber of ordinary Americans is the one thing Glenn Beck need never fear. So he squared his quivering chin to the camera and held up a snapshot of ground zero, still empty eight long years after the World Trade Center was destroyed.
Poor Glenn Beck, lower lip trembling, tears standing in his beautiful blue, far-seeing eyes, pining away for a better and past America and fearing that we are no longer that country.
In fact, Beck went on to say during the aforementioned segment:
I believe that if it were up to you or me, just regular schmoes in America, the Freedom Tower would have been done years ago. And it wouldn't have been the Freedom Tower; it would have been the Freedom Towers — because we would've built both of these towers back the way they were before! Except we would've built them stronger! We would've built them in a way that they would've resisted attack. And you know what? My guess is they would've been 25 stories taller, with a big, fat 'Come and Try That Again' sign on top.
In other words, "Bring 'em on, especially since I didn't have to build it, pay for it or lose anyone in it."
Space and respect for my sanity forbids me from writing any further but I will say that von Drehl, predictably, makes the inevitable Howard Beale/Glenn Beck connection without once stumbling across the irony that Howard Beale, insane as he was, nonetheless told the unvarnished truth about ourselves.
In summation, David von Drehl's article is horribly-written, completely bereft of irony and admits absolutely no respect for the truth or of the opinions of liberals and progressives (because they are liberals and progressives, i.e. partisans who automatically cannot be trusted) who see Beck for what he is: Glenn Beck is not Howard Beale, but the very antithesis of him.
David von Drehl is a worthless hack and a borderline partisan hack at that, someone who should not be allowed to write eye exam charts or even spray paint directions on the street for city workers, a hack who makes the hiring of fellow Time scribbler Joe Klein look rational and pragmatic by dint of conspicuous relief.