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A Reasoned Response to Glenn Beck

It is sometimes alleged, with varying degrees of accuracy, that conservatives refuse to police the excesses of their own. Those persuaded by this argument should read Pete Wehner on Glenn Beck. It is a model of reasoned response to an emotional populism that is something less than conservative.

Wehner writes:

I don’t pretend to be an expert on [FOX News’s Glenn] Beck. In the past I assumed he was a typical figure in the pundit and cable-media world. Only recently have I watched portions of his television program, as well as interviews with him, and heard parts of his radio program. And what I’ve seen should worry the conservative movement.

I say that because he seems to be more of a populist and libertarian than a conservative, more of a Perotista than a Reaganite. His interest in conspiracy theories is disquieting, as is his admiration for Ron Paul and his charges of American “imperialism.” (He is now talking about pulling troops out of Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, and elsewhere.) Some of Beck’s statements -- for example, that President Obama has a “deep-seated hatred for white people” -- are quite unfair and not good for the country. His argument that there is very little difference between the two parties is silly, and his contempt for parties in general is anti-Burkean (Burke himself was a great champion of political parties). And then there is his sometimes bizarre behavior, from tearing up to screaming at his callers. Beck seems to be a roiling mix of fear, resentment, and anger -- the antithesis of Ronald Reagan.

I understand that a political movement is a mansion with many rooms; the people who occupy them are involved in intellectual and policy work, in politics, and in polemics. Different people take on different roles. And certainly some of the things Beck has done on his program are fine and appropriate. But the role Glenn Beck is playing is harmful in its totality. My hunch is that he is a comet blazing across the media sky right now -- and will soon flame out. Whether he does or not, he isn’t the face or disposition that should represent modern-day conservatism. At a time when we should aim for intellectual depth, for tough-minded and reasoned arguments, for good cheer and calm purpose, rather than erratic behavior, he is not the kind of figure conservatives should embrace or cheer on.

By Michael Gerson  | September 21, 2009; 5:18 PM ET
Categories:  Gerson  | Tags:  Michael Gerson  
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Comments

Are you weak or lazy Gerson? Certainly disingenuous. Unable to eruct your own words to discredit and expose that which is in need of exposure, you merely cut and paste someone else's work. Just can't bring yourself to criticize one of the dwindling number of neo/ziocons you hang out with.....even if he, as a mormon, wears magic underwear instead of banging his head off a magic wall.

Posted by: mot2win | September 21, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Now if you only had the cojones to say the same thing about Rush. I guess since he's only a Republican racist prescription drug abuser and still loves his country in one piece - unless it's Texas - then it's OK. How about Coulter or O'Riley?

BTW - to call Beck a populist is like calling Joe Lieberman a Democrat. He's a populist/patriot when he needs an audience and wants to go off into the wilderness (or on a comedy tour), but he's a Republican when it comes to the day-to-day reality of American politics and on behalf of whom he uses his position and power to gain a larger audience.

Posted by: pricetheo | September 21, 2009 11:55 PM | Report abuse

Michael, this is an excellent column. You are "spot on" in your analysis of the many rooms in the mansion. Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter speak to the far right. Much of their style is meant to be in-your-face and entertaining. Unfortunately, they frequently lose credibility with all the showmanship.

People recognize the difference between a populist like Beck and a far more reasoned and common sense professional like Bill O'Reilly. He is true to his values which are shared by the Republican mainstream and has no fear in stating the arguments on issues in an open and fair manner. The whole Fox organization has a upbeat and teasing style people like.

Additionally, in a media environment that is dominated by Liberals, Fox is unique. They have that Pepsi High Drive team of bright eyes that has great charisma with their audience. More and more people see Fox as the source of intellectual honesty and all the Liberal name calling is lost as Fox grows it's viewership.

The media in general have sold out to Liberalism and as a result Obama rewards them with his presence often. For them, it is a Woodstock style love-fest, but not much in terms of honest, professional journalism. People see that too just as they see through Beck's antics. It would be very refreshing to see journalistic values in sources like CNN, NBC, CBS and ABC get back to honest reporting of the news and not embarrassing themselves with the overt Obama fervor. At this point, I think that might be too much to hope for.

Posted by: 2009frank | September 22, 2009 12:25 AM | Report abuse

"At a time when we should aim for intellectual depth, for tough-minded and reasoned arguments, for good cheer and calm purpose, rather than erratic behavior, he is not the kind of figure conservatives should embrace or cheer on."
-------------------------
The last reasoned argument put forward by conservatives was supply-side economics; the theory that if you cut taxes at the top, they would create jobs, and the tax revenue thus generated would make more than make up for the lower rates at the top.

1) Jobs created in China and Mexico do not contribute tax revenue to the US government.

2) Believing those at the top are going to invest their tax breaks in creating jobs; assumes that creating jobs is their objective.

Wanting to do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, not reason!

Posted by: risejugger | September 22, 2009 1:08 AM | Report abuse

Nice try, Michael.

We've got sitting Republican Congressional leaders like Boehner calling Barack Obama a "socialist"-- and then denying that he did so: see here for the evidence:

http://thinkprogress.org/2009/09/20/boehner-socialist/

We've got Congressmen like Joe Wilson breaking every rule of decorum and respect in a joint session to Congress by the President, and we've got, most of all, a Republican party that refuses, simply refuses, to distance itself from demagogues like Rush Limbaugh, and rushing to grovel and apologize any time one of them dares to even start criticizing him.

One lone Republican pundit calling out Glenn Beck is a good start, but it's also a tiny start, and if it doesn't lead to an avalanche of the same, it's not of course a start at all, just one cry among a sea of cowards and sellouts.

This is what you Republicans have created. Your unholy alliance with religious and other extremism has come back to utterly destroy your party, like a captured weapon.

Live with it.

Posted by: BillEPilgrim | September 22, 2009 5:23 AM | Report abuse

Of course you would rather close your eyes to the types of people that Obama associated with , groups like Acorn. If it wasnt for people like Beck we'd all be brainwashed by radical leftist media nuts like Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow and Chrissy Tingles Matthews. They slant the truth to fit their wacked out agenda and their isckening, slobering love for Obama. While Beck can be called crazy at times, he is concerned for the wrong direction this country is taking . People like Iranian born Valerie Jarrett and communist Jones dont belong in our White House along with all these radical Czars. Keep on brining out the truth Beck...lets hear more....Now Obama doesnt wanto be associated with Acorn - after being their mouth piece and lawyer for years..too too funny. MAYBE HE TAUGHT THEW TOO WELL

Posted by: JUNGLEJIM123 | September 22, 2009 7:00 AM | Report abuse

Beck is an example of what happens when you boil a political party down to the gooey residue.Since Republican political philosophy when it comes to governance can most accurately be expressed as "I got mine so you can drop dead", it takes the conspiracy theorist, racists, single issue voters and those deep thinking Somalian political theorists, the Libertarians, to accrue enough wingnuts to register in national polling.
The problem now is their wignuttery is repellent to the other 80% of America. Calls to abolish the federal government, allow private citizens to own military grade assault weapons and institute a Theocracy in place of a Democracy repel the 80% of America that didn't swallow the cool aide. It's dawning on the "conservatives" that they can't win with the Beck wing of the party and as long as those wingnuts are the leading voice, they can't attract other voters. It's the Limbaugh curse and no one is more deserving of it than the Conservative establishment. It's the price you pay for callously manipulating the stupids all those years, now the stupids are running loose, picking their own leadership and consigning conservative "greed based" ideology to the dung heap in the process.

Posted by: dijetlo | September 22, 2009 7:26 AM | Report abuse

>>Of course you would rather close your eyes to the types of people that Obama associated with , groups like Acorn. <<

This is a good example of the poor logic skills exhibited by the Beckites.
1: Obama was never a member of Acorn, he was a paid attorney for them though. Attorneys are not convicted with their clients, by and large, however.
2: Acorn is a service organization. While members may have overstepped their bounds or done foolish things and while management appears to have done a poor job accounting for the moneys was paid, it is difficult for the rest of us to believe that a service organization that works to provide political representation to the poor and get them access to services which improve their lives is some kind of vast criminal enterprise. There is just no money in helping poor people, Peanut. Criminals are usually criminals for the money. See the disconnect?
On a scale of one to ten of wingnuttery, I'd give the ACORN hysteria a three. It's plenty frothy, but unless you can convince yourself that assisting poor people is by definition a criminal enterprise it just seems like another in a long list of unlikely conservative conspiracy theories that lack any basis in fact.
This though is what Mikey is talking about when he warns about the Beckites and their proclivity for seeing "Socialist Conspiracies" under every bed.

Posted by: dijetlo | September 22, 2009 7:36 AM | Report abuse

So? Did they pay you for this one? It wouldn't be "piling on" if you were to provide your opinion of Mr. Beck's antics, too.

Posted by: lrwillis | September 22, 2009 8:08 AM | Report abuse

So, your grand denouncement of Glenn Beck amounts to a) copying what somebody else said and not adding one whit of your own, b) pretending that he's not _really_ part of the _conservative_ movement, c) ignoring the Coulters, Limbaughs, Krauthammers, Joe Wilsons, and Michael Gersons with their poisonous rhetoric and dishonest attacks.

Great show, Mr. Gerson.

Posted by: sembtex | September 22, 2009 8:24 AM | Report abuse

Its worse than anyone will yet admit:

We pay twice what any other country pays for health care, with a significant number not included. Those costs are built into every business transaction and sale, we no longer have any manufacturing, and we are losing even sales and service. Make a reservation at any state park and you'll talk to some foreigner in another country to get it.

Our life spans are shorter, fewer of our births survive.

Other countries have beat us to the markets for green manufacturing and stem cell research, energy independence, high speed rail. We have just a small window of opportunity to compete, or lose.

This is what the republicans helped stifle in the past 8 years, and are determined to stop now.

If they're going to have a place in the governance of our country in the living memory of all who vote today, they need to step up.

Posted by: dutchess2 | September 22, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Wait... did Gerson repeat the opinon of someone else here because he's lazy or too cowardly to voice one of his own? Did the Post pay Gerson or Pete Wehner for this?

I'll ask again... can't the Post do better than this?

Posted by: CardFan | September 22, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

mot2win has just shown why conservatives cannot be completely respectful in their dealings with nonconservatives or people who disagree with them. People like mot2win allow only one way to deal with them: complete obliteration. I am reminded of a line from the miniseries Shaka Zulu a few years ago when he says "never leave an enemy behind" when asked to spare the life of an opponent after battle. shaka Zulu kills the vanquished opponent saying afterward that te would only return to attack him again. The hostility towards "the other side" and the depths to which they will go to destroy them is setting the stage for a colossal political struggle portending a very dangerous time for the USA. There has always been a line between political disagreement (read the Lincoln/Douglas Debates) and the attack and destroy strategy of today. It is deliciously ironic that we cry out for people with "fresh new ideas" then set out to systematically destroy their reputations and lives when those ideas disagree with our own. Mot2win and his/her colleagues must be very careful. The other side just might be more ruthless than you are.

Posted by: panamajack | September 22, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Hmmmmm
a Jerky person
validating
a Jerky person..

go
figure..

Isa

Posted by: Issa1 | September 22, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

I really don't read anything you write, from experience, you are a idiot who was a rubber stamp for Cheney/Bush's policy and wars, and we've seen where those policies have gotten us.
A sick sycophant who endorses Idiots and racists.
Hiatt must love you.

Posted by: rosenfan1 | September 22, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Pete who? Glad there's one small voice on the Right decrying the tone of Beck, Coulter, et al I guess, but I fear the pitch of the dog whistle is incorrect. The angry goobs can't hear it, and this Wehner person nobody's ever heard of will likely soon be forced to apologize.

Posted by: irae | September 22, 2009 11:01 AM | Report abuse

As a media critic, 2009frank flunks. He must think that rabid right wing propaganda is unbiased analysis. Bill O'Reilly a dispassionate "professional" providing unbiased analysis? Another planet has been heard from.

Posted by: Gondola1 | September 22, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

"Mansion with many rooms," "harmful in its totality" Comets flaming out and all this other googilty Gomp. The fact is Beck speaks what most Americans feel and the left is scared of it. Its too bad the media doesnt spend this amount of time tearing up the ideals and backgrounds of Obama, Pelosi and the likes of Barney Frank. Imagine the material on these three ! It would sell newspapers which apparently no one does anymore, because America is tired of people like the three mentioned above and they dont sell and I am not buying. People mistake passionate patriotism for far right extremism. Unlike the left and the liberals, most of America remains proud of our history, proud of our non reliance on government and very very patriotic.

Posted by: livefreeordie2 | September 22, 2009 11:19 AM | Report abuse

ONE example, Gerson. I guess you took over from the dead guy--Novak. Blindly defending the racism, hatred, and intolerance, and oppression of anyone not rich, white, or male that you cannot see the facts. What about Limbaugh? What about that good ol'boy Joe? What about that guy with the Argentinian mistress? Or that guy in Vermont who thinks a woman's place is at home barefoot and pregnant? What about that family values guy in California talking about 'eye patches'?.

And you can only cite one example of Conservahatreds criticising their own. That's like the Republicans (known for racial equality) saying we have black people in the party--and they trot out the one token (who makes an idiot of himself at every turn); or the old classic "What me bigoted? Some of my best friends are (Fill in the minority group).

In--cred-ible.

Posted by: map529 | September 22, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Oh come on! Look, Beck Limbaugh, Hannity, Ingraham, Coulter, Malkin--all of these people are cut from the same odious block of feces. None of them are truly national in scope even though they receive an inordinate amount of attention from the mainstream media.

Even on those occasions when they really say or do something shockingly stupid just to get the media's attention and up their ratings, they generally command the same 3 to 4 million listeners a day. And it also the same dim audience of dumbed down rabble that gravitates to Fox News. In an electorate of over 130 million, that is really not statically signifacant. But, to make a lucrative profit in the pundit industry, it works pretty good. Both Beck and Limbaugh are multimillionires. Rush is approaching that age where he will start getting social security and medicare beneifits. Think there is any chance he will return that to the government requesting it be used to help some poor slob who can't afford health insurance? Or any chance that he would support taxing the benefits of people like him to haelp pay for health reform?

Posted by: jaxas | September 22, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

"He is now talking about pulling troops out of Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, and elsewhere."

Why is it considered "crazy", "wacked" or "a conspiracy" to even DISCUSS the possibility of bringing our troops home from these regions? Certainly South Korea and Germany (and by extension, Europe) are more than capable of providing for their own self defense.

We don't need to be there. We can no longer afford to keep our troops there. Why can't we even discuss bringing them home?

Posted by: MDLaxer | September 22, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Amusing Gerson. No support and no real repudiation of Wehner's assertions; so what was the point you were trying to make? The venomous and bellicose ranting of the fringe conservatives is something any rational Republican should be quick to villify and yet they remain silent. Because these same Republicans have chosen silence over outright rejection, they continue to lose relevance with those of us that are not Democrats and left-leaning progressives. Maybe the point of your article could have been about how you have consistently supported these rubes in spite of what Wehner had to say. That is a fact that any avid WaPo reader would readily believe from you.

Posted by: JenAZ | September 22, 2009 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Let me get this straight: Mr. Gerson cuts and pastes a well-articulated statement from another Conservative writer to prove that well-modulated and thoughtful Conservatives do, in fact, speak out against the raving radicals from the right, like Beck.

And yet Mr. Gerson himself doesn't bother to add his own voice to that non-chorus? I was astonished to see that Someone (anyone) from the right wing even had the courage to speak up against the emotional trainwreck called Beck. Had he also pointed out the irrationality and less-than-calm O'Reilly, I'd have even more respect, but I'll take any voice of moderation from the Right, they are so incredibly rare.

This column ends up being proof that no one from the Right, including our friend Gerson, has the courage to voice moderation in a time of Right Wing Hysteria, whose motto is apparently: If you can make people believe lies by saying them, why not SCREAM them?

The vast majority of the reasonable, ordinary, responsible citizens that I know (from both sides of the aisle) don't sound hysterical. So, I think Beck is a therapeutic outlet for the maniacal. Why the GOP leaders think it's a great idea to be aboard that train is beyond me, unless they are just that desperate.

Posted by: cturtle1 | September 22, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Nice try, but the conservative types own Beck. Don't try to pawn him off on the Libertarians(who are just Republican-lite). You embraced this nut case until he begins to harm you. The same holds true for Rush, Coulter, O'Reilly, Hannity and Fox News. You had better disavow the whole mob, and not just in the newspapaers. You need to go on Fox and slam them for all to see. Or better yet, do the Sunday shows.

Posted by: jckdoors | September 22, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

@ dijetlo in response to your post at 7:26 AM:
Perhaps you shouldn't comment on something you know very little about. You only make yourself look foolish.

And to you Mr. Gerson. Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, George Washington, and all the rest would not be considered "conservative" either. Look at what they accomplished.

I wouldn't call this a conservative movement, but a constitutional movement.

Government is power, and power corrupts. Keep government small, and make them follow the Constitution!

Posted by: nunya1 | September 22, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Ronald Reagan:

http://www.reason.com/news/show/29318.html

"If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals – if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is."

Wehner's "libertarianism vs conservatism" stuff is here bad philosophy, its bad American history -- and in combination it's extremely bad intellectual history .

Posted by: PrestoPundit | September 22, 2009 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Beck and Rush and O'Reilly and all pundits in all media (FOX "NEWS" is the best at this game!) are all actors playing on a very lucrative stage, the stage of fringe public opinion. The vast majority of reasonable Americans do not watch or listen to or read their rantings, and do not patronize their advertisers. But there are just enough in that fringe minority who watch those commercials and buy those products to keep these people in their jobs. That is what this is all about...$$$$$$ It was funny watching Leno and Rush go at it last evening. Leno going on about the billions being made by CEOs and such and Rush going on about what does it matter what any person makes for a living. All the while, both of these guys having already banked enough to retire, yet they won't, because like true capitalists, their greed simply calls out "MORE!". And...the majority of people are struggling paying for health care, worrying about keeping their jobs, worrying about their kids education, etc. etc. etc.....

Posted by: schaeffz | September 25, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Michael Gerson. I often disagree with what Gerson writes, but I also am aware from Gerson's history that he is his own man, has sometimes taken a path at odds with conservative orthodoxy, and isn't simply a crude apologist for what anyone who calls themselves "conservative" may do or say. The late Robert Novak once referred to certain activists in both the Democratic and Republican parties as "party hacks who never had an original thought in their lives." Happily, Gerson is not one of these.

Posted by: twm1 | September 27, 2009 7:39 AM | Report abuse

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