Unlike others associated with Time magazine, David von Drehle is a skilled, careful, and perceptive writer. So I was interested in his cover story on FOX News’s Glenn Beck, who is considered to be a red-hot commodity these days.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on 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.