I saw only a clip of Glenn Beck’s CPAC keynote on TV and was alarmed by the confusion and hypocrisy. I actually watch Beck’s tv show on Fox News on the regular now because I am committed to understanding why this guy is so popular and getting ideas on how to counter-message him.

I’m still working on it. I usually can’t stand more than 30 minutes of him. What I didn’t expect was all the numbers. Glenn Beck’s true calling is probably high school civics or history teacher. He just loves a chalkboard. Here’s his usual pattern: Beck throws out a lot of facts and often when he first starts a rant, I find myself in agreement with him. Then he slams down a related half-truth which is a little uncomfortable but I’m still with him. And then he will go straight to Candyland — the truth and the half-truth plus his bias means that somehow Michelle Obama is trying to brainwash American children or progressives want to issue in a new era of global communist slavery or something super-crazy like that. So much fear! Honestly I’m convinced that Beck is not only afraid of a black president, but also spiders, shadows and spooky noises at night. Because George Soros is under Beck’s bed each night just waiting for the perfect moment to say “Boo!”

I also love it when someone I know personally and their photo ends up on Beck’s chalkboard connected to some kind of “conspiracy” that Beck has invented, like Mark Lloyd or Rinku Sen (who blogs here at JJP). Man, you think black people invented the conspiracy of The Man? I’d love to hear Beck just totally go for it in a black barber shop. That would be some good tee-vee right there. I dare him to do it. Just do his whole show from a black corner barber shop, like in Chicago or DC. Anyway, at this point, I actually aspire to make his chalkboard because it will mean I’m doing something right.

Because Glenn Beck is crazy and worse — wrong. And shame on the media for failing to deconstruct and de-bunk his ludicrous, nonsensical, often unpatriotic ravings.

Let’s take a quick look at his CPAC speech as a classic example. CPAC is a big ole annual conservative gathering. So at CPAC, Beck was the big star this year. I’d recommend reading the whole transcript so you can get a sense of what ignorant, fearful, conservative, confused, rural, high income white guys over 40 (the tea party demographic as it turns out) find funny/insightful and are really thinking. It’s pretty scary territory though — don’t say I didn’t warn you. But here’s a few special nuggets to consider and my attempt to take them apart.

What Glenn Beck said at CPAC (emphasis mine):

Van Jones – Van Jones is a Communist, a self-described Communist. Well, nobody paid attention to him. He was a pariah, until he said, well I’m really a progressive, I’m for progress. I just want to evolve into a nicer place. Well, we don’t want to involve – evolve into these kinds of places. And that is the choice. And the Republicans right now are giving us many of those same kinds of choices – not all of them – but some of them. We have a guy in the Republican Party who says his – his favorite president is Theodore Roosevelt. Well, I thought so too until I read Theodore Roosevelt. By the way, Theodore Roosevelt, the guy who started the Bull Moose Party, which was the progressive party.

Theodore Roosevelt, quote –

(reading) We judge no man a fortune in civil life if it’s honorably obtained and well spent.

Oh? Well thank you.

(reading) It’s not even enough – it’s not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it only to be gained so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.

Is this what the Republican Party stands for? Well you should ask members of the Republican Party, because this is not our founders’ idea of America. And this is the cancer that is eating at America.

Ok, so problem #1: Van Jones is not a communist and has never pretended to be anything other than what he is — an amazing visionary who sees the potential of a green collar economy benefiting all Americans. Pushing Van Jones out of the Obama White House was Beck’s big victory and put him on the map — a victory that the Obama administration foolishly, unnecessarily gave him. It’s unbelievable that Beck is trying to make “progressive” a dirty word. I, for one, will never stop believing in not only what America is today, but what it can be tomorrow. Without people willing to imagine that America’s values could evolve, slavery & child labor would still be legal. Women wouldn’t be able to vote. Etc.

Problem #2: going after Teddy Roosevelt, widely acknowledged as one of America’s best presidents, like…ever. Actually, I think the Founders would be all for making sure that wealth acquired benefits and does not damage society. OK, Beck — you dig history. It’s a sad testament to your self-described poor education that you don’t understand that that was the whole impetus behind the Tea Party protests against England. American residents bristled at the high taxes levied for the benefit of a distant English King that they believed impinged upon their ability to prosper in America. American taxes did not help to build a better society in America’s states — didn’t help to build roads or schools or hospitals in the young struggling nation, etc. It just went away to English people to build their roads, schools and hospitals. Or just simply to line the pockets of wealthy layabout aristocrats. And American revolutionaries, i.e. the Founding Fathers, had a problem with that.

We all have to exist in society together. And it’s best when a company is in sync with the community it serves. Certainly the tv commercials and websites of large and small businesses are always trying to convince us that they are good members of the community. This is a universally held public good. No company should imagine they will last long in America if their values are out of line with the overall community interest.

Oh but there’s more:

I’m a – I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’m a recovering alcoholic, and um, I screwed up my life six ways to Sunday, and I believe in redemption. But the first step to getting redemption is you’ve got to admit you’ve got a problem. I have not heard people in the Republican Party yet admit that they have a problem. And when they do say they have a problem I don’t know if I believe them. I haven’t seen the come to Jesus moment of the Republican Party yet. I’ve voted Republicans almost every time in – every time I’ve gone. I – I don’t know what they even stand for any more. And they’ve got to recognize that they have a problem. Hello! My name is the Republican Party and I’ve got a problem. I’m addicted to spending and big government.

(applause)

[...various jokes at Tiger Woods' expense...snip]

Tiger Woods – Tiger Woods said this –

(reading) I knew my actions were wrong.

Wouldn’t it be great to hear this from a politician?

(reading) I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules don’t apply.

Kind of like economic rules. They think they can spend, and normal rules don’t apply. Well, it’s not exactly like your house. Yes it is. In the end, yes it is.

(reading) I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead I only thought about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that someone should live by. I thought I could get away whatever I wanted to. I felt that I worked hard my entire life and I deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. And thanks to the money and the fame, I didn’t have to go far to find them. I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me. I brought this shame upon myself.

If I heard a party that said those words and I felt they meant it I would campaign for them, I would put a lawn sign in my yard, I would be happy to vote for them.

Actually, Glenn and I are in agreement, in part, right there. I agree that the GOP should apologize to America for what they did over eight years. I also believe that certain people responsible like Dick Cheney and Dubya should be held to account and prosecuted for their crimes.

I’m tired of feeling like a freak in America, and I know so many people are too. We – we don’t mind, you have a different opinion than me, that’s okay. You don’t agree with me, that’s okay. We’re never going to agree; there are 300 million of us, we’re never going to agree. How boring would life be if we all thought exactly the same thing? We wouldn’t really be able to create anything: It takes the exchange of ideas. But I am tired of forty percent of this country – forty percent say they’re conservative. Now how many more are out there who don’t want to say that they’re conservative because you just want to kill and eat children?

(laughter)

Forty percent. Thirty-six percent say they’re moderates. What is it, twenty percent? Twenty percent say they’re liberals. How are they making seventy-six percent feel like they’re the minority? The majority does not rule in America. But the minority shouldn’t hijack it.

So here’s a classic example of a Beckian half-truth. This is a canard tossed out regularly by conservative commentators. The fact is that a lot of people don’t even know those labels mean and when folks are polled on the actual issues, they tend to favor Obama’s progressive agenda. Issues like stronger healthcare coverage for all Americans and repealing Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy. AND when we get into party identification, only about 20% of Americans call themselves Republicans (the lowest number in recent history) and 33% of Americans say they are Democrats. There are a lot of independents right now in America and right now the battle is for the soul and imagination of these folks. Obama captured that soul once and he’s got to keep them engaged.

Without failure, there is no sweetness in success; there’s no understanding of it. And we’re – we’re saying that there – these people are too big to fail. When did we become the country that says the big guy needs to be – if you’re a bank and you didn’t know you shouldn’t give a loan to somebody who can’t even present a check or a piece of identification – you should fail.

(applause)

Agreed. Unless of course, not saving that bank means that the global economic system implodes, taking everyone down with it. That was the situation we faced. However, if that bank is saved, it should come under strong oversight and new regulations — something that didn’t happen as effectively under the Obama Administration as many Americans would have preferred to see. Looks like that is changing though.

We believe in the right of the individual. We believe in the right of the individual. We believe in the right, you can speak out, you can disagree with me, you can make your own path. But I’m not going to pay for your mistakes, and I don’t expect you to pay for my mistakes. We’re all going to make them, but we all have the right to move down that road. What we don’t have a right to is: health care, housing, or handouts. We don’t have those rights.

(applause)

[...snip...]

I’m the first person to go to college in my family. I went for one semester.(laughter)

I took one class. Do you know why? I couldn’t afford it. Now I never once even thought, this isn’t fair. I never once thought, I want to take it from him – how come he goes and I can’t go? I never once thought I was owed an education. I was thirty when I went. I was trying to find answers. When I couldn’t afford to go anymore, I was okay. I went to work, I got – picked up my kids from school, I spent the afternoon with them, I put them down to bed, or – whatever we did. I did my homework, if you will, for the next day’s show, and then I went and I read. I educated myself, I went to the library – books are free. I went to the bookstore. I read until two – three o’clock in the morning some nights. I still read until two – three ‘clock in the mornings after everything’s done. I educated myself. My education was free, and I’m proud of that.

(applause)

Um, ok — where to start…? There was a time in America not that long ago even (the 1910s – 20s) where the concept that education for children through high school should be compulsory was a pretty radical, even socialist idea. There were those conservatives who defended child labor and thought it a good thing for our economy. After all, it was the right of the individual American to determine whether they want to work or go to school, right?

Is Beck actually espousing that idea? We became the global economic powerhouse we are today because we embraced full education earlier than some other societies, especially Europe, and poured resources into our schools in the 1940s and 50s. Another testament to Beck’s poor education: libraries in the ancient world were only available for the wealthy and the clergy until the Roman period. Roman politicians and wealthy citizens would build public libraries accessible to most citizens as a show of their community spirit. Child labor remains a problem in other countries where children are exploited for their small nimble fingers, fingers which should be holding pencils instead of sewing needles.

So following Beck’s logic — books should be free and provided by your tax dollars. But healthcare and housing or even education should not. So Beck would hand to a dying child whose parents work hard and pay taxes but can’t afford surgery — a library book. I don’t understand this logic. In fact, in a lot of European countries, college is free if you qualify through testing. The idea is that an educated populace will be more prosperous. This isn’t rocket science. Who brags about his lack of education? My grandparents were all self-educated but not by choice — it was because a racist society limited their access to higher education. As opportunities increased, they strongly encouraged their descendants to go to institutions of higher learning despite the high cost. It would pay off, they said, and it has for most of us. We benefit as a nation when we are a meritocracy — where the cream can rise to the top, where the smartest can succeed — no matter their background or access to wealth.

I’d really like to see more people take on Beck’s ideas. Don’t just listen but de-construct. He’s dead wrong, not fact-based and his notions would lead to a backward-facing nation  — not one embracing the bright future that can be.

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