Glenn Beck is the Justin Bieber of American Public Discourse

Ezra Klein once shrewdly described Dick Armey this way:  “He’s like a stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like.”  Tweaking his sentence, I would say that Glenn Beck is a stupid person’s idea of what an ethical public figure sounds like.  (Just like Justin Bieber is a tweener’s idea of what a good singer sounds like.)

I forced myself to listen to Glenn Beck’s speechifying at Whitestock this past weekend.  Beck’s entire shtick is based on presenting a character who is earnest and earnestly distressed by what he perceives as the harmful direction of the nation he loves; everything about his style – his relatively unassuming attire, his sincere sounding delivery, even the addition of his slightly professorial eyeglasses is designed to create the impression of an honest, trustworthy figure.  Even in his interview with fellow Fox news propaganadist Chris Wallace, Beck portrayed himself as a humble, trustworthy, ethical man, someone who is just so pained by what he sees going wrong in America.  (Here’s a link to part of that interview.)  Watch Beck’s body language throughout the interview, listen to what he says.  He has created a persona that is (at least superficially) very humble and almost achinginly earnest:

Wallace: “Do you regret having called [Obama] a racist and saying he had a deep seated hatred for white people?”

Beck: “Of course I do. I don’t want to retract the, um … I want to amend that I think it is much more of a theological question, that he is a guy who understands the world through liberation theology, which is oppressor-and-victim. ‘Racist,’ first of all, it shouldn’t have been said. It was poorly said. I have a big fat mouth sometimes and I say things. That’s just not the way people should behave. And it was not accurate. It is liberation theology that has shaped his world view.”

This single passage is illuminating.  Notice the circumlocutions in his language to avoid actually apologizing.  He brings up liberation theology and to say his understanding of it is incredibly shallow is an understatement but it’s also part of the persona – he’s someone who is just so distressed and he’s gone off and studied hard to understand what has gone wrong with America and as he studying more he’s learning more.  He used to think Obama was a racist now he understands he’s enamored of liberation theology.  He’s learned more and better from his studies and now he knows better.  Again and again, this narrative reappears from conservatives “At first I didn’t understand, then I went and read/studied and now I see . . .” 

For people who are suffering – who see the jobs disappearing, who see what they perceive as a world spinning out of control, who believe their deepest values have been displaced by something alien – Glenn Beck is a comforting figure.  His stylized delivery (reminiscent of a Mormon Fast and Testimony meaning) with his even tones and steady heartfelt gaze, his sensitive sounding voice, even his richly mocked crying jags, create the public persona of a man who is at his core trustworthy, someone who simply could not be lying.

His appeal to his audience makes sense when you see that aspect of it – even his periodic tirades come across as moral outrage, as the desperate anger of someone who sees the truth and is not being listened to; unlike El Rushbo or Bill O whose rantings can be scary, Beck’s tirades are comforting because they are about something

A sizable number of Americans are turned off by both the real and perceived corruption of our politics and political discourse.  They don’t like politicians who pander (even as they vote for them), they don’t like the seemingly endless parade of pols who say one thing but who obviously do another (and yet continue to vote for them).  Some Americans were actually shocked by Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct – “Presidents don’t act that way.”  These same folks saw the Bush administration’s corruption and scandals as the needful actions of a strong father figure.  Even as they accept Sarah Palin and her dysfunctional family, they yearn for a leader who actually lives out the values he/she proclaims and whose family actually looks like the model family they want for themselves. 

Beck offers an ethical public persona – he talks about his faith, he talks about ethics; even his risible chalk board routine is part of the shtick, he’s trying to communicate to his audience and this is a plain spoken way of doing it, no fancy computers graphics for him.  The chalkboard routine deliberately invokes a cultural metaphor that is comforting – the teacher at the chalkboard sharing their knowledge. 

Yes, I know and you know Glenn Beck is a shyster and charlatan.  He’s in this game to sell his books, his DVD’s, his various products and to laugh all the way to the bank.  He’s an honest and upfront grifter whose found an audience of willing dupes who are more than happy to shovel money into his pockets because they need one another.  His audience wants to believe, needs to believe, that there is honor, integrity, dignity in public life.  (There’s also a mythic aspect behind Whitestock that I’ll deal with later). 

Beck’s fans and the folks who showed up at his rally this weekend know they’re being taken for a ride and they are willing to go on that ride because they want the product their being sold.  They want to believe that there is still honor in public life.  There’s no real difference between Beck’s fans buying his “honor” and Justin Bieber’s screaming tweeners who believe he is singing about their lives and understands them.

  1. #1 by Richard Warnick on August 30, 2010 - 2:28 pm

    I thought “humble” Glenn Beck made $25 million a year. Now it’s $32 million. That can buy a lot of Vick’s Vaporub.

    • #2 by Glenden Brown on August 30, 2010 - 2:45 pm

      Yeah, he’s raking it in. I think Beck’s persona is a construct, a character and one he’s selling with remarkable success.

  2. #3 by Del Usual on August 30, 2010 - 3:25 pm

    I think it was another glenn that claimed that it would only take a former drug addict alcoholic schlock jock to give progressives more than they can handle. Looks like it turned out that way. 2 and a 1/2 months to go. Talk about getting completely destroyed politically. Where does the left (out) end of the Democrat party go now? Answer: To hell.

    We really are down the rabbit hole now, and it was quite predictable how it would go.

  3. #4 by brewski on August 30, 2010 - 3:26 pm

    If we are going to throw the word “stupid” around, we should be careful. Not to be too superficial, but Klein is a 26 year old with a degree in Poli Sci. Armey has a PhD and is a former professor.

  4. #5 by Del Usual on August 30, 2010 - 3:31 pm

    “He’s like a stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like.”

    Progressive arrogance knows no bounds, even when it is getting ass thoroughly kicked.You have to give it that. You would think that as smart as they assume to be, they would be able to get their message across, but to no avail, and I am more than certain that in their opinion it is not their fault.

  5. #6 by brewski on August 30, 2010 - 3:46 pm

    And by the way….what would you expect from a person [Klein] who went K though B.A. in the state educational institutions of Southern California. I mean, look at the evidence. ;-)

  6. #7 by brewski on August 30, 2010 - 3:48 pm

    Del,
    What Glenden lacks in intellect he makes up for in unsubstantiated confidence.

  7. #8 by Del Usual on August 30, 2010 - 4:37 pm

    All the world’s a stage and fools have their part to play. I have to laugh, the person that all progressives here called “glenn hoefer” gets to have the last laugh about Obama. It was all true.

    They decided constantly pointing out what moniker was glenn’s was making them look foolish. It only took 4 years. Like a undergraduate study in common sense.

    How does it feel to be the whack clueless 20% left out progressives? For every extreme (bush supporters) there is a willing diametric counterpart. Remember who runs this thing, the dialectic runs it. Thanks for playing your parts.

  8. #9 by Federal Farmer on August 30, 2010 - 4:49 pm

    Why all the hate for Justin Bieber? He is an amazing vocalist, especially considering his age… I think it was a pretty lame comparison.

  9. #10 by James Farmer on August 30, 2010 - 7:24 pm

    glenn h:

    Maybe you ought to give the guy a chance. Bush was in office for 8 years and nearly wrecked the country. Obama has been in office less than two years and has the party of no preventing him from accomplishing anything. Then again, maybe Obama should pick a new country to attack – would that make you happy?

  10. #11 by Del Usual on August 30, 2010 - 9:05 pm

    What crap James, the party of profligate yes has killed as many soldiers in Afghanistan in less than 2 years than it took Bush to kill in 8 years. Not to mention racking deficits in a bailout which has brought us nothing but more debt and swindled money, which after all is really Bush policy. No Obama deserves no more chances.

    How about the Gulf? You liking that leadership down there? Phuckin’ A!

    Yeah well James, about the opposition, isn’t a chump like the Democrat opposition was for Bush, they climbed on board every apple cart the man set forth. No, there will be no second chance, even if he stays it will be as a lame duck.

    You have been listening to NPR claptrap for waay too long, have any thoughts that are your own?

    You gave him a chance, and so did some other dumb people, but that is over come November.

    You fool James, in addition, Obama ALREADY has picked another country to attack, Pakistan, escalated vastly in Afghanistan, and has his pudding mussed fingers in the Yemen pie as well. Remember that his foreign policy mentor is the CFR psychopath Zbignew Brezezinski, and that freak is playing Obama like a fiddle. While Rome burns.

    Glenn knew, and you believed in hopey change.

  11. #12 by Del Usual on August 30, 2010 - 9:55 pm

    You have to love this sh*t, living under a rock are we James?

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/us_usa_security_alawlaki

    Then of course, not to dwell, but, this came out today. Progressive democrats, defining new ways of losing that nobody knew about, quality innovation that can only come from utterly misguided minds.

    4 decades studying sea level changes, 40 years, and he isn’t an American. Wonder who paid him to come to his conclusions 40, 30, 20 years ago?

    http://newsbusters.org/node/13698

  12. #13 by cav on August 30, 2010 - 10:37 pm

    $32 mill…I have the feeling ‘The Shursh’ will take theiry 10% for the further good of the downtown construction project, glorious smile on face. Praise be to Allah!

  13. #14 by Ken on August 30, 2010 - 10:53 pm

    That is Mr. Future President to you.

  14. #15 by Larry Bergan on August 31, 2010 - 2:22 am

    Actually “Woodstock” could have been called “Whitestock” too, but the motives were much more honest.

    The republicans only wish they had something like Woodstock to point to. The last teabag tour was touted as another Woodstock too, but failed to deliver.

    Glen Beck even said there could have been 500,000 people at this event. Not even close! There just aren’t that many shills around even these days, but the attendance WAS pretty awesome in it’s own right.

    Don’t these people have to work?

    I wonder where the next republican, fake “Woodstock” is going to occur?

  15. #16 by Larry Bergan on August 31, 2010 - 2:30 am

    In other words – Eat your hearts out!

  16. #17 by Richard Warnick on August 31, 2010 - 9:21 am

    President Obama’s failure of leadership is a legitimate issue, but since the Glenn Beck-a-thon was “non-political” I’m sure Beck wasn’t critical of the administration.

    But can anybody tell me what Beck’s message was on Saturday? Or was it a content-free speech? That some people camped out for two days to hear.

  17. #18 by Del Usual on August 31, 2010 - 10:07 am

    It sure will surprise you if you don’t know what the undercurrent really is .Ask any Tory what it all meant in the beginning of the American “troubles”, they all pilloried and ridiculed Patriots. Well, Tories had plenty of time to think about it after their kicked out asses were properly settled in frozen Canada.

  18. #19 by Richard Warnick on August 31, 2010 - 10:22 am

    OK, but what did Beck say? This seems like “word salad” to me. Maybe it makes sense to the post-rational Bush 20-percenters.

    Beck spanned the history of many enslaved people, up until the struggles of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and beyond– describing the construction of the Washington monument and hitting on the history of Egyptian slaves. He warned that, as a nation, America was “about in as good of shape as I am, and that ain’t very good,” and that Americans had to prepare for an upcoming storm that our “soft life” had not adequately prepared us for. In order to prepare, Americans had to go back to churches, back to synagogues, and yes– back to mosques. He endorsed the tithe system and told the crowd to go to “God’s boot camp,” but in order to trust in churches, “we must make sure that our churches stand for things that are good… we as a people must strengthen our spirit.” These points were by far the most significant chunk of the address, and possibly the most polemic, as his political calls were for unity, but he gave no room for dissent in the importance of America having spiritual guidance from a higher power and, possibly much more impacting than that, his insistence that organized religion specifically is the key to “restoring honor.”

    … By far the most passionate political part of his speech, and the most memorable positive message he gave, was about the power of the individual– something he believed Americans were increasingly losing faith in. “One man can change the world,” he reminded the crowd, holding back tears. Later, even more emotive, he thanked the people who had brought their children to the rally, and assured them that, looking out on the crowd, he was looking at “the next George Washington… they may be eight years old, but they are here.” This was the most political part of his message– devoid of party or individual politicians, but hoping for the type of sacrifice the Founding Fathers gave the nascent nation.

  19. #20 by Federal Farmer on August 31, 2010 - 10:36 am

    Interesting look at the Glenn Beck rally in DC http://reason.com/blog/2010/08/28/reasontv-what-we-saw-at-the-gl

  20. #21 by Richard Warnick on August 31, 2010 - 11:06 am

    “For too long, this country has wandered in darkness, and we have wandered in darkness in periods from the beginning,” Beck said, at times pacing at the memorial. “We have had moments of brilliance and moments of darkness. But this country has spent far too long worried about scars and thinking about the scars and concentrating on the scars.

    “Today,” he continued, “we are going to concentrate on the good things in America, the things that we have accomplished – and the things that we can do tomorrow. The story of America is the story of humankind.”

    My question: Is this code that the Tea Party crowd can understand, or is it just patriotic-sounding bullshit? If it’s code, can anyone here translate? How long has the country “wandered in darkness”? Since January 20, 2009 when we inaugurated a “dark” President? What does this mean?

  21. #22 by Del Usual on August 31, 2010 - 11:42 am

    Not darkness, more like blind, at least the uncritical populace of the nation, more so for hard left progressivism and the last 10 years of leadership.

    You may find yourself so far out of the mainstream of typical American thought there is no catching what these people are about. The main thing is what they are against, and that is just about everything that Obama and the Democrat left and the rino right have done and are doing. It is really very simple. Nothing less than the complete return to limited government small enough as Grover Norqist said..”to drown in the bath tub.

    There isn’t much doubt to thinking people that whether we are dealing with the big government Bush right, or the insane spend it if you don’t have it Obama administration, we have as a people been glued, screwed and tattooed.

    Meanwhile, sounds like war.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/7972863/Afghanistan-bomb-attacks-kill-twenty-one-US-soldiers-in-48-hours.html

    Obama’s war of choice.

  22. #23 by James Farmer on August 31, 2010 - 1:35 pm

    glenn h,

    sorry, but I disagree with everything you state, as usual.

  23. #24 by Richard Warnick on August 31, 2010 - 1:44 pm

    Are the Tea Party faithful ready to give up Social Security and Medicare?

    Obama lies Grandma dies

    Or do they need more Kool-Aid in their tea?

  24. #25 by Del Usual on August 31, 2010 - 2:38 pm

    Yet the question is more of who was right about a fraud president. That is too obvious, even for you James.

    It’s ok for you to be a laughing stock though James.

  25. #26 by Del Usual on August 31, 2010 - 2:49 pm

    It is great to see the progressive left without a clue as to what is about to befall their party. You have been told for years James that your political attitudes, and most of those on this site, are profound minorities in America. It takes lying to win over, same as the opposition.

    Disagreeing is fine, proving things for progs now after Obama’s raw fraud is nigh impossible. Face it, the guy phucked you all dry. The Chicago Way.

    So Afghanistan is a necessary war James? This should be good, remember to clear your throat and say a lot of crap like Bush would.

    Bush Wood! Hey, that is about as funny as he gets. Starting to miss the guy, he sure was way more entertaining than what we now have.

    These programs have been paid into by the oldsters you see there, all of us, they, we, have a lien on the programs Richard, it is after all, ALL their (our) money.

    I love that the only thing left before the progressive movement winks out for a while is somnambulistic confusion, and weak arguments that really can only be brought to any mind with pictures, like kids reading comic books.

  26. #27 by James Farmer on August 31, 2010 - 3:13 pm

    glenn h:

    What have we told you about skipping your meds? When you do, you start talking to straw men that do not exist.

    PS. I always supported Bush in Afghanistan; it was his folly in Iraq that I vehemently opposed, principally because it caused the US to lose focus on Afghanistan.

    PPS. Plead with particularity your argument for fraud against Obama. Don’t forget to refer to FRCP 9 for guidance. Good luck.

  27. #28 by Del Usual on August 31, 2010 - 3:28 pm

    So James, you admit that you support a war that by any historical analysis cannot be won? Are you really serious? You just like to see people die or what?

    That caps it, progressives by the evidence lain before me by James are perhaps mental defectives. This is what happens in international relations when people put ideology before realpolitik.

    So the same FRCP 9 can be said of Bush and any other un-indicted presidents for their rash of crimes. This political fraud requires no court case, it is being tried in the media and among the citizens of the nation, and by now, Obama could not sell herring to Norwegians. You do know that the Europeans hold the same view of Obama as I do. A disappointing fraud. A lying gadfly as it were.

    Where exactly is the rock you live under James?

  28. #29 by Richard Warnick on August 31, 2010 - 3:46 pm

    Glenn Hoefer writes:

    It is great to see the progressive left without a clue as to what is about to befall their party.

    We have a party? It would be nice if we did. It would be the Progressives vs. the Dems. Republicans would be a third party. Read FDL — Jane Hamsher tried to warn the Dems months ago.

  29. #30 by Del Usual on August 31, 2010 - 3:53 pm

    I s’pose you are right Richard. The thing is Democrats are all loaded into the same piss pot ship, and now it’s sinking after scraping political bottom for the last 20 months.

    The upshot is republicans pick up the flotsam and sail away. Nothing new in that story is there? Yes the reps would be the 3rd party, still left in charge after the progs and dems cannibalize each other. Republicans happily carry the water to the pair of idiot contestants.

  30. #31 by Del Usual on August 31, 2010 - 4:00 pm

    The Democrat party carries the progressive movement Richard, so if they were not contained within it, they would have absolutely no political sway, not that they have much anyway. That is their lot for better or worse.

    It is all really about spending borrowed money and a very frightening demographic. What Democrats want we cannot pay for. We really can’t pay for any of it for much longer, the republicans are trying to co-opt the Tea Party movement to use its power, but in the end, what is happening in America is based in scarcity brought on by demographics, poor education, deficit spending,out sourcing, and other terrible bi-partisan decision making.War is a bright spot in this fiasco, somebody makes the money, or steals it.

    If you want to blame, then you are not even in the game that is coming up. More irrelevance.

  31. #32 by Richard Warnick on August 31, 2010 - 4:34 pm

    Glenn–

    “Absolutely no political sway” about sums it up. Escalation in Afghanistan. Programs for extra-judicial assassinations of Americans. Warrantless surveillance continues. Whistle-blowers prosecuted, while torturers and torture conspirators get off Scot free. No single-payer, no public option, no climate change bill, nothing done about DADT, no Employee Free Choice Act, etc. People might as well have voted for McCain.

    Funny you should mention borrowed money. President Reagan and Bush 43 both ran up incredible bills on the national credit card, then left town and the Dems had to find a way to pay. Bush alone was responsible for more deficit spending than all previous presidents combined!

    Most Americans want a competent government that provides services that the private sector cannot, like affordable health care. But they are going to have to give up the Bush tax cuts.

  32. #33 by Del Usual on August 31, 2010 - 5:12 pm

    ..and yet there is a wonder of a “Tea Party” from the progressive left, like mushrooms, it just happens, what becomes of the cultural fungus is another matter, it is quite a miasma of conflicting goals and statements, some contradictory. It is out of such a movement inchoate came someone like Andrew Jackson.

    The pushing of the detritus of pillage upon the American People by corrupted elites, no matter what they call their politics, has set the ground to ferment. The ground of US Terra Firma becomes ready for the fungal fruiting.

    Politics meets its limit in at least some people, who decide that living under such a “thing” as we are become, bearing children to it, building lives of any description is a path ruin. Something has to give. Then it’s history.

    As then Andy, when he surveyed the corrupted American landscape, rife with bought representation by foreign influence, kings and potentates, it occurred to a man such a he, that if the Nation were to languish under such a freakish corruption to the extent that it led as well to tyranny of the domestic populations, and the Constitution and Republic, then as now, a shell not of the People, the decision he made was that if it was a tyranny these elites who believed themselves exempt from censure wanted…

    ….he would show them what tyranny really was. Of course he would provide for the juice. He ‘aint on the 20 for nothing.

    The rest of the story is what happened, and it ‘aint pretty. Andrew Jackson, man of the People, just had to be his People.

  33. #34 by Richard Warnick on August 31, 2010 - 7:31 pm

    Glenn–

    You could write Glenn Beck’s next speech. ;-)

  34. #35 by Del Usual on September 1, 2010 - 3:55 pm

    It is all predictable by now the outcome, and tiresomely repetitive for all of the gnashing of teeth.

    For every revolutionary push in change, there is the Thermidorian Reaction, where the push back reclaims it’s own ground, and sometimes reverses many of their opponents gains, and that can apply to all parts of what was deemed by the reversal’s victims as progress, benefits, specific individual rights, the whole bit.

    This is the danger of instituting a “revolution” that is poorly conceived in practice, though well conceived in acquiring power. Like the regime we have running things now. Without the general incompetence of the last 2 years, Thermidore would become are far less likely prospect. In fact the excesses make the enemy bring the reversal to bear. Arrogance is key for this error to effect full force, by ignoring rule of law, and the will of the people under the rubric of crisis.

    It’s about all we get these days wherever you look.

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