Battling over Beck

When I wrote my much-misunderstood and mischaracterized feature on “Is Conservatism Brain-Dead?” in the Washington Post four years ago (wow–can it really be four years already?), no passage caused a more mixed reaction than my mixed judgment on Glenn Beck:

The case of Glenn Beck, Time magazine’s “Mad Man,” is more interesting. His on-air weepiness is unmanly, his flirtation with conspiracy theories a debilitating dead-end, and his judgments sometimes loopy (McCain worse than Obama?) or just plain counterproductive (such as his convoluted charge that Obama is a racist). Yet Beck’s distinctiveness and his potential contribution to conservatism can be summed up with one name: R.J. Pestritto. . .  The single largest defect of modern conservatism, in my mind, is its insufficient ability to challenge liberalism at the intellectual level, in particular over the meaning and nature of progress. In response to the left’s belief in political solutions for everything, the right must do better than merely invoking “markets” and “liberty.” Beck, for one, is revealing that despite the demands of filling hours of airtime every day, it is possible to engage in some real thought.

The article generated hundreds of comments at the Post, and an avalanche of emails, many of which divided in the following way: “How dare you criticize the great Glenn Beck!  He’s our hero and savior!”  The other response was, “You must be out of your effing mind to defend Glenn Beck!  He’s a crazy man!”  Looks like I found the double-yellow roadstripe on this topic.

I used to marvel at Beck when he was on Fox News at 5 pm.  He’s an obvious natural on TV, and he could do things on a TV set that no one else could pull off, some of it utterly riveting.  But let’s face it—he is crazy at times, and his judgment looks more than a bit shaky.  Over at Commentary yesterday, Jonathan Tobin called out Beck for going way over the line in his speech at the NRA convention with a gaudy comparison of Michael Bloomberg to Hitler:

It wasn’t enough for Beck to depict Bloomberg as a nanny state petty dictator. Instead, he spoke in front of a large backdrop that photo-shopped Bloomberg’s face into what appears to be a famous photo of Adolf Hitler with his arm extended in the infamous Nazi salute. This is more than merely unacceptable political commentary. It is an offense that diminishes the horror of the Holocaust and casts a dark light on both Beck and those who thought his little joke was funny.

Beck’s fans have attacked Tobin for being somehow a secret agent for Soros or something, and Tobin responds gamely today.    I have no idea what the real story is behind Beck’s departure from Fox News, but I think it is a mistake for our friends at Politichicks and elsewhere to blame the liberal media for Beck’s troubles.  He’s brought them on himself.  But still laughing all the way to the bank, I gather.  Does he actually need anyone to come to his defense?

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