Over the past year and half, I’ve always had at least one colleague who has liked Glenn Beck. First there was Jack Hunter and Dylan Hales (though the later had reservations). More recently Richard Hoste has taken up the charge.
Beck is certainly more unsettled in his opinions than Hannity, Limbaugh & Co, which means that he’s more willing to put on his show people with an “alternative” right-wing perspective, whether it be strict Constitutionalists or Austrian-inflected economists.
In my sporadic viewings of The Glenn Beck Program, I often get the impression that the host is, in a sense, going to school with each new show, likely in an attempt to make up for decades spent boozing. The Founding Fathers, Woodrow Wilson, Fascism, Objectivism and Ayn Rand — all subjects Beck approaches with a bright-eyed innocence and ignorance. I find programs on, say, American imperialism more interested than updates on the run-away bride, to be sure, but I’d prefer hearing this subject discussed by someone who hadn’t just discovered it existed shortly before going on air at 5 PM.
Beck’s “curiosity” aside, whenever he has been faced with a serious moment of decision, he has invariably come down on the side of the conservative-GOP establishment, and the Washington Power Elite more generally. Beck supported the Wall Street bailouts as not only “necessary” but “not nearly enough”; he was a terror warrior indistinguishable from Hannity throughout the Bush years; and after being invited to the Whitehouse, he discussed how Dubya felt the pain of dead soldiers. Beck found “libertarian” and “antiwar conservative” religion conveniently after the inauguration of a Democratic president.
This past week, Beck aired a show that was so preposterous in conception — and so emblematic of what’s wrong with American conservatism — that I couldn’t resist giving it a detailed analysis. The unlikely subject of the program was America’s Black Founding Fathers.
In this episode, part of his “Founding Fathers’ Fridays” series, Beck begins by informing his audience that much of what they learned in school is wrong and that for at least a century, American scholars have been suppressing (consciously, I presume) the grand history of African-American achievement. These sins of omission are grave. Forgotten black heroes include, Peter Salem, who was, according to Beck, the “hero of Bunker Hill,” and James Armistad, who, Beck reveals, “may have won the Revolutionary War” through his daring-do.
To back up these revisionary claims, Beck brings on David Barton, a man who made headlines recently in Texas’s “textbook wars” (more on that below). Barton is the president of the “WallBuilders” think-tank, which is dedicated to documenting the religiosity of the Founding Founders and the achievements of African Americans. Reading through Barton’s website, one gets the impression that he all but equates African-Americans’ participation in government with Christian righteousness.
Then comes Lucas Morel, a professor with a doctorate from the Claremont Graduate Program, the hotbed of Jaffa-ite and Straussian conservatism, who declares that “American history can be described as one long Civil Rights struggle,” which, I gather, includes not only the past 45 years of socially uplifting legislation but various world wars.
One could get bogged down deconstructing the assertions of the pair, so, I’ll focus on just one. Beck became particularly giddy over Barton’s tale of the “Black Paul Revere,” Wentworth Cheswell, a brave African-American New Hampshirite who was elected as his town’s constable in 1768 and in 1775 made an all-night ride from Boston to declare to his community “The British are coming!”
Did you know that Wentworth Chesswell was black? No? You’re not alone, because neither did his constituents, who were under the mistaken assumption that they were governed by an Anglo-Saxon. There’s also no mention of an African in the Cheswells’ authorized family tree, though historians have located a 17th-century Negro, “Richard Chesswell,” who was likely Wentworth’s grandfather, making the later, at the very most, a quadroon. Put simply, the “Black Paul Revere” probably could have gained admission to the 18th-century version of a WASP country club. Even PBS, which one wouldn’t expect to discount Cheswell’s blackness, writes that the Chesswell genealogy stands as an example of “the ‘passing’ process”…
(Also lionized in the Black Founders pantheon was an 18th-century “African-American preacher” of a white congregation, Lemuel Haynes.” Does this man look African to you?)
One could go on… but, in the end, facts really don’t matter. For with “the Black Founders,” one is dealing with ideological babble, not history. Beck points to 19th-century Romantic oil paintings of the Revolution as if they were historical documents; Barton thumbs though a 19th-century volume on “colored patriots” citing its thickness as proof of African-American achievement. No, it’s best to ignore these details, take a step back, and examine the propagandistic message Beck is delivering to his conservative audience.
At the beginning of his “lesson,” Beck asks, rhetorically and quasi-conspiratorially, “Why would our schools leave all of this history out?” Beck’s audience is likely older, but most people who went to American public and private schools after 1970 hardly suffered from a dearth of black history. They were drowned in it, in fact — from slavery to Jim Crow to the mostly fraudulent history of black inventors to the collection of curious African-American anecdotes inflated beyond proportion. A friend of mine, who’s six years younger and who thus experienced a higher stage of ideological conditioning, told me that when his high-school history class studied the 20th-century, they spent weeks and weeks on the Holocaust, a few days on the world wars, and concluded with a special section on Lonnie Johnson, the black inventor of the Super Soaker.
Back to Beck’s fantasy land. At the end of the show, Beck reveals that the true reason that all this amazing black history has been suppressed is that liberals want blacks to remain a victim class and America to be depicted as racist and evil — a scheme that might be foiled if the American public ever learned about the noble exploits of African-Americans.
In asserting this, Beck and his guests are engaging in what might be called “PC Judo” — a move in which conservatives don’t simply affirm politically correct values and taboos but actually turn them against their left-wing critics. Thus, liberals are “racist” for criticizing Condolezza Rice or “fascist” for supporting a centralized government; if they opposed the invasion of Iraq, they should be counted as partisans of Francisco Franco and Mussolini; Arab terrorists are as bad as white supremacists. And so and so on.
The Southern version of PC Judo is particularly odd. Contemporary “neo-Confederates,” for instance, have been known to embrace their Southern heritage by digging up stories of “black Confederates” and condemning Lincoln for his racism. On the Beck show, David Barton, who fits the bill of a Southern Good Old Boy, proudly announces that Joseph Hayne Rainey was America’s first black Speaker of the House. He omits citing the fact that Rainey was elected in South Carolina during the heights of Reconstruction, the then-most advanced experiment in anti-white and anti-Southern social engineering, which is why liberals rarely tout him as “the first Obama.”
I once thought that I supported the attempts by conservative Texans to present a different story in their state’s mandated textbooks. After learning that Barton was a leader in this fight, I’m beginning to wonder whether the textboks might turn out more PC than they were before. Leftist can at least be counted on to correctly identify 18th and 19th-century America as racially stratified, one-time slave-owning republic. (At the close of show, Barton indicates that he has more stories to tell about American Revolutionary Latinos…)
So, what does one make of Glenn Beck? It’s hard not to have a soft spot for a guy who’s hated so passionately by the Huffington Post and David Frum alike, and perhaps some good might come from this man’s show. A uniformed FOX conservative might, for instance, watch Beck and become more skeptical of Woodrow Wilson and the Federal Reserve System… Then again, he might watch last Friday’s show and report to his friends and family that the Founding Fathers were black.
In terms of fostering a sense of Western unity and shared heritage, Glenn Beck is positively antithetical. In one of his most famous chalkboard chats, Beck reveals that all of Europe was “on the wrong track” because, unlike America, the continent didn’t embrace the Enlightenment and human rights and instead wasted away in tradition and superstition. Becoming like Europe is assumed to be very, very bad.
In terms of American populism, Beck is, again, deeply harmful. The Tea Party movement began as a spontaneous outburst from average Americans against taxation and government expansion. Once Beck got his hands on it, he labeled it “The 9/12 Project,” evoking the “war on terror” good old days when average Americans were more happily conjoined with the federal government.
I think Glenn Beck is entirely sincere in his efforts to teach Americans (and himself) about their country, and he isn’t some kind of stooge or agent of the Power Elite, as the above paragraph might imply. Nevertheless, if Glenn Beck didn’t exist, the Establishment might have had to invent him. A controlled, circumscribed, and confused opposition is much better than no opposition at all. For if there were none, something sincere and dangerous might fill the void… Glenn Beck seems to have been put on this earth to ensure that the restless Middle American natives become excited about the most ridiculous and useless political issues possible.