My friend Myers and I had finished covering the 9/12 March On DC and were walking north along First Street when we passed an older woman and a teenage girl who had attended the massive rally at the Capitol. They were wearing identical "American Patriot" T-shirts and so, when we found ourselves stopped at an intersection, waiting for the light to change, I began a brief interview by asking the older woman, "Is this your daughter?"
Of course, the girl was her granddaughter, and my intentional flattery won me a new friend, who was quite eager to discuss her involvement in the big rally, a highlight of the Tea Party movement to which she proudly belonged. After a few minutes, the woman began to elaborate on the biographical details of a particular Obama administration official.
The fluency with which she discussed regulatory "czar" Cass Sunstein prompted me to ask, "Are you a Beck fan?" But it wasn't the older woman who answered.
"Oh, yeah!" the teenager volunteered enthusiastically, a sentiment heartily endorsed by her grandma -- and also by a large swath of the huge crowd who turned out for the rally. At one point, while a CNN reporter was doing a live interview at the Sept. 12 event, the crowd behind her began to chant "Glenn Beck! Glenn Beck!"
Grassroots conservative enthusiasm notwithstanding, the talk-radio host and Fox News personality is under attack this week, with the liberal establishment's favorite weapon, a Time magazine cover: "Mad Man: Glenn Beck and the angry style of American politics." This continues a long tradition of weekly newsmagazine covers demonizing conservative figures like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich.
Time writer David Von Drehle begins his attack thus: "On Sept. 12, a large crowd gathered in Washington to protest ... what?… If you get your information from liberal sources, the crowd numbered about 70,000, many of them greedy racists. If you get your information from conservative sources, the crowd was hundreds of thousands strong, perhaps as many as a million, and the tenor was peaceful and patriotic."
So you see that Drehle can go either way here: He can use the crowd to discredit Beck, or use Beck to discredit the crowd. Either way, the point is to prepare the reader of Time magazine (who clearly does not get information from conservative sources) to be fearful of both Beck and the crowd at the Capitol, whatever their numbers might have been.
After a few more paragraphs, Von Drehle plays his trump card: "The old American mind-set that Richard Hofstadter famously called 'the paranoid style' -- the sense that Masons or the railroads or the Pope or the guys in black helicopters are in league to destroy the country -- is aflame again…"
Von Drehle's invocation of "the paranoid style," a trope that Hofstadter derived from Theodor Adorno's "authoritarian personality," is intended to clearly signal the reader that Beck is a kook, a conspiracy theorist, a demagogue pandering to the dangerous emotions of the ignorant mob.
You know. Nudge, nudge. Like Barry Goldwater.
That this is a very familiar sort of smear tactic does not prevent Von Drehle's clever work from alarming Peter Wehner, a former Bush administration official who bluntly pronounced Beck "Harmful for the Conservative Movement" and proceeded to declare: "Beck seems to be a roiling mix of fear, resentment, and anger -- the antithesis of Ronald Reagan."
That Reagan was himself smeared by the journalistic predecessors of Von Drehle is evidently beyond Wehner's scope of knowledge. If Americans had gotten their opinions of Reagan from liberal writers, the Gipper never would have been president and the victims of Soviet tyranny would still fill the gulags.
Having never met Beck, I am not qualified to speak of whether he is representative of the "paranoid style." However, my friend and fellow American Spectator contributor Matthew Vadum has been a studio guest on Beck's Fox News program and did not mention any "roiling mix of fear, resentment, and anger." If Beck rants off-camera about black helicopters and Masons, it eluded Vadum's notice.
While my acquaintance with Beck is limited to occasionally catching a few moments of his TV or radio shows, I did have the opportunity to speak to many of the people at the Sept. 12 Capitol rally. My Arizona blogger friend Barbara Espinosa was there, and I spent many hours before, during and after the event talking to the organizers, attendees and speakers, including Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and author Mason Weaver.
None of these people seemed to think that Glenn Beck represented a menace to public safety or the conservative movement. Given the evident threat that Von Drehle and Wehner perceive, why this remarkable silence from so many?
They're all in on it together -- the grandmother and teenagers, Pence and Vadum and Weaver! It's all a clandestine conspiracy to conceal the hidden agenda for global domination by the Secret Legion of Beck!
And if you don't believe it, then you're obviously a paranoid kook.
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