When CNN found Glenn Beck a bit of an embarrassment and he understandably jumped to Fox News, where he felt more at home, his career took off – his ratings soared and he found his voice, and ended up on the cover of Time. Time couldn’t decide if he was bad for America or not. That wasn’t their job.
But Beck changed things – he wept for his country on-air and spoke of vast conspiracies, and declared Obama a racist who hated white people and talked of taking the country back with his 9-12 Project – and that became the core of the whole Tea Party Movement. Much of this has to do with it being high time to stop picking on the rich, as they are the heroes who make America what it is, and with stopping healthcare reform – where, if passed, you’d have to pay for someone else’s problems – and with getting the government to stop doing things in general, so people care take care of the own lives. And there’s lowering taxes and making sure the government keeps its hands off Medicare, while we must have a strong military and never apologize for anything, and close the borders and keep Mexicans where they belong, and hoard guns and gold because the end is coming. And since it is, you should read your Bible. It’s the progressives of course – who are socialists or Nazis, or both at the same time – who want to take your stuff and give all of it to lazy losers and then kill you – so you’d best be ready. On his wildly popular Fox News show, and on his radio show, this goes on and on. And in the worst economic times since the Great Depression, with the nation angry and befuddled, people seem to want to hear this sort of thing.
And people do take him seriously, as the most important thinker in America, our new Tom Paine inspiring the next revolution – except for those who think he’s a clown. But Beck gave the keynote address at this year’s Conservative Political Acton Conference – trashing Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and FDR, saying everyone but Glenn Beck had misunderstood them, and they were pure evil. He brought down the house. His earlier long presentation on Fox News, where he analyzed the frescos at Rockefeller Center and proved that Rockefeller, and maybe JP Morgan and Andrew Carnegie, were communists who wanted to redistribute all wealth to the undeserving poor, and at the same time fascists who wanted to take over the world, was less successful. But everyone has an off day. And we all have friends and family who will read only the Bible and Beck – that’s all you need to know. He’s become a man to be reckoned with, even if he does have an off day now and then.
And he may have had another one, as this week on his radio show, Glenn Beck warned his vast audience about churches that talk about social justice. As he sees it “social justice” is code for something despicable:
I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them … are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you – look for the words “social justice” or “economic justice” on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words.
Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!
Steve Benen comments:
I’m not a theologian, but it’s my understanding that most of the world’s major, monotheistic faith traditions embrace “social justice” as a fundamental pillar. Beck just encouraged a whole lot of people to abandon a whole lot of houses of worship.
This is especially true of Roman Catholics. Indeed, the very phrase “social justice” is believed to have been coined by a 19th-century Jesuit, and later popularized by Father Charles Coughlin.
And Benen notes that the Catholic site First Things is wondering whether Glenn Beck just urged his followers to abandon the Catholic Church. There, Joe Carter asks this – “Could Beck’s claim be construed as ‘anti-Catholic?'”
Benen says yes, and no:
I think if anyone else had made the remark it would have been hard to dismiss the anti-Catholic undertones. But Beck is a special case: He is too prone to say any dumb thing that pops into his head and too ignorant about history and religion to truly understand the implications of his statement. This doesn’t excuse him, of course, but it certainly is reason not to be too shocked when a self-professed “rodeo clown” advises people to leave their churches over Catholic “code words” like “social justice.”
Benen thinks this could be a real headache for Beck, “especially if Bill Donohue and the Catholic League treat Beck like they’d treat anyone else who just encouraged Americans to leave churches who take social justice seriously.” And Benen says it’s worth remembering that if Beck, a convert to Mormonism, is serious about the danger of these particular “code words,” he may have to leave his own church. And it’s not very hard to see why. They talk about social justice, which is not just helping the poor now and them, but changing conditions, with social and economic policy, so that there are fewer poor folks generated all the time.
That could be considered an extension of Jesus’ work – not just the Good Samaritan story, and Blessed Are the Poor and all that, and all the talk about giving things away as it is easier for a large smelly camel to pass thought the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven – but also the tale of Jesus tossing the moneychangers out of the temple. It’s staple stuff in all religions. Much of the God and Jesus stuff seems to be about social justice.
But the next day Beck returned to the subject, insisting that the notion of social justice is a perversion of the Gospel – everyone has misunderstood the Gospel. He wants you to wake up. Such things “are not what Jesus would say.” So he plunged on – Americans should be skeptical of religious leaders who are “basing their religion on social justice” – and he is frightened and appalled, fearing that concern for social justice is a problem infecting all faith traditions. For the last two thousand years theologians have got it wrong. Jesus likes go-getters and Jesus wants you to keep your stuff, as the downtrodden just need some tough love – no help at all – to slap them into shape and make them responsible. But he didn’t cite chapter and verse to show that was so. You have to take his word for that, that he knows what Jesus really meant.
And of course none of this is going over well in some faith communities – see Belief Net (Hey Glenn Beck, listen to Jesus!) and this roundup at Christian Post. And the Reverend Jim Wallis, the big gun evangelical figure and president of the Sojourners network, said this – “I don’t know if Beck is just strange, just trying to be controversial, or just trying to make money. But in any case, what he has said attacks the very heart of our Christian faith, and Christians should no longer watch his show.”
Yes, Wallis called for a boycott, and Steve Benen adds this:
It’s strange enough to hear the deranged media personality share his bizarre thoughts on domestic policy, foreign policy, history, constitutional law, and economics – subjects he knows nothing about. But we now see Beck arguing, more than once, that the central tenet of most Christian churches is a secret plot that should drive the faithful from their congregations.
But if you accept that Dick Cheney, with his vast military experience and his stunning service record, is one of the most brilliant military minds America has ever produced, and that Karl Rove knows more about effective interrogation techniques than anyone who ever worked in the FBI and is proud we tortured prisoners, then the idea that Beck is the one to set two millennia of theologians straight after all the years – and is wiser than any minister, priest or pastor in America – isn’t that much of a stretch.
Benen concludes with this:
We’re well past the shark-jumping moment with this self-described clown, but I can’t help but wonder if this is the kind of lunacy that might actually cost him some fans.
It won’t. People will leave their churches en masse – it’s the times, hard times.
Matthew Yglesias has more:
If this is meant seriously – and Beck’s sounded the theme in three consecutive shows so I think it is – this seems to me like when McCarthy decided to go after the Army.
Social Justice is on the website of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops – do Beck’s fans on the mainstream right think all Catholics should leave the Church? Social justice is all over the Vatican’s website.
The Episcopal Church does social justice. According to its website, the United Methodist Church “has a long history of concern for social justice.”
The American Baptist Church says “Our vision for mission energizes a multitude of servant ministries of evangelism, discipleship, leadership, new church development, social justice, healing, peacemaking, economic development and education.”
My understanding is that Beck is a Mormon, and while LDS.org doesn’t talk as much about social justice as some other churches, they do talk social justice.
Yglesias provides all the links if you want to go look. Beck seems to be saying none of these folks know anything about Jesus or Christianity – they never have and never will. He is the real theologian, the only one who knows what’s really going on.
Now this is a curious position, but Yglesias mentions that this reminds him of Crazy Uncle Joe, and Mike Madden at salon.com takes that up in Glenn Beck misses Joe McCarthy:
Glenn Beck’s obsession with rooting out the evils of progressivism have led him to take up history lately. But it’s a strange kind of history, an alternative one that bears little resemblance to what you might read in textbooks. (Since textbooks, after all, are all written by socialists.) On his show Thursday, Beck gave a special Fox News Channel gloss on Franklin D. Roosevelt – the villain in Beck’s narrative – and on Joe McCarthy – who magically transformed from a life-destroying demagogue to a hero.
The message seemed to be that everything you know is wrong:
Roosevelt, Beck explained, hired Communists all over the place for the growing federal government during the Depression and World War II. Not only that, but he wasn’t as popular as people think he was. “If FDR was so beloved, and no one was spooked by how much power he took, why is it that his body was barely cold when they passed the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution to make sure no one could ever serve as long as he did?” Beck asked. That’s not, strictly speaking, really true; Roosevelt died in 1945, and Congress didn’t pass the 22nd Amendment until 1947. It wasn’t ratified by the states until 1951.
Next came a blast of what’s become standard-issue conservative blather about how the New Deal actually made the economy worse during the 1930s, not better. “His policies didn’t save us,” Beck explained. “In fact, it was only in America that the period known as ‘the Depression’ is known as the ‘Great Depression’. Why? Because his policies stripped the free-market system and actually prolonged the depression.”
Madden does note that this is nonsense:
That’s not just slightly false, it’s really false. A British economist, Lionel Robbins, helped popularize the term with a book “The Great Depression,” published in 1934 – when he worked at the London School of Economics. Also, only the most dogmatic anti-New Deal conservatives – like Beck – think Roosevelt’s policies made the Depression worse. Many historians, in fact, think things worsened in the middle of the decade when FDR backed away from New Deal policies.
But of course FDR was only the warm-up act, as Crazy Uncle Joe wasn’t crazy at all, and people stupidly forget how wonderful he was:
“It was Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy, who shined the spotlight on the Communist Party again,” Beck said rhapsodically. “McCarthy later led a Senate committee investigation into inefficiencies in the government. Critics accused him of falsely identifying Communists, and smearing their names.”
Those pesky critics! Beck then brought up, for some reason, the Cold War “domino theory,” that if one nation went Communist, so would its neighbors. “Kind of feels like that now, doesn’t it?” he asked.
Yes, it was rambling – but McCarthy never falsely identified Communists and smeared their names, you see. That stuff in the history books, the archive film, the transcripts and all the rest – all made up. And Madden adds this:
Bashing FDR is, like it or not, becoming second-nature to conservatives. But you don’t often hear people willing to offer praise for McCarthy, who – as even Beck had to admit – was censured by the Senate in 1954 for his feverish pursuit of Reds, little of which he was able to substantiate.
What any of this had to do with current affairs was – as it often is while watching Beck’s show – a bit of a mystery. Until later in the program. On Monday’s show, he promised, he’d reveal a new Communist – working for the Obama White House.
Yglesias was onto something. Watch the whole thing here. We have a new Crazy Uncle – Glenn, son of Joe.
But the target now is not communists, just progressives, as Madden discusses here:
A generation after Ronald Reagan and his allies turned “liberal” into an epithet, conservatives are going after the term many Democrats adopted in its place. Glenn Beck and his paranoid Fox News Channel ranting is just at the forefront of what appears to be a movement to demonize the word “progressive,” in hopes of scaring voters away from the left. “Progressivism is the cancer in America, and it is eating our Constitution,” Beck told thousands of adoring fans at the conservative CPAC conference last month. “And it was designed to eat the Constitution. To ‘progress’ past the Constitution.” The National Review ran a whole special issue on progressives in December; staff writer Jonah Goldberg even published a book on the subject, “Liberal Fascism,” two years ago. The latest ad for Liz Cheney’s new group, Keep America Safe, prominently features Attorney General Eric Holder declaring that progressives are about to run the nation – before segueing, sharply, into asking whether Holder’s pals share the values of al-Qaida.
Madden goes on to note that the word was not always evil, not that it matters now:
But listen to Beck, or read the sources of his paranoia, and there’s a far more sinister history involved. Progressives, in Beck’s telling, were the prototypical European authoritarians, tied just as closely to fascists and Communists; the progressive notion that government could help change things for the better (instead of just staying out of the way of the free market) becomes the ideological glue that unites those two disparate movements. “Where did the progressives go, where did they come from?” Beck asked at CPAC. “All of a sudden, I’m not a liberal, I’m a progressive. It was the opposite a hundred years ago. I’m not a progressive, I’m a liberal. I mean they keep – they keep changing their names. Every time they wake America up to their policies, they have to change their names. What are they going to be next, the Royal Order of the Orange? It doesn’t matter. They’re running out of names.” Not long after that, he went on a long tangent praising Calvin Coolidge. At times, Beck really does seem to want to go back to a time before the Progressive Era. On Wednesday’s show, he scoffed at the notion of national parks and monuments, asking – dead seriously – why the country doesn’t just drill for oil in all of them to wipe out the national debt.
And so it goes:
The net effect of most of his rhetoric, though, just adds up to a spooky conspiracy theory that’s hard to follow because it jumps around so much. …
After all, it’s one thing to spin conspiracy theories and imply that your opponents are goose-stepping Nazi Communists hell-bent on seizing all private property. It’s another thing altogether to have a debate over whether to abolish the weekend, or go back to the pre-“Jungle” days of no meat inspection.
But we live in hard times, with the nation angry and befuddled, and we keep seeing stories like this:
The bankruptcy examiner’s report filed by Anton R. Valukas on the 2008 demise of Lehman Brothers discusses some accounting gimmicks that are eerily reminiscent of how Enron tried to prop up its balance sheet back in 2001 before it collapsed. Both companies appear to have played right along the edge of properly accounting for transactions designed to make them appear much stronger than they turned out to be, becoming steadily more aggressive as they teetered on the brink of ruin.
The examiner’s report discusses potential claims that the bankruptcy trustee can bring against Lehman’s former officers and outside advisers and does not mention potential government law enforcement action. Reading his report, however, gives strong indications that at a minimum the Securities and Exchange Commission is likely to pursue civil charges for securities fraud and that criminal charges are certainly possible against Lehman’s former top executives.
The rest of that is a bit dry, but it seems Lehman Brothers had been kind of lying to everyone, and had been flat broke the whole time anyway. That sort of thing makes it hard to fix the economy, and they went under soon enough. Is it high time to stop picking on the rich, as they are the heroes who make America what it is? Whatever Beck may say, one more fraud story doesn’t help.
And Chris Hayes explains why:
In the past decade, nearly every pillar institution in American society – whether it’s General Motors, Congress, Wall Street, Major League Baseball, the Catholic Church or the mainstream media – has revealed itself to be corrupt, incompetent or both. And at the root of these failures are the people who run these institutions, the bright and industrious minds who occupy the commanding heights of our meritocratic order. In exchange for their power, status and remuneration, they are supposed to make sure everything operates smoothly. But after a cascade of scandals and catastrophes, that implicit social contract lies in ruins, replaced by mass skepticism, contempt and disillusionment…
For more than 35 years, Gallup has polled Americans about levels of trust in their institutions – Congress, banks, Big Business, public schools, etc. In 2008 nearly every single institution was at an all-time low. Banks were trusted by just 32% of the populace, down from more than 50% in 2004. Newspapers were down to 24%, from slightly below 40% at the start of the decade. And Congress was the least trusted institution of all, with only 12% of Americans expressing confidence in it. The mistrust of élites extends to élites themselves. Every year, public-relations guru Richard Edelman conducts a “trust barometer” across 22 countries, in which he surveys only highly educated, high-earning, media-attentive people. In the U.S., these people show extremely low levels of trust in government and business alike. Particularly distrusted are the superman CEOs of yore. “Chief-executive trust has just been mired in the mid- to low 20s,” says Edelman. “It started off with Enron and culminates in Citi.”
Of course Bruce Springsteen has made a career of singing about this loss of faith, but see Stephen C. Webster with this item – Beck: Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is Anti-American, Propaganda. The Boss really hates America. No one saw the truth there either, but Glenn Beck did.
Perhaps the question now is clear. What else can Glenn Beck tell us that everyone had wrong – perhaps the earth really is flat – and the product of a conspiracy no one has seen before, that he wants you to wake up and see? When he effectively told most of America to walk away from their church – actually to run like hell – some thought he’d finally gone too far. But we’ll see in the coming Sundays. Maybe he really has changed America.