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Mr. Continetti is doing important work here. American political discourse is poisoned by the notion that "the loyal opposition" is actually "on the other side." He is doing a particular favor to conservatives. Effective political opposition is predicated on grasping what motivates your ideological adversaries, assessing the appeal of their ideas, and understanding how some of them might be persuaded away to your coalition.
"Socialism and fascism," the author writes in Glenn Beck's Common Sense, "have been on the rise for two administrations now." Beck's book Arguing with Idiots contains a list of the "Top Ten Bastards of All Time," on which Pol Pot (No. 10), Adolf Hitler (No. 6), and Pontius Pilate (No. 4) all rank lower than FDR (No. 3) and Woodrow Wilson (No. 1). In Glenn Beck's Common Sense Beck writes, "With a few notable exceptions, our political leaders have become nothing more than parasites who feed off our sweat and blood."
This is nonsense. Whatever you think of Theodore Roosevelt, he was not Lenin. Woodrow Wilson was not Stalin. The philosophical foundations of progressivism may be wrong. The policies that progressivism generates may be counterproductive. Its view of the Constitution may betray the Founders'. Nevertheless, progressivism is a distinctly American tradition that partly came into being as a way to prevent ideologies like communism and fascism from taking root in the United States. And not even the stupidest American liberal shares the morality of the totalitarian monsters whom Beck analogizes to American politics so flippantly.Read and watch enough Glenn Beck, and you realize that he is not only introducing new authors and ideas into public life, he is reintroducing old ideas. Some very old ideas. The notion that America's leaders are indistinguishable from America's enemies has a long and sorry history.
Beck is not simply an entertainer. He and his audience love American history. They are hungry for new ways to interpret current events. And Beck is creating, in Amity Shlaes's words, "a competing canon" of texts and authorities. This competing canon is not content to assault contemporary liberalism, but rather deconstructs the very foundations of the New Deal and the Progressive Era. Among the books Beck regularly cites on his programs are Shlaes's Forgotten Man, Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, Larry Schweickart and Michael Allen's Patriot's History of the United States, and Burt Folsom Jr.'s New Deal or Raw Deal? And books like Matthew Spalding's We Still Hold These Truths, Seth Lipsky's Citizen's Constitution, and William J. Bennett and John Cribb's American Patriot's Almanac all belong on the list as well.Mr. Goldberg writes:
This intellectual journey has led Beck to some disturbing conclusions. Whereas Rick Santelli says the housing plan and the stimulus aren't sensible, Beck says the Obama administration is the culmination of 100 years of unconstitutional governance. On the "We Surround Them" episode, Beck said, "The system has been perverted and it has to be restored." In between bouts of weeping, he asked, "What happened to the country that loved the underdog and stood up for the little guy?" That country, he implied, is vanishing before our eyes. In Beck's world, politics is less about issues than it is about "us" versus "them." We may have them surrounded. But "we can't trust anyone."
Matt is free to dispute Beck's "disturbing conclusions" all he likes. But at times he seems to be trying -- and trying very hard -- to use Beck to discredit the entire conservative argument against the progressive revolution in politics. That's an odd thing for a conservative writer, particularly one at the Standard, to do, given that so many of its contributors and editors have shown sympathy or support for that project in the past. I don't have time to look up each one, but I suspect that nearly all of these books were well reviewed by the Weekly Standard (if they were reviewed at all) -- including my book, which is arguably the most "radical" of the bunch and yet doesn't endorse anything like the conspiratorial politics Continetti describes.On the merits, this paragraph is easily rebutted. Again, here is Mr. Continetti (emphasis added):
Whatever you think of Theodore Roosevelt, he was not Lenin. Woodrow Wilson was not Stalin. The philosophical foundations of progressivism may be wrong. The policies that progressivism generates may be counterproductive. Its view of the Constitution may betray the Founders'. Nevertheless, progressivism is a distinctly American tradition that partly came into being as a way to prevent ideologies like communism and fascism from taking root in the United States. And not even the stupidest American liberal shares the morality of the totalitarian monsters whom Beck analogizes to American politics so flippantly.In other words, Mr. Continetti isn't trying to discredit the entire conservative argument against the progressive revolution -- he is explicitly acknowledging that progressivism may be wrong, counterproductive, even a betrayal of the Founders! Rather, Mr. Continetti is trying to discredit a small part of the argument some conservatives use against the progressives: the argument that they are the equivalent of totalitarian monsters.
Let's assume for the sake of argument that Continetti is right when he says that Beck's intellectual journey has led him into troubled waters. Why can't Matt give Beck's fans in the tea party the benefit of the doubt? Surely if they read Hayek, Shlaes, Bennett, Spalding, yours truly and others, they won't go to the dark side too? I sincerely doubt that Continetti believes that they would. But he's sort of forced to go there because the real point of his essay is to denounce Beck which means he must denounce all of Beck's project as wellPerhaps Mr. Continetti is assuming that less than 100 percent of Mr. Beck's millions of television viewers and radio listeners will complete the whole reading list -- that some of them will simply trust that their favorite conservative entertainer has offered a correct interpretation of the texts on air. Maybe he thinks that scrutinizing demagogic, conspiracy-minded leaders of populist movements is a worthy project even if the chance of the audience "going to the dark side" is very small. Or it could be that he was following the example of William F. Buckley, who marginalized The John Birch Society even though it faced long odds of dragging the whole conservative movement off to loony land.
A more fair-minded treatment of Beck would at least acknowledge that Beck is right about a lot of things, that he gets people to read worthwhile and mainstream conservative and libertarian books, and that a good number of his fans and followers are perfectly capable of making up their own minds. And a more fair-minded treatment of the tea parties wouldn't use them as a Trojan Horse for an attack on Beck.Mr. Continetti does acknowledge that Beck is getting his audience to read conservative and libertarian books -- I don't know whether or not he thinks they are worthwhile -- and criticizing Beck for the problematic influence he has on the Tea Party movement is hardly akin to... let me try to figure this out... putting a metaphorical wooden horse made of the tea party inside The Weekly Standard and tricking its unsuspecting audience into turning the pages before burning their city to the ground ... or something? But here I am grappling with metaphors tangential to the argument, so I'll conclude by recommending that Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Continetti debate on Bloggingheads.
Electricity bills are confusing, and don't arrive until long after the damage is done. The fix to a system that's high in both costs and headaches lies in connecting consumers to their consumption--show people what they're using in real time, and make it easy to compare costs to kilowatts.
The sexes: Women are dominating society as never before. Are Fathers Necessary?Plus:
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Security: Most terrorists are bungling fools. Spread the word.