Remember when Glenn Beck accused President Obama of winning followers like a totalitarian demagogue, warned against the nefarious tendencies of community organizers, and was himself defended against critics by Jonah Goldberg, who called Beck "a libertarian populist?” Now the cable television host is touting a "radical," details-to-be-announced mass movement that promises to save the United States. Its name: "The Plan."
It includes a series of adult education seminars where citizens will be taught political activism, self-reliance, and the dread community organizing. The often tearful Fox News personality also promises a book that will include more specifics.
"We need to start thinking like the Chinese," Mr. Beck said at a recent rally. "I’m developing a 100 year plan for America."
At long last, prudent conservatives and libertarians are growing uncomfortable with Mr. Beck's rhetoric. I hope Mr. Goldberg is among them, as there isn't anyone better to write a National Review take-down of The Plan, titled Libertarian Fascism: How Glenn Beck Got Cover from the Right Until It Was Too Late to Stop Him. It wouldn’t require much work. Large excerpts could be copied and pasted from the paperback version of Liberal Fascism, Mr. Goldberg’s recent bestseller.
The weird thing is: some aspects of the current tea-party movement appeal to me. Its deep concern with debt and spending is shared by the Dish and has been since its inception. And a conservative critique of unrestrained capitalism - especially the reckless speculation and banking sector in the past decade - is vital if we are to save capitalism from itself. But Beck is not Richard Posner or Bruce Bartlett or Charles Murray, whose ideas are worth taking seriously. As Charles Murray puts it:
"Beck uses tactics that include tiny snippets of film as proof of a person’s worldview, guilt by association, insinuation, and occasionally outright goofs like the fake quote. To put it another way, I as a viewer have no way to judge whether Beck is right. I have to trust that the snippets are not taken out of context, that the dubious association between A and B actually has evidence to support it, and that his numbers are accurate. It is impossible to have that trust."
No wonder Palin feels a kindred spirit. The two of them represent the degenerate expression of cliches that used to be ideas (and ideas worth retaining and adjusting to new circumstances). But the vessel for rethinking will not come from proud ignoramuses and populist Elmer Gantrys. It will not come from reiterating propaganda but from confronting unpleasant facts about conservatism's recent catastrophic failures and mistakes.
They're not thinking; they're emoting.
They're not engaged in reforming conservatism; they're engaged in escapist denialism about real problems.
They are a sign of profound cultural sickness, not resurgent political and civic health.