Glenn Beck's too excitable for some conservatives, but he's got a lot of fans, so it's rare for someone on the right to take him on directly. Matthew Continetti, however, does just that in a cover story for The Weekly Standard. His subject is how the Tea Party has two faces best represented by the cable-TV stars who could be considered its founders: Rick Santelli and Glenn Beck.
Continetti discusses both men and maintains a neutral tone for most of the piece. But when he gets to Beck's tracing of progressivism to communism and fascism, he lets go:
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.
Continetti's not done. He accuses Beck of recycling "old ideas," and bad old ideas at that: "The notion that America's leaders are indistinguishable from America's enemies has a long and sorry history. In the 1950s it led Robert Welch, the head of the John Birch Society, to proclaim that President Dwight Eisenhower was a Communist sympathizer." Conservative hero William Buckley denounced Welch for this, he points out--and apparently Continetti is attempting to do the same thing with Beck.
"For Beck," he continues, "conspiracy theories are not aberrations. They are central to his worldview. They are the natural consequence of assuming that the world hangs by a thread, and that everyone is out to get you." He rebuts Beck's notion that the state and the people are pitted against each other. Finally, he ties it all up with a clear suggestion for Tea Party followers: if you've got a choice between Beck and Santelli, go with Santelli.
The Tea Party cannot choose one face over the other; they are both part of the same movement. But the Tea Party can decide which face it puts forward. And in the coming days that decision will be of great consequence. It is the choice between Reagan and Goldwater. Santelli and Beck. Reform and revolution. Common sense and conspiracy. The future and the past. Victory--and defeat.