If you can't stand to watch Glenn Beck on television and want some idea of how he persuades a noisy minority of Americans of his sanity, one place to look is the #1 best-selling politics book in America: "Glenn Beck's Common Sense." My own book "Daybreak" briefly knocked Beck's out of the #1 spot on Amazon, but Beck is back there with his extremely short and fluffy book written "with Joseph Kerry" and "inspired by Thomas Paine."
Paine, rather famously, wrote a book denouncing religion and supported the separation of church and state. Beck's book promotes religion as the solution to all our political problems. And Beck is right about some of the problems, right about people being angry, and right that vague talk of freedom and founding fathers helps his cause. But his specifics are ugly, and his book serves to misdirect people's anger. His introduction describes his desired readers and makes clear that they are not poor or black or gay:
"You have credit cards, but you can make the payments. You have a home, but with a loan you can afford. . . . You don't have much in savings and your retirement plans have lost a significant amount of money. . . . You don't hate people who are different than you, but you stopped expressing opinions on sensitive issues a long time ago because you don't want to be called a racist, bigot, or homophobe if you stand by your values and principles."
Beck loves individual liberty, but opposes it to "transnationalism" as though the illegal spying programs and baseless arrests and denials of the right to assemble come from the United Nations. Beck rightly denounces the bankster bailouts, but equates and conflates them with safety nets for ordinary people -- which he opposes with equal fury. Beck loves his own words, but equates them with God's. Beck loves freedom but equates it with "the free market."
Beck smoothly denounces government abuses of power and opposes both major political parties, but offers no reforms to diminish the power of parties other than encouraging people to vote for third-party candidates if they can find some who are crazier than the Republicans. At the top of Beck's list of government abuses are such horrors as: taxation of corporations, failure to swiftly build a 670-mile fence to pretend to keep out the Mexicans, and politicians supposedly "insisting" that groups maintain their cultural identities and languages.
At one point Beck takes up the possibility of taxing the rich and corporations, but easily refutes it. He lists the profits of four corporations and announces his conclusion that you couldn't find enough money there to pay off our national debt. Could you not find enough to pay off part of it? Do we not have a bit more than four corporations left in the United States? Beck then says that current income tax is not enough either, but isn't that the point of proposing to raise it on the super-wealthy (and lower it for the rest of us)?
Beck points out that rich people cheat on taxes, from which he concludes that the tax code is too complicated (as of course it is, but is that really the issue?), from which he then concludes that we need a nice simple flat tax. The fact that a flat tax would radically reduce taxes on the super-wealthy while shifting more burden to the rest of us is presumably overlooked by Beck's readers.
Then Beck finds a list of incidents in which CEO-types have been held to some slight account, such as Congress's silly show of complaining about AIG's bonuses, which was itself cover for the larger problem of having funneled our grandchildren's earnings into AIG's coffers. Beck turns a list of attacks on executives and banksters into attacks on ordinary citizens, and then includes right in the middle of the list, as yet another attack on working people, the Employee Free Choice Act. This Beck denounces as depriving us of the sacred secret ballot. Never mind that this bill would still allow secret ballots in unionization, but would impose penalties on companies that cheated.
When Beck finishes a long defense of CEO salaries, he launches into an attack on congressional ones. Apparently a couple of hundred thousand dollars is criminal, but hundreds of millions is entirely appropriate. But Beck frames all of this as populism and demand for control of our lying cheating so-called representatives. He denounces gerrymandering and other real abuses, sounding very sane, and then dives into an explanation of how climate change is a scam designed to facilitate expanded government control of our lives. There's also apparently a conspiracy to replace families with international laws and institutions.
An appropriate response to all of this scariness, Beck thinks, is buying guns:
Let's hope not.
Let's hope instead that Beck reads this line in his own book the next time he talks with or about a war criminal or a torturer:
"If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it."