Is Glen Beck the voice of the people?

Published 9:54 am Friday, October 2, 2009

Glen Beck is a popular Fox TV commentator with a rapidly growing audience. He is a political conservative, to the right of many, and a populist in his appeal to people generally displeased with the direction of our national government.

But is he the voice of the people? Is his perspective matched to those who march at tea parties, are deathers or birthers or shouters?

Or is he just another in a long and ignoble line of conspiracy theorists that have prospered in America for generations?

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Historically, when Americans have been faced with significant social change, many of them have retreated to the far right and have considered some pretty outrageous ideas to explain their reasons for fearing change.

During the Eisenhower presidency, a period brimming with upcoming social change, the John Birch Society, a far right group, accused Eisenhower of being a secret communist.

Of course, with the wisdom of historical hindsight, we know that charge was not only false, but, ultimately, silly.

Yet, at the time, some believed the charge and feared the president would destroy the country with a “secret” communist agenda.

Likewise, Glen Beck sees in President Obama the same threat. Beck recently said “The Manchurian Candidate couldn’t destroy us faster than Barack Obama.” Like in Eisenhower’s day, some will listen and believe Beck. It is the nature of the American response to change.

But make no mistake, the audience for Glen Beck is the audience of fear, those who see America changing and can only see change as their enemy.

For it is such uncertainty that invites people to consider the unlikely and the impossible. In the face of a terrible, jobless economy, out-of-control soaring national debt, wars and crises’, many Americans seek security in stability.

Unfortunately, America cannot right now prevent the changes we face as a nation. We cannot continue to ignore the security threat that dependence on foreign oil presents.

Nor can we fall behind other nations as they move to better, alternative energy sources.

We cannot ignore that our increases in the cost of health care are going to bankrupt the nation if not averted, and averted soon. For too many Americans, raises at work are lost every year to rising health care premiums.

Nor can we continue to ignore that our trade policies are harming most Americans while profiting the richest Americans. We have to address the environment; we can’t continue to damage the only place we have to live.

And during this period of change, much like the dramatic change of the 1960s we will have the Glen Becks as conspiracy theorists who see danger hiding in every change, who will imagine all is lost and the sky is falling and will have followers touting their insight. Every period of change has such extremists.

But when these predictable and extreme voices come forward our political parties will have to decide if they will embrace or push them away. For Beck and Republicans it is the issue of “Is the enemy of my enemy my friend”? Republicans need to consider that seriously, for Glen Beck is an extremist of the First Order, one as likely to be an embarrassment as a helper.

On any given day Beck might espouse ideas that cause even the Birchers to blush, conspiracy theories like his comments on New York public artwork as communist.

His listeners, seeking security in their fear of change, may want to believe, but even Fox Mulder would turn away from Beck.

Beck really is a crazy pants guy after all.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.