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Something of a Puzzle

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Before I start in on this here, I’d like to point out that I was not advocating in favor of “progressive” government policies in my last post–I was just pointing out the obvious, which is that the way to GET such policies is for the people (Wall Street, the insurance companies, etc) whose ox would be gored by them to insist on behaving like jerks.

If Reason–the monthly publication of one of the most vigorously libertarian think tanks in the country–could figure that out, my guess is that the rest of us can, too.

That said, I have this puzzle, and it’s an interesting one.

Some of you may remember from a few posts ago that I had just received a little stack of conservative books from various people, one of which was Glenn Beck’s Arguing With Idiots.

I first heard of Glenn Beck entirely by accident.  During the bad weather months, I keep my car radio tuned to a local AM radio station that happens to have the best and most complete weather information available for where I have to drive.

This station is about fifty-fifty music (oldies–real oldies, from the Fifties sometimes, even) and talk, and the talk is relentlessly conservative, both because talk radio tends to be and because the station is a FoxNews affiliate.

The talk show I caught most often was hosted by a local guy named Ed Flynn, who makes “farther right than Atilla the Hun” seem moderate.  I’d listen to long rants about how George W. Bush was practically a socialist and Obama was going to be worse if he was elected–I told you this was a while ago–and by then I was usually where I wanted to go.

Every once in a while, though, I’d be late, and being late I’d catch the next show, which was Glenn Beck’s syndicated talk.  And it struck me, right from the beginning, that this man was completely beserk. 

Now, I’ve listened to Limbaugh on radio on and off, and not liked him much–although I did rather like his short-lived television show.  I don’t know.  Too much screaming on talk radio, I think, too much aggressive belligerance. 

But Beck was much farther out there than Rush, or at least than the Rush I’d heard, and, like Ed Flynn, he tended to see both major US political parties as socialist in deed if not in word.  And Beck was much more flamboyant, too, and much more emotional–ack, it’s hard to describe unless you’d heard it.  Some of you may be old enough to remember the ads that used to run for a chain of electronics sstores called Crazy Eddie’s.  Beck’s talk show was like those.

Then there was a vacation and I didn’t drive in that direction for a while, and when I went back to it the Beck program seemed to have disappeared.

A few months later, I found out why–Beck had his own program five nights a week on FoxNews. 

And he was, on his program–and is, on his program–just as he was in his radio addresses–completely beserk, over the top, borderline nutso in a way that neither Olbermann nor O’Reilly could even begin to approach.

And some of what he does on air (I think he said at one point that he was live, at least for the originating show) is just peculiar–there are times that he’s almost reduced to tears and other times when he’s bouncing around like a pingpong ball.  He makes no secret of having been an alcoholic, but what his behavior looks like is a kind of rapid-fire version of bipolar–up down UPPP doownnn….

There are graphs, there are charts, there are conspiracy theories–the man really did spend a program “proving” that the iconography of Rockefeller Center–ROCKEFELLER CENTER–was “socialist.”  And he’s so completely off the wall about the Obama administration that I can’t believe he isn’t screwing over his own cause by saying some of the things he says.

So I opened the book expecting the diary of a nutcase.

And got a perfectly reasonable exposition of the hard end of libertarianism.

I mean it.  There’s nothing crazy about the book, at least as far as I’ve gotten, and I’m four fifths of the way through it.

There are things I don’t like, not the least of which is the book design.  The thing is outsized, like half a coffee table book, and it’s designed to death, with sidebars, graphs, all kinds of things. Beck says he’s ADD, or maybe ADHD (REALLY wouldn’t surprise me), and I can see how the design is meant to mimic a mind that works like that.

And I’ll admit that the design is at least consistent, so that I finally did figure out how to deal with it without getting tangled up in it.

But still.

And there are some things I don’t agree with, although there’s a great deal I do agree with.  I’m more of a soft libertarian than a hard one, but the basic philosophy remains, and it’s the details we’re arguing about.

And Beck writes well–he’s clear, he’s straightforward, he keeps his logical fallacies to a minimum, and I mostly do know when he’s joking.  Like when he put Tiger Woods higher on the list of 10 Worst Bastards in History than Adolf Hitler.

So I started looking around, and came up with the information that the man went to Yale, although he dropped out before graduating.

Yale.  ADHD.  Alocholism.  The Bonzo act…

I’m at a loss to explain what’s going on here.  I suppose that the Bonzo act draws in listeners (on radio) and viewers (on FoxNews), but it also repels quite a few. 

The message of the book is coherent, focused and clear. You can agree or disagree, but you won’t come out of it thinking that Beck is certifiable.  You often do come out of that television program thinking he is.  Or worse.

If what this guy is trying to do is convince more Americans to be libertarian instead of liberal…he needs some kind of reality check.

Written by janeh

October 20th, 2009 at 9:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Something of a Puzzle'

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  1. I’ve never understood the expression “farther right than Atilla the Hun”. After ll, Atilla redistributed wealth from the rich Romans to the poor Huns. Wouldn’t that make him left wing?

    I have no personal knowledge of US radio or TV but I’m a cynic. Beck works for Fox, Fox sells ads, the higher the rating, the more they can charge for ads. He’s not trying to convert people, he’s trying to get viewers. And obviously succeeding.

    Perhaps an Australian analogy is a “current affairs” program that has been on prime time TV for years. Typically a company is being sued, they interview unhappy customers, then they go to the manager’s home, thrust a TV camera and microphone in his face and ask for comments.

    The dialog goes “would you care to comment for our viewers?”

    “No comment.”

    “He won’t talk to us. Draw your own conclusions.”

    My conclusion is that he’s being sued and his lawyers have told him not to make public comments.

    I stopped watching after 3 episodes but the show seems to be popular.


    20 Oct 09 at 11:33 am

  2. In my small library, I don’t always order non-fiction bestsellers unless there’s a specific request. I did buy Beck’s previous nonfiction book and his Christmas Sweater book. However, did you notice the following contributors to Arguing with Idiots: Balfe, Kevin (Author), Burguiere, Steve (Author), Andros, Dan (Author), Sack, Brian (Author), Gura, Alan (Author)? Is it possible that some of more reasonable prose came from some of these contributors and not Beck himself?


    20 Oct 09 at 1:53 pm

  3. I’ll stand by my earlier conclusion: talk is talk, and cheap–whether in film, TV or radio. Facts and reason are written down, with footnotes or at least sources.

    However, I may have seen what you describe–a classmate in my undergraduate days was seemingly incapable of coherent speech. If you listened carefully, you could hear that he had a lot of information available, but it wouldn’t come out as organized sentences or paragraphs before he started on something else. (Chewing on a pen until he had ink stains on his face also diminished his credibility somewhat. People didn’t always focus on his words.) But a professor in an unguarded moment assured me that his written work–produced in class from blue books the faculty supplied–had all the organization his speech did not. The cases sound similar enough. But if this is a recognized behavior pattern, I’ve never heard a name for it.

    But I should also note that Mr. Beck seems to be making a decent living out of being hyperkinetic in broadcast media, while there is not much market for incoherent books. Crazy like a FOX?

    If this is true, he may not be the only one. Does anyone remember the old broadcast TV–“Reports?” “White Papers?” (They always started off with “Appalchian Spring” for theme music, if that helps.) Always polite and informative, always trying to hear both sides and tilting only slightly to the left. Now ask yourself how much money THAT sort of movie would make for Michael or Al. Or imagine a Barbara Ehrenreich book concluding that if you applied yourself and stuck to one thing, you could get ahead and make a decent living for yourself in America, and imagine the review the New York Times will give it.

    As was said at the funeral of a Hollywood mogul, “if you give people what they want, they’ll turn out.”


    20 Oct 09 at 4:40 pm

  4. I think poor Attila gets the blame because he had high name-recognition when someone who didn’t like right-wing people wanted to coin a phrase along the lines of ‘more papist than the pope’ or ‘more royalist than the king’. ‘More right-wing than…’ – the inventor needed a name or category that was readily recognizable and had a negative connotation.

    I don’t know any of the people involved, but I gave up on almost all talk shows back when I noticed that the hosts in the local equivalent were deliberately stirring up controversy and increasing division for their own purposes. That struck me as being dishonest (as a way to describe or discuss some contentious issue of the day) and immoral, because of its dishonesty and nastiness. We had one who used to, and for all I know still does, make deliberately provocative statements attributed to ‘some people would say’ to stir things up a bit.

    The only ones I’ve listened to since are ones offering gardening advice or tidbits about local history or trivia quizzes.


    21 Oct 09 at 6:04 am

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