Glenn Beck May Be a Clown -- But the Shady Right-Wingers Who Pull His Strings Are Dangerous
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Glenn Beck is a charlatan. A clown. A buffoon. He belongs on a second tier stage in Vegas, and he very well may end up there, some day. He is not dangerous, but his ability to exploit the legitimately angry dispossessed reveals something that is dangerous. Decades of right wing economic policies have undermined unions, the middle class, the social safety net, and the sense that we are all in this together, moving into a better future. Few believe their children or grandchildren will inherit a better world. People are afraid, and they don't understand why they are afraid. And while Glenn Greenwald is correct that by not seizing the mantle of populism, the Democrats have created a void that was ripe for exploitation, that inevitable exploitation has come to be personified by the likes of Glenn Beck. He disseminates lies and disinformation, preying on the vulnerable, distracting them from even beginning to be able to grasp the real reasons why their dreams seem more and more illusory, and their ability to maintain even a basic sense of security and comfort more and more tenuous.
Dana Milbank is about to publish a book on Beck, and the poor guy did his research. Presumably, afterward, he had to sterilize himself with turpentine and kerosene. In an article in the Washington Post, over the weekend, he provided a brief summary of what he has learned about Beck. And he began by recounting an anecdote from Beck's 2003 memoir. Beck admits to having been strongly influenced by Orson Welles, who used to travel around Manhattan in an ambulance. The sirens were screaming not because Welles was ill, but because it was a good way to beat traffic.
Most of us would regard this as dishonest, a ploy by the self-confessed charlatan that Welles was. Beck saw it as a model to be emulated. "Welles," he writes, "inspired me to believe that I can create anything that I can see or imagine."
But as Milbank points out, Welles was an admitted charlatan. First and foremost, he was a showman, one of the rare filmmakers about whom the word "genius" legitimately applied. Welles was the master of illusion, making magic of manipulation. For the most part, he used that genius and mastery to entertain and create art, although it famously got well out of hand with his War of the Worlds radio broadcast. But Beck casts himself as something genuine. He cries as if he's capable of genuine sympathy and empathy. But his manipulations and machinations are not merely for entertainment, and they're not even merely for self-aggrandizement. First and foremost, they are used to enforce and reinforce the very political and economic structures that subjugate the people whose alienation and disillusionment find false solace in the theatrical rantings of people like Beck.
I was reminded of Beck's affection for deception as he hyped his march on Washington -- an event scheduled for the same date (Aug. 28) and on the same spot (the Lincoln Memorial) as Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic march 47 years ago. Beck claimed it was pure coincidence, but then he made every effort to appropriate the mantle of the great civil rights leader.
King, the peacemaker. The adherent to the principles of Gandhi. The man who wrote and lived " Strength To Love." And then, there's Beck, who says he chose the date of his rally without even knowing its historical significance, attributing the coincidence to "divine providence." And the most disturbing part is that some people apparently believe him.