By Max Udargo | April 14, 2009
Glenn Beck is a political pundit the same way Howard Stern is a gynecologist.
While it’s true that female anatomy plays an important role in what Stern does, and women may be required to disrobe when visiting him at his place of work, it requires a very loose definition of “gynecologist” to include Stern in the profession. And while Beck uses current events as fodder for what he does, it stretches the concept of “political commentary” to suggest Beck is a serious voice in our nation’s collective political conversation.
On the other hand, with each passing day the modern American conservative movement seems less and less an ideology and more and more a genre of entertainment, so it’s not difficult to understand how Beck’s shtick could be confused with real political discourse. Conservatives are one half of the political dialogue, right? And there was a time when conservatives were serious people with real ideas, even if you didn’t agree with them. Right? It wasn’t always like this. What happened?
For a while, conservatives were on the cutting-edge of political thinking. They had all the new ideas. They were shaking things up and even redefining reality. Remember? It was an aide to President George W. Bush who reportedly coined the phrase “reality-based community,” and he meant it as a disparaging description of sissy liberals who deal with reality on its own terms instead of molding new realities with manly action.
But here’s the thing about redefining reality: you can’t do it. Reality is reality, baby. And all your brilliant ideas and manly sweat and smug self-confidence are plankton to reality’s big Blue Whale.
Reality is that ache in your joints, that sag in your jowls, that crease in your face, that blur in your vision, and that grave in your future. You can fight it – baby, you can fight it tooth and nail – with aerobics, surgery, and antioxidants, and you can even hold it back for a moment if you’re willing to put out the energy, but it will win in the end. Reality always wins. That’s why we call it reality.
Most people understand this. We have a word for that minority of people who don’t. We call them “crazy.” In fact, a pretty common definition of crazy is “refusing to accept reality.”
A lot of conservatives are not crazy. They understand that they have to deal with reality on reality’s terms. They understand that conservative policies have failed the country. If they still consider themselves conservatives, then they probably qualify this understanding with a theory about why the policies failed even though the principles are sound. Maybe it was because the policies were poorly implemented. Maybe the policies need to be reevaluated to assure they correctly embody the principles. But for whatever reason, the policies of the past have failed. That’s an inescapable reality.
And our sane conservative friends understand that the country has chosen a new direction. They understand that their conservative ideology is unpopular with Americans right now, and they understand that the new president is very popular and has the support of the overwhelming majority of Americans. They understand that there is a difference between their subjective dislike for the president and his policies on the one hand, and objective measures of the president’s popularity on the other. They know that making this fundamental distinction between subjective feelings and objective realities is something adults have to do to keep in touch with reality and remain sane.
Our sane conservative friends also love their country, and they understand the difference between country and ego, and they understand why that distinction is important to both sanity and patriotism. They understand that you can’t petulantly hope for the failure of economic policies because they’re not the policies of which you approve. They know you can’t be a patriot and hope for bad things to happen to your country. You can fear that certain policies are going to result in bad things for your country, and you can even be absolutely convinced that bad things are going to happen, but that’s different from hoping for bad things. If you hope a policy fails, that means you believe it’s at least possible that it will succeed. And if it might work, a patriot doesn’t hope it fails just because it wasn’t his idea.
Our sane conservative compatriots understand that just because things haven’t gone their way and they are feeling kind of glum, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. They aren’t going to become hysterical or unhinged because they’re not getting their way.
Our sane conservative friends are going to deal with reality. It’s just part of being sane.
And then there’s Glenn Beck, or more accurately, the type of conservative to whom Beck is pandering. These are crazy conservatives. These are the conservatives who continue to believe they can force reality to bend to their will if they are stubborn enough.
For them, reality is defined ideologically, not objectively. There is no objective world, there are only the ideological truths they know to be eternal and self-evident.
They know for a fact that they are the majority. They know Americans by and large agree with them and reject the new president and his policies. They know Obama is going to raise their taxes, take their guns, and surrender their freedoms to the Soviet Union. They are convinced that Obama’s inability to select appropriate gifts for foreign dignitaries has shaken confidence in the president both at home and abroad. They fear he will soon deplete the deep reservoir of international goodwill so assiduously built up by the Bush administration. They know he will always be weak in the face of terrorists and pirates, and they know Captain Phillips will be left to float forever in the waters off Somalia while Obama and his liberal advisers wring their hands and do nothing. All of these things are true and nothing will ever convince them otherwise, certainly nothing as contemptible as reality.
In short, they’re crazy. They’ve left reality far behind and they’re determined never to turn back. This effectively excludes them from political discourse. You can’t talk to crazy people. The things you want to talk about are not part of their reality. You can’t reason with them and you can’t argue with them.
But you can entertain them. Crazy people are actually pretty easy to entertain. If you’re willing to validate their alternate reality, and join in the crazy, you’ll make them deliriously happy. If you help create a happy place without dissonance, you’ll be rewarded with their undivided attention.
And that’s what Glenn Beck has figured out. It’s a variation on Rush Limbaugh’s original business model, updated for a more delusional audience. It’s not politics and it’s not news, it’s a genre of entertainment targeting a very specific demographic. And it’s obviously the basis for a new FOX News business model in the post-Bush era.
The “tea parties” scheduled for tomorrow are nothing more than a big promotional stunt orchestrated by Beck, FOX News, and their various business partners and associates, and I can’t help but think of another publicity stunt dreamed up by two gentlemen back in 1978 to promote a radio station in Cincinnati.
(Please forgive the commercials.)
One of the pinnacles of television comedy occurs in the final scene when Mr. Carlson tries to explain to his staff how he conceived such a disastrous stunt : “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”
I’ll leave it to you to decide who tomorrow will play the part of Mr. Carlson, the part of Andy Travis, the part of Les Nessman, the part of Herb Tarlek, who will be the turkeys, and who will be the unsuspecting shoppers. I leave it up to you because I’m not sure myself, except for the turkeys. I think we all know who the turkeys are. And I think we’ll have the rest sorted out by the time 2012 rolls around.