Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | August 28, 2010

What Beck Does Right

There are a lot of good people – people with whom I agree on most things – who are put off by Glenn Beck.  Sometimes I’m put off by Glenn Beck.  There are conclusions he makes about history that I find simplistic, off-center, or just plain wrong.  His on-screen persona can be over the top.

But today, I come not to bury Glenn Beck but to praise him.  Because he does something right that matters more than almost anything else: he stands where he believes he’s been told by God to stand, and says what he knows he has to say.

The things that discourage us from doing that have great power.  For many people, it just feels indecorous.  Personality and upbringing are a tremendous self-deterrent.  For a lot of others, the natural fear of being misunderstood and thought a fool is a mighty influence.  There are many who agree with much of what Beck says, but are discouraged from saying it themselves, because of the long experience we all have with the spin-and-obfuscation machine that is automatically set in motion by any conservative-right assertion, no matter how nuanced.  Beck actually makes some insightful and complex arguments, when he’s dealing with things he has gained substantial knowledge of, but all his arguments are misrepresented on principle in the leftosphere: reworded and distorted to put him in a bad light.

Even many on the right are at pains to repudiate him, as they do other popular conservative mega-figures like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh.  But as I have written about Sarah Palin before, I see in Beck a quality that conservatives despise at their peril.  That quality is the willingness to stand up and answer the call, no matter what:  to say what he knows he has been appointed to say, and not tack or trim to catch the winds of MSM approval.

What Glenn Beck believes he has been appointed to say is about character in the American people.  He’s been making that point for months, as far as I can tell.  It’s why he invokes Martin Luther King, Jr. so often.  If you weren’t prepared for Beck’s Restoring Honor rally to be about character, then you don’t know much about him.  And for Beck – as for millions of other Americans – character cannot be addressed apart from God.  For Beck, as for these others, there is nothing artificial or strained about calling on God and behaving as if we live in His presence; it is natural, reflexive, and unforced.

The left will do what it’s going to do, but what I’d like to do here is reiterate a point I made about Palin last year to my fellows on the right.  The point is this:  people like Beck, Palin, and Limbaugh are as much a test of our character as anything else.  Are we so dedicated to a set idea of decorum and credentials that we will close our ears to people who are telling us the truth, because of their social attributes, communication style, and demeanor?

When we see 500,000 or more people turn out on the Mall at the end of August – in the heat and humidity, in a painful recession, after school and sports have already started in many states – are we going to insist that that’s “not conservatism,” that it’s something we need to triangulate away from and reject, because people prayed to God, got emotional, and talked about character?

And if so, what is it we’re waiting for that we think is better?  From what standpoint is it better?  Glenn Beck, for all his intellectual faults (and we each have them), sees something very clearly:  that America needs a restoration of character.  Our republican liberties depend on republican virtues, and there is no future for our republican ideal if the virtues are not re-identified and cultivated again.  His unique perspective on this is suffused by more practical truth than any raft of academic studies, because he’s a recovering alcoholic.  “Restoration” is a theme he has a gift for: a gift not only of analytical insight but of personal experience with balancing justice and mercy, and distinguishing between self-deception and realistic hope.

And he’s right about this, too:  America can’t be set on a better course solely with changes in federal policy.  Law and government don’t – can’t – make the people good.  They don’t make us eligible for liberty.  Our law and government are only as good as we are.  It’s the people who have to change.  And spiritual revival never looks like something organized by State Department protocol; when people are changing from the inside, there are rallies, hortatory preaching, gabfests, sorrow, joy.

I urge my fellow conservatives not to despise this phenomenon or be disparaging about it.  All our futures depend on the character of the people around us.  Fear, defensiveness, and moral weakness in the people are the best friends of the tyrant.  None of us can resist the siren-call of statist collectivization single-handedly. It is not embarrassing or over-the-top for people to gather in public to affirm that there’s such a thing as good character, and that we can’t do without it.  It is meaningful and life-changing to many.  It is necessary.

To stand up and assume leadership in this effort is to make oneself a target.  Beck has done so; as our modern expression goes, he “puts it out there,” ready to weather criticism because he believes he has a task.  Like Sarah Palin, he seems to have been put where he is “for such a time as this.”  No existing model of media success would have led him to do what he is doing today: to teach history on his program, to read passages from America’s early texts, to interview obscure academics and little-known clerics, to talk like a fire-and-brimstone preacher about character.

But here he is, and Fox lets him do it.  He gets the ratings with what he offers.  He reaches more people in one week, with the kind of truth about our history that will only strengthen the political appeal of modern conservatism, than some more-polished legacy conservatives have reached over their entire careers.  He’s meeting a lot of people where they are, in their lives and level of knowledge, rather than despising them for where they’re not.  That’s something all of us can profitably ponder.

Cross-posted at Hot Air.



  1. Good to see you back opticon. Wise thoughts about Glenn Beck. I’m not too enamored of his schtick either; but then I already know most of the history and political philosophy he’s introducing every night to a lot of people who learned mostly politically correct claptrap, if anything, in high school. A spoonful of comic opera makes the medicine go down.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JT, ✰ Dagny .•*¨`*•.¸.•*. ✰ Dagny .•*¨`*•.¸.•* said: What #GlennBeck Does Right. Via @jtjn #tlot #tcot #restoringhonor #gbdc #dctwisters #twisters #teaparty #pray #god […]

  3. I find that so many times we look to find what divides us instead of what unites us. Is what Glenn is saying. There is no what that people can agree on 100% on everything. That would make life boring. Besides his shows are quite entertaining and thought provoking. Great post, made me look inside myself and think for a moment. Thanks.

  4. Well said. Thank you.

  5. Yes, we must decide which is mroe important, our standards of decorum or the growth of the conservative movement. Rush Presented the same false dilemma to conservatives years ago, before he proved himself as a force that really does bring people into the fold.

    I think that much of conservatives’ love of decorum and insistence on “standards” results from defensiveness. The mainstream media are going to attack and ridicule no matter what, but are Glenn Beck’s stunts really more over the top than, say, Edward Kennedy’s, Al Gore’s, not to mention Al Sharpton’s?

  6. Thank you for that sensible and really spot-on analysis of what it’s going to take to continue to slowly haul back our values – those forgotten by ourselves as well as those ridiculed by the squishy middle and the stupid left. Lately I’ve seen surivors of the Bush Administration trotted out and or doing the trotting out themselves in public, urging some undefined “respectable” RINOism in order not to be ridiculed or not taken seriously by those on the Left who do not have our well-being in mind in the first place. That sort of defensiveness – and, indeed, defeatism – is getting VERY old; more to the point, it is not only NOT effective politically, it’s almost a political death wish!

    I didn’t see any of the coverage of Beck’s rally yesterday (en route to and returned the same day to Sean Hannity’s concert – a bit of a mixed bag, frankly), but I did see snippets later and I’ve read some stuff online; and what’s struck me so far is the relatively non-hostile coverage by the LSM – at worst, they tried to compare Beck’s rally with the fraudulent one that racebaiting hustler, Sharpton, organized. And most coverage pointed out that there were two King family members present – Alveda at Beck’s and MLK,III – groomed in the Chi Pol Swamp and up for possible ethics violations (ya think?) – at Sharpton’s.

    I think there will be other gatherings, perhaps smaller and more local/regional to solidfy the positive vibes created on 8/28. Everything will point to more inclusion of God in the public square – long overdue but most welcome!!

  7. yes, Margo, the “movement” does face that choice; it’s either dignity and reason or growth via the attraction of those attracted to neither.

  8. So I guess that applies to climate change, too; better repudiate Al Gore with his cartoon movie and the University of EAst Anglia scientists with their cooked data. Or wait, that might have been something more than lack of dignity.

    • I don’t see the connection, Margo, or any reason why refuting dubious scientific claims from the climate alarmists isn’t a far more dignified activity than the clowning that Beck passes off on people.

  9. I left the Democratic party when Obama made the comment about Palin that referenced the word pig during the campaign. I like Palin because the family is raising the Downs child. I’ll join any group that defends the defenseless. So after I voted for the Republican ticket in Nov. 2008, I reregistered later that Nov. as a Republican. It’s long past time for looking up to people who look like they have the credit to buy at expensive stores and time to come to the defense of anyone in our nation who is really subject to victimization. You can call it a come to Jesus or a come to Buddha or a come to Allah moment, but I think that as a nation, we are there at that point. That’s the message I get from Glenn Beck

  10. You go, girl!

    Fantastic stuff. We are fortunate to live at a time when so many are roused to stand up and make a difference.

  11. To Timothy Voight and DRJ — welcome! Sorry it took so long to do a one-time “approval” of your comments. Not to share TMI, but I was indisposed yesterday and never made it to the computer. Any comments you want to make will post automatically from now on. Haunt us to death!

  12. I guess nothing will surprise about how poorly they
    miisapprehend the Tea Party and associated movements, (Douthat, Hitchens, et al) Zernike was generally less snarky then usual; except for an accurate account

  13. […] the same trick yet again, sacrificing their honor as arbiters of public discourse for the sake of supposed greater truths and purposes.  It is at this moment that they punch their ideologue’s ticket, openly announcing a […]

  14. I sometimes think that Beck’s incendiary statements (“Obama is a racist”) are counterproductive. That being said though, I’m not sure that sort of incendiary stuff isn’t actually helpful for the conservative movement (how many millions of times have conservatives been unfairly labled as racists by liberals?). Fight fire with fire and all that.

    Despite my sometimes reservations about Beck, I LOVE what he’s doing. He’s educating people about the benefits of conservative principles and the insidious results of liberal/progressive policies. Exactly what the country needs right now in my opinion.

    • There certainly is a racist in the 0bama Family. And that, of course, would be “Where is MY trust fund?” Michelle. Black racists cling desperately to the old us versus them mentality, and so the 0bama Family were loyal congregants at a racist church for more than a dozen years. Who is fooled by Mister Peanut, the empty suit in The White House? Why would a guy change his name to Barack from Barry if not to establish his militant black credentials with a fawning choir of progressive white enablers?

      Beck is a genius because he understands how to fight this – not with anger, but with purity and grace and a powerful commitment to be our best. The next elections must be overwhelming, massive victories for One Nation Under God instead of a nation sullied by the garbage of elite political correctness.

  15. It’s unpleasant truths that most of the media doesn’t even attempt to tackle, that bit where he was allowed to go on about his birth certificate, and Williams didn’t bring it back to his manifest failure
    on the economy, the idiocy of supporting civilian
    trials for terrorists, any of the other quixotic

  16. RE — I agree, it’s counterproductive to frame things as Beck sometimes does. No matter how he does it, any comparison of Obama’s patterns with “racism” will be demonized by the left. But it would make a more useful impression on many independents and conservatives if Beck (or others) were to make the point-by-point comparisons as an analytical exercise. There are certainly comparisons to be made.

    The practice of saying “Obama is a racist!” shuts down thought and debate, and elides too much that matters, such as what it even means to say someone is a “racist.” Is Obama like George Wallace? Is he like Al Sharpton? Is he a “race-baiter” or “racemonger”? Is he, rather, someone who is haunted by ingrained prejudice against white people but who doesn’t make that his central mission in life? Is he none of the above? And whatever he is, how does identifying it advance public debate and help the causes of conservatism?

    So that’s something I wouldn’t do like Beck. I also wouldn’t go with the offhand references to black liberation theology as “not Christianity.” I actually agree that BLT is not consonant with what Jesus taught, or with the purpose and nature of salvation outlined in the Bible. But the question for political commentary is what value there is in hashing that out in the forum of punditry.

    None of us can say what’s going on between Barack Obama and God. Whether Obama is “truly” a Christian is not a path I see utility in going down. Obama is a radical leftist with Alinskyite training and globalist-lefists roots in every political pathology of the 1960s and ’70s — that’s what matters to his occupation of the Oval Office.

    So, agreed, Beck does things I wouldn’t do. But as you say, he’s doing some really great things too. On balance, I give him a thumbs up.

  17. […] neither does her colleague: Obama is a radical leftist with Alinskyite training and globalist-lefists roots in every political pathology of the 1960s and […]

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