Why I Mourn for Glenn Beck

Fox News says Glenn Beck’s daily program will “transition” off the network show some time before the end of this year. Beck cosigned the statement and confirmed this on his show on Wednesday, speaking vaguely of sustaining the two-year relationship with Fox by “developing things”. He sounded shell-shocked, like a man who’d been shown the door.

Murdoch’s political commissar in America, Fox president Rogert Ailes, confirmed this impression by telling AP that “Half of the headlines say he’s been cancelled. The other half say he quit. We’re pretty happy with both of them. We felt Glenn brought additional information, a unique perspective, a certain amount of passion and insight to the channel and he did. But that story of what’s going on and why America is in trouble today, I think he told that story as well as could be told. Whether you can just keep telling that story or not … we’re not so sure.”

Ailes politely didn’t mention the advertising boycott of Beck’s show, nor the drooping ratings.

Beck consoled his fans by assuring them that “we’ll be showing you other ways we will continue.” I’m cast down. Beck trudging off into the twilight, leaving the fetid embrace of Murdoch’s Fox, will be like Dracula without without his coffin.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Beck, partly because of his deep roots in the mulch of American nutdom, fertilized by the powerful psychic idiom of rebirth and redemption.

His mother and her lover drowned in Puget Sound, off Tacoma in the state of Washington was Beck was 15. He says she was a suicide. He also says he was on booze and drugs from 16 to 31, when – through one marriage and out the other side – he eschewed the suicidal path of his fellow Washingtonian Kurt Cobain and joined AA. He left the Catholic Church and became a Mormon.
Glenn Beck’s says his intellectual development was nourished by close reading of Nietzsche, Hitler, Billy Graham and Carl Sagan. He started his Mercury Radio Arts Company in 2002 and in less than a decade was earning $23 million a year with a big national audience.

Hitler taught him the uses of fear, and also the total irrelevance of criticisms that the fears he touted were phantasms from some distant time – the Sixties, the Thirties, the early Twenties, all patches of the twentieth century when the Left had some heft.

To Americans in the late Nineties and current decade, maxed out on their credit cards, with negative equity in their homes amid a political culture swerving relentlessly to the right, Beck endlessly promoted the conspiracies and looming threat of a left in this country which in reality has effectively ceased to exist.

“Progressives”, today’s milquetoast substitute for old-line radicals, have trembled at his ravings about the left’s conspiracies against freedom. Personally, I found them heartening. Respect at last! Who but Beck could turn a conservative African-American Harvard grad, an errand boy for corporate America, into a latterday recreation of W.E. B. DuBois and Malcolm X, now installed – oh, the horror! – in the White House.

Who but Beck could dredge up Frances Fox Piven as a woman, now in her late seventies, and denounce her as a latterday Lenin, whose seditious blueprint still threatens to drag America into serfdom? Back in the early 1960s Piven and her late partner Richard Cloward developed what was to my mind always a batty notion: that American capitalism would crumble and the arrival of new age of liberation be advanced in schedule if everyone went on welfare.

There’s less cynicism in Beck than in Limbaugh or Hannity and the other right-wing lords of the airwaves. He’s lived up to the admonition of the founder of Britain’s popular press, Lord Northcliffe, who told his journalists, “Do not put on the table of Demos [ie., the people] what you would not put on your own.
Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington DC last August was a striking event. Beck not only gave a speaking slot to Alveda King — one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s nieces, but also paid close attention to race throughout the day. The lineup for the presenters of the three civilian badges of merit for faith, hope, and charity were an American Indian presenting to an African-American; a white man presenting to a Dominican; and a Mexican-American presenting to a white man, with a black woman accepting on his behalf.

“The key message of the “Restoring Honor” rally,” reported Robert Jensen to CounterPunch, “was redemption, personal and collective, the personal intertwined with the collective. Unlike some reactionary right-wingers, Beck spoke often about America’s mistakes — though all of them are set safely in the past. Rather than try to downplay slavery, he highlighted it. ‘America has been both terribly good and terribly bad,’ leaving us with a choice, he said. “We either let those scars crush us or redeem us.”

Limbaugh could not have said those words, nor Ailes nor Murdoch. Rave on, Glenn Beck, but welcome to the margins of the political culture, wherein dwell so many radicals, some of whom you rescued from obscurity and gave them respect, unlike the progressive Jon Stewart, who loses no opportunity to deride them.

A fairly typical reaction from the pwog sector was that of Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way, who swiftly proclaimed that “It’s encouraging to know that it is no longer economically viable for a major television network to support the demagogic rantings of its most unhinged conspiracy theorist.”

But from Keegan’s point of view, aren’t demagogic and unhinged rantings exactly what he and his liberal fellows should want from Fox? Isn’t it good to have a clownish ideologue bringing the Republican Party into disrepute?

“Beck,” Keegan declared, “says that the Frances Fox Piven and her now-deceased husband’s goal was to ‘intentionally collapse our economic system,’ and he traces every paranoid fantasy of liberal plots to destroy America and capitalism … directly to what he calls the ‘Cloward-Piven Strategy.’ ??In light of the escalation of violent, rage-filled comments directed at Piven by presumed Beck fans, groups like the Center for Constitutional Rights have been calling on Fox News to make Beck cease his personal attacks .”

But surely Piven – assuming she has stayed true to her earlier principles — always has wanted to destroy American capitalism. I hope so. To have her strategy plucked from the junkpile of Sixties strategies for radical change by a demented Mormon with a vast national audience… what an opportunity! And what is exactly is “the American Way” for whose promotion People for the Amercan Way has been awarded tax exempt status (no tax dollars for welfare clients from PAW’s rich donors)? Is it to patrol the frontiers of public debate waving the blackjack of advertising boycotts? Isn’t that the mirror image of the Republicans’ attack on NPR?

Would you rather sit in a traffic jam listening to Robert Segal than Glenn Beck? Why no threatened advertising boycott from PAW against Rachel Maddow, hot for US intervention in Libya: “”President Obama announced his own military intervention, but he pointedly declined the opportunity to do it in a way that US presidents usually do.” According to Maddow, Obama has foresworn “the chest-thumping commander-in-chief theater that goes with military intervention of any kind,” and “that in itself is a fascinating and rather blunt demonstration of just how much this presidency is not like that of George W. Bush.”

Give me Beck any day.

Why the Pentagon Budget Keeps Going Up

Back in 1983 Andrew Cockburn published The Threat the only accurate assessment of Soviet military potential in the 20 years before the fall of the Soviet Union. Now our latest CounterPunch newsletter features a brilliant, extended special report by Andrew of what, in terms of Pentagon expenditures, the Cold War was really about, and what has happened to U.S. military spending between the collapse of “the enemy” and today.

“It mattered little,” Andrew writes, “what the Soviet enemy was actually doing. All that was required was for an announcement that ‘intelligence’ had revealed an ominous ‘gap”‘ between U.S. and Soviet capabilities, and the money flowed….Commentators referred to the Cold War defense environment as the “arms race.” It is important to understand that there was little or no element of military competition with the Soviets, rather one of mostly one-sided budget enhancement.”

Andrew probes arms spending scandals, from the Korean war (“Like some threadbare guerilla army, GIs would raid enemy trenches to steal the warm, padded boots provided by the Communist high command.”) to corporations today like CACI, a corporation that has risen to great prosperity (with a headquarters building emblazoned with its titular acronym looming over I-66 on the western approach to Washington, D.C.) without actually making anything at all.”

Also in this newsletter hot off the presses a marvelous report from Andrea Peacock on the battle over:

“a smallish piece of land, 130,000 acres southwest of the reservation. Technically, the Badger-Two Medicine is national forest land and, to the naked eye, is not distinguishable from the rest of the Lewis and Clark National Forest. But the Badger is the key to what happened here and why. The Badger-Two Medicine is part of the Backbone of the World. It’s full of mountains named for the supernatural beings who live there, “other-than-human persons,” as one writer calls them: Morningstar, Poia, the colorful Thunder bird, Wind Maker, and Medicine Grizzly. “It is precisely this mythic understanding of kinship and reciprocity with the land – all rocks, plants and animals – which empowers the Badger-Two Medicine as a sacred landscape,” writes Jay Vest in his 1988 article, “Traditional Blackfeet Religion and the Sacred Badger-Two Medicine Wildlands.”

“When oil companies Chevron and Fina were poised in 1993 to send in their drilling rigs, Floyd “Tiny Man” Heavy Runner told reporters, “”What you’re doing is putting us on the road to extinction. We are here to notify you that we have no alternatives. We are not going to stand back.” Heavy Runner, leader of the warrior Brave Dog society, explained that the nature of the Blackfeet’s relationship to the Badger-Two Medicine is not something that can be taken into account by the oil companies’ talk of “improved technology,” “small footprints” and “seasonal occupancy.” If one drop of oil were spilled on the land, he said, the place would be ruined.”

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And once you have discharged this enjoyable mandate I also urge you strongly to click over to our Books page, most particularly for our latest release, Jason Hribal’s truly extraordinary Fear of the Animal Planet – introduced by Jeffrey St Clair and already hailed by Peter Linebaugh, Ingrid Newkirk (president and co-founder of PETA) and Susan Davis, the historian of Sea World, who writes that “Jason Hribal stacks up the evidence, and the conclusions are inescapable. Zoos, circuses and theme parks are the strategic hamlets of Americans’ long war against nature itself.”

ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com.




Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.