When FOX News host Glenn Beck said during an interview with Katie Couric this week, “John McCain would have been worse for the country than Barack Obama,” his comments made headlines. Beck explained that “McCain is this weird progressive like Theodore Roosevelt was.” Beck laid out this view in better detail on his television program earlier this month:
I am becoming more and more libertarian every day, I guess the scales are falling off of my eyes, as I’m doing more and more research into history and learning real history. Back at the turn of the century in 1900, with Teddy Roosevelt—a Republican—we started this, “we’re going to tell the rest of the world,” “we’re going to spread democracy,” and we really became, down in Latin America, we really became thuggish and brutish. It only got worse with the next progressive that came into office—Teddy Roosevelt, Republican progressive—the next one was a Democratic progressive, Woodrow Wilson, and we did … we empire built. The Democrats felt we needed to empire build with one giant global government ... The Republicans took it as, we’re going to lead the world and we’ll be the leader of it … I don’t think we should be either of those. I think we need to mind our own business and protect our own people. When somebody hits us, hit back hard, then come home.
Beck is trying to explain how Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican precursor to what historians call “liberal internationalism,” a foreign policy view that contends the role of the U.S. is to intervene around the globe to advance liberal objectives. This progressive doctrine, later called “Wilsonian” after Woodrow Wilson, was intended to “make the world safe for democracy,” to quote our 28th president. Wilsonian globalism was embraced fully by George W. Bush, and as Beck notes, was also a guiding philosophy for his could-have-been successor, John McCain. In their application, there is very little difference between “neoconservative” foreign policy and “liberal internationalism,” and both views are progressive in origin.
Preferring to keep his audience in the dark on such distinctions, neoconservative talk host Mark Levin was angry that Beck would dare shine a light on them. Said Levin this week:
McCain is no conservative… but to say that he would be worse than a president who’s a Marxist, who’s running around the world apologizing for our nation, who’s slashing our defense budget… to say he would be worse is mindless… incoherent, as a matter of fact. There’s our 5 PMer on FOX.
It should be noted that Beck’s FOX News program airs at 5 PM EST.
Who else does Levin consider mindless? He continues:
I don’t know who people are playing to; I don’t know why they’re playing to certain people. Ron Paul’s another one ... this fascination with Ron Paul. Ron Paul, who blames America! American “imperialism,” quote, unquote, for the attacks on 9/11. How can any conservative embrace that? And yet the 5 PMer does.
For eight years, hosts like Levin and even Glenn Beck promoted full-blown neoconservatism without ever calling it by that name. For these mainstream pundits, conservatism simply equaled neoconservatism, and during the Bush years there was no talk of limited government, no concern about “socialism” and no real worries about anything else, other than the War on Terror. The Republican Party was a single issue party; Ron Paul was considered crazy, Joe Lieberman was considered cool—and government exploded.
But much to Levin’s chagrin, that impenetrable neoconservative unity no longer exists. Unlike Levin, Beck now claims “the scales are falling off of my eyes,” and he now questions old assumptions about foreign policy, the value of the GOP, the worth of the two-party system, or even if McCain would have been any better than Obama. Conservative columnist George Will once cheered Bush’s foreign policy, but now thinks it’s time to bring the troops home from both Iraq and Afghanistan. When Sarah Palin spoke in Hong Kong this week, a Wall Street Journal headline read, “Palin, Sounding Like Ron Paul, Takes on the Fed.” Few conservatives get excited by Joe Lieberman anymore. But many are starting to talk like Ron Paul.
The attacks on Beck by Levin are a reflection of what’s happening on the American Right as a whole, where the old fools’ game of merely corralling grassroots conservatives into the Republican Party is suffering from a severe shortage of fools. I’m not saying that Beck is an all-around, reliable conservative figure, nor do I believe the Republican Party is going to start seriously listening to Paul in the future, but there are at least now, finally, tiny slivers of truth making their way into the mainstream, thanks in no small part to a handful of celebrity truth-seekers, no matter how eccentric or inconsistent they may be.
And if there’s one thing we can be sure of—there would be no tea parties, no town hall protests, no marches on Washington, no questioning foreign policy, no attacking the Federal Reserve, no new-and-improved Glenn Beck and no new respect for Ron Paul—if John McCain had won the election. The neoconservative agenda would have continued, undisturbed, and according to plan. And something tells me Mark Levin would have preferred to keep it that way.