The following is a portion (it's too long to post the whole thing here) of my new article in The American Conservative about talk host Glenn Beck, his critics on the Right and what bothers them most about the FOX pundit's meteoric popularity (hint, it isn't just his wacky style):
Who Hates Glenn Beck?
By Jack Hunter
His talk-radio brethren have less of a problem with his histrionics than with his evolving libertarianism
Warning that popular talk radio and Fox News host Glenn Beck was “Harmful to the Conservative Movement,” Peter Wehner wrote on Commentary’s “Contentions” blog in September: “he seems to be more of a populist and libertarian than a conservative, more of a Perotista than a Reaganite. His interest in conspiracy theories is disquieting, as is his admiration for Ron Paul and his charges of American ‘imperialism.’ (He is now talking about pulling troops out of Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, and elsewhere.)”
Wehner is not alone in his criticism. When Beck told CBS News’ Katie Couric, “John McCain would have been worse for the country than Barack Obama,” fellow radio talker and New York Times bestselling author Mark Levin fired back: “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.”
Beck has been criticized from both Left and Right for his melodramatic, sometimes conspiracy-minded, intermittently bizarre style. But his conservative critics seem most offended not by Beck’s manner but by his deviationism. He won’t stick to the ideological script.
Conservative radio and TV punditry has a strict set of ground rules. Whatever Democrats are up to is bad; Republicans aren’t perfect, but they are worth cheering for and at least deserve the benefit of the doubt. Rush Limbaugh’s occasional guest host Michael Medved reflected talk-radio orthodoxy perfectly when he said, “For those Americans who want to fight back against the menacing expansion of government and the insanely irresponsible spending of the Obama administration, there is only one way to succeed: electing more Republicans to high office.” But as Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic notes, Beck is an exception: “Beck claims to be non-partisan. Conservative, yes, but disdainful of the GOP, with no vested interest in seeing Republicans return to power.”
During the George W. Bush years, Beck’s politics were less differentiated from those of other radio talkers. He deferred to the Bush administration, promoted militarism as patriotism, and called the day’s news along partisan lines. When Ron Paul received national attention for questioning America’s interventionist foreign policy during a 2007 GOP presidential primary debate, Beck called Paul “crazy” and asked, “how did this guy get on stage?” At the time there were no complaints about Beck from the likes of Wehner and Levin — because Beck sounded much like them.
Sometimes he still does, mashing recycled neoconservative jargon with wild-eyed panic about the growth of government power under Obama. But however politically incoherent or ideologically imperfect his rants may be, Beck, unlike other conservative media celebrities, seems to have learned something from the past eight years. He said in September:
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.
When he made headlines by saying that McCain would have been worse than Obama, Beck explained to Couric, “McCain is this weird progressive like Theodore Roosevelt was.”