A darn good question from Stacy McCain that deserves an answer from at least one of us who never tires of trying to promote rationalism (if not pragmatism) among conservatives, and trashes Beck and many other talk show hosts who represent the dark underbelly of conservative paranoia.
I think there is something to the notion that, while on specific issues, this is something of a conservative country, the culture and history of America is that of a liberal (classic) democracy. We have created a society with a huge impetus to improve ourselves both as a country and individually. De Tocqueville recognized this and marveled at it.
The overriding key that drives American history has been the desire for human liberty. The second has been “change.” The United States stands still for no one, no group, no ideology. No country has experimented more with government . No nation has absorbed and assimilated more immigrants, enthusiastically adopting what pleases us from the newcomers while sloughing off the rest. No country has reinvented itself so many times.
For about 150 years, there was no “conservative movement” in America. Instead, there were reactionaries who stood athwart social progress toward ending slavery, granting women’s rights, ending child labor, allowing workers to organize, and the like. Identified more as “traditionalists” or “capitalists,” or Buckley’s “individualists,” it must be said that for a variety of reasons, our ideological ancestors did not cover themselves in glory. But they still served a vital purpose; they usually kept the pace of change from overwhelming the traditions and institutions that make America “America,” allowing change to take place gradually and within the context of a treasured past.
I bring this up because by any yardstick you want to use, America is in the process of changing. Demographically, we are getting younger, browner, more educated, and most importantly, less wedded to traditional institutions. Our economy is changing - has been changing - for 30 years, from an industrial, to a service economy, to now a tech economy with global competition. It is my belief, and the belief of a few others, that once again, conservatism must rise to the occasion by “standing athwart history yelling stop.” Be it in government, out of government, or as the government, we have a sacred trust to fulfill to guide this change down traditional paths without losing the essence of who and what we are.
Obama and the liberals don’t like who and what we are and wish to go too far in “remaking” America. On this we all agree. But is Glenn Beck “standing athwart” history or is he simply screaming nonsense into the void, pandering to the basest instincts of conservatives, rejecting rationality in favor of paranoid conspiracy mongering that doesn’t advance the cause one iota but garners him plenty of ratings and money?
To say that “the left does it too” is perhaps the most irrational statement of all. Aping the absolute worst in your political opponent is insane. Did their radical, screaming base help or hinder them in 2008? Note that, like some crazy uncle, Democrats marginalized their crazies just long enough for the voters to think they were a moderate party. GOP corruption didn’t help nor did the utter futility of the McCain campaign. The tactics that some on the right want to emulate or think isn’t harmful to the cause ignores the lessons of 2008.
Perceptions matter. A hard truth that everytime I say it I am accused of cowering in fear of the left. It’s not fear, but the simple political reality that has been true in American politics since the beginning; giving your opponent the golden opportunity to define conservatives for the voters in such a way that makes us look like mindless, ranting, fearful paranoids who believe in cockamamie conspiracy theories and celebrate and lionize people like Glenn Beck will not win us any elections. Period. The 30% of you who don’t believe this or reject it because you think it doesn’t matter are kidding yourselves. And you’re dragging conservatism down with your blindness.
Is Glenn Beck “the enemy?” He is the enemy of anyone who believes in reason, in logic, and in rational thought. In that sense, he can take down a hundred Van Jones and ACORNS and still be a blot on the political landscape. It doesn’t matter if he is a conservative or not. Conservatives have adopted this scheming, manipulative fakir and it will redound to our sorrow in the end.