Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck had a surprising 2009 (Extra!, 6/09), becoming a high-profile advocate for the right-wing Tea Party movement and attracting millions of viewers to his late afternoon cable talk show. How does one top that?
By spinning out elaborate theories about the “progressive” assault on the Constitution and the country, hinting that the left’s disenchantment with Barack Obama could very easily manifest itself in violence—that’s how.
Beck’s ruminations make no logical sense, and the proposals he attacks do not bear even the faintest resemblance to the political agenda of the White House or congressional Democrats. But his rants do have the effect of scaring viewers into believing that a radical program to usher the United States into a totalitarian future is well underway. As Beck explained (1/11/10): “We are going to show you what the progressives are doing and how they’re slowly but surely robbing Americans of individual choices and liberties and quite honestly, robbing the bank as well.”
Much of Beck’s rhetoric is garden variety red-baiting. He tells viewers (1/4/10) that “officials in and around this White House” are “routinely praising radical leftists and Communist dictators and the wonders of socialism in spreading the wealth.” On January 11, Beck complained: “Why is it that nobody seems to be paying any attention to the similarities that we’re seeing now between what Hugo Chávez has been doing in Venezuela and what is happening here in America?”
Beck’s campaign against “progressivism” is in the same vein. Generally speaking, the Progressive movements of the early 20th century stressed government regulation and oversight of corporate power, workers’ rights and increased civic participation in local and national politics. In Beck’s case against progressivism, these strands are woven into a thread that ties together socialism, Communism, fascism and the supposedly far-left politics of the Obama administration.
“The enemy to our Constitution is the progressive movement,” Beck explained (2/9/10), which aims “to evolve the United States out of a republic.” On another program (1/20/10), he announced: “Progressives have been patient for decades, creeping their way into the system in the cover of darkness. And this is their opportunity. They’re going to deal a final death blow to the Constitution if they can.”
Progressives “started a 100-year time bomb. They planted it in the early 1900s, mainly with this guy, Woodrow Wilson—one evil SOB, bad dude.” And, naturally, the hundred years are nearly up: “The fundamental transformation of America. The progressive dream that began over 100 years ago. They need the structure to control every aspect of your life and they are just about finishing building it.”
The existential threat to the United States aside, Beck’s definition of progressivism is simple—and damning: They are the people responsible for the income tax, the Federal Reserve, Prohibition and the League of Nations. Because some progressives once supported the pseudo-science of eugenics, progressivism is also indirectly responsible for the Holocaust (1/8/10):
This was a progressive idea. Not the extermination camps, but eugenics, which led to the camps. You see, the progressives in America always thought they were superior. And it was the stupid people that were just slowing us down. Hitler just took that to the next level as did Stalin. The progressive tactics haven’t changed much since then.
Progressivism is “the philosophy that the ends justify the means and the elites can make a better choice than the individual,” Beck explained (1/7/10). Progressives “are the people that brought us the idea that the Constitution is fatally flawed.... They stopped teaching the constitutional law and they started teaching only case law in our universities around 1920.” That might come as a surprise to those who attended law school during the past 90 years.
In the space of a few minutes one night (1/5/10), Beck sought to explain, in great and mind-bending detail, how progressivism has taken over our political system. He started with professors Frances Fox Piven and the late Richard Cloward, “people who you would say are fundamentally responsible for the unsustainability and possible collapse of our economic system.” Cloward and Piven co-authored an article in the Nation (5/2/66) in the 1960s about fighting poverty by getting eligible people onto welfare rolls. That article caused, according to Beck, such a dramatic increase in the number of people on welfare that New York City went bankrupt. That was politically disastrous, so “Cloward and Piven and their devotees figured it out. They needed to be in the system,” rather than fighting it from the outside.
Beck then fingered financier George Soros “as a source of funding for many of these radical groups.” Soros and company even “went to one of the poorest sections in New York just recently and gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of your tax dollars—stimulus money, gave it out”—an apparent reference to a $35 million gift Soros from so New York state could get federal matching funds for schools (New York Times, 8/8/09). From there, Beck moved to the Wall Street Temporary Assets Relief Program bailout: “This is not a Democratic Party thing. John McCain is a progressive. You had the Republicans and the Democrats to thank for TARP.”
So, somehow, a 40-year-old article in the Nation led to all manner of seemingly disconnected political events, involving a political alliance that spans from the far left to George W. Bush. Or, as Beck summed up: “So we just gave you the basics of Cloward and Piven. Well, maybe you can find some other rational explanation for what’s going on. I can’t.”
Logically, Beck should consider himself to be a right-wing progressive, since he too supported the TARP bailout—and actually thought it should be bigger (CNN Headline News, 9/22/08):
I thought about it an awful lot this weekend, and while it takes everything in me to say this, I think the bailout is the right thing do. The real story is the $700 billion that you’re hearing about now is not only, I believe, necessary, it is also not nearly enough, and all of the weasels in Washington know it.
While his own track record might not be something he wants to talk about, he maintains that revealing the hidden history of progressivism would strike a blow against his political enemies (1/22/10):
Progressives realized victory required changing history. To defeat them, we have to correct that. Progressives know how powerful history is. When these truths get told and the lies get corrected, the game is going to be on. It’s pulling the mask off the monster.
After Republican Scott Brown won a special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts, Beck (1/20/10) spotted a new progressive danger, warning of “a revolution or a civil war in the Democratic Party. It’s progressives versus Democrats. It’s blue versus gray. And this is a war that I think could become dangerous—hopefully not.”
He explained: “Doesn’t it feel like now is a time that the Obama regime is in collapse? The most dangerous time in any regime, especially a revolutionary regime, is when it is on the verge of collapse. A regime with revolutionaries in it, it is trouble.” Beck told his audience there was a fundamental difference between them and the progressive enemy:
To you, a fight means educating people. It means mobilizing people to go out and vote. And you fight at the ballot box. But to these people, what does a fight mean to the uber left progressive? All bets are off. They will cheat. They will lie. They will steal. And they have, in the past, blown things up if it helps them win.
Beck declared that the “president is in danger.... He is surrounded by radicals, surrounded by radicals. Here is why the republic is in danger. And the president is in danger first, then the republic.” These radicals “will fight to change it in the cover of darkness. And they will become much more dangerous, as they realize their time to make this move is running out.” As Beck ominously declared: “Please pray for our Secret Service, make sure that they do their job. Dear God, protect our president.”
So a guy who spends several hours a day whipping up viewers and listeners into a frenzy over Barack Obama’s secret plan to destroy the country is worried that leftists might do him harm. It makes perfect sense—if you’re Glenn Beck.
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This story was published on April 6, 2010.