I just forced myself to read Glenn Beck’s Common Sense. It’s padded and tendentious and all that, but in general, its ghostwriter maintains a tone that’s less histrionic and over-the-top than its marquee author’s electronic persona. Some of it even makes a kind of rough sense. This passage, for example, though highly ironic to anyone who has seen one of Beck’s chalkboard diagrams, struck a sympathetic chord with me:
There are other potentially deadly masters who will seek to exploit your frustration and sense of desperation. Many will warn you of government tyranny; they’ll talk of secret societies, vast conspiracies, shadow governments, and the need for violent action. I urge you to stay away from these individuals and those ideas.
There is no “star chamber” that needs to be found and destroyed, and there is no global conspiracy playing out. The individuals and groups that propagate those lies have their own agendas, but, like all radicals and revolutionaries, they will eventually seek to impose their rules and lifestyle on all of us.
But after a while, you start to realize that there is a fundamental inconsistency–a fatal contradiction, if you will–running through the heart of Beck’s philosophy. Regular middle class folks, he tells us, have been inveigled into leading unsustainable lifestyles. Instead of going to church and home-schooling their children as they once did, they hunker down in their over-leveraged houses and watch porn on the giant screen TVs that they bought on credit. America has lost its way; we are headed over a cliff.
And who is to blame for this sad state of affairs? Not the bankers who supplied our citizenry with mortgages and credit cards and addicted them to debt; not the merchants who sold them the TVs or the advertisers who seduced them away from the pay-as-you-go thrift that was their birthright. Business and businessmen are still the font of everything good. No, the villains are the Statist bureaucrats in Washington who despise everything commonsensical and homely and just. Unregulated commerce is still the ultimate expression of freedom; political Progressivism is the cancer that enslaves and kills.
Rand Paul exposed this same fault line while explaining his libertarian philosophy to the national press corp. This morning on Good Morning America, he accused Obama of sounding “unAmerican” for criticizing BP for its oil spill and Massey Energy for last month’s mine disaster in West Virginia. Business is regulated enough already, he said. Cut them some slack. Government needs to get out of the way.
I think there needs to be regulation of that and always has been regulation. What I don’t like from the president’s administration is this sort of, you know, “I’ll put my boot heel on the throat of BP.” I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. I’ve heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill. And I think it’s part of this sort of blame game society in the sense that it’s always got to be someone’s fault. Instead of the fact that maybe sometimes accidents happen. I mean, we had a mining accident that was very tragic and I’ve met a lot of these miners and their families. They’re very brave people to do a dangerous job. But then we come in and it’s always someone’s fault. Maybe sometimes accidents happen.
I have a lot of sympathy with populist anger; I feel it myself. But so often it seems bizarrely misdirected. Beck and his ilk reserve their outrage for the multi-millionaire CEO of GM that Obama fired after bailing out the company he bankrupted, not the tens of thousands of American auto workers who lost their jobs. They are more indignant about the billions of dollars of TARP money that a desperate government “forced down the throats” of faltering states and businesses than the trillions of dollars of equity that those same big businesses pissed away. Politicians don’t answer to the people, they tell us, but to the highest bidders. But who exactly are those high bidders and where do they get their money from?
In the old days they would have said that it wasn’t businessmen per se but the Jewish bankers that had them over the fence. Nowadays, they rather implausibly claim that it’s illegal immigrants, minorities, gay people, atheists, and environmentalists that hold the reins. But at some point all that Tea Party anger is going to find its real target–not just Wall Street in the abstract but Walmart too; not just George Soros, but the whole of our not-so-free enterprise system. That might just spark a revolution that’s worthy of Tom Paine.