Liberal bloggers are always tearing their hair out, asking when demagogues like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are going to be exposed as the extremists that they are by the mainstream media, or better yet, called to account by their own ideological allies.
Last week’s Weekly Standard pretty much does just that and more to Glenn Beck, in Matthew Continetti’s article “The Two Faces of the Tea Party.”
“For Beck,” Continetti writes, “conspiracy theories are not aberrations. They are central to his worldview. They are the natural consequence of assuming that the world hangs by a thread, and that everyone is out to get you.”
Whatever you think of Theodore Roosevelt, he was not Lenin. Woodrow Wilson was not Stalin. The philosophical foundations of progressivism may be wrong. The policies that progressivism generates may be counterproductive. Its view of the Constitution may betray the Founders’. Nevertheless, progressivism is a distinctly American tradition that partly came into being as a way to prevent ideologies like communism and fascism from taking root in the United States. And not even the stupidest American liberal shares the morality of the totalitarian monsters whom Beck analogizes to American politics so flippantly.
Beck himself is analogized to Barry Goldwater, the conservative firebrand and 1964 presidential hopeful whose nomination speech famously declared that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” and that “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Goldwater, of course, lost big. The other face of the Tea Party is CNBC’s Rick Santelli, “a man,” Continetti tells us, “who is worried about America’s future, but who thinks the right mix of policy and leadership can cure the nation’s ills.” Santenelli is “a forward-looking, optimistic, free-market populist”–in short, a Ronald Reagan for our times. He might not be running for anything himself, but he embodies Republicanism’s next winning formula.
Continetti’s very name implies a sensible middle path of fiscal responsibility and prudential conservativism, of Tocquevillean “self interest rightly understood.” Far be it from me to question the sincerity of The Weekly Standard, which gave my Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies one of the most appreciative reviews it received, but I do take issue with its efforts to validate the Tea Party’s ugly backlash politics by throwing Glenn Beck under a bus. Not that he doesn’t deserve it, but Tea Partyism, even without Glenn Beck, is still a pretty vile brew.
Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes discovered Sarah Palin during a Weekly Standard cruise; they did as much to pump her up into a national figure as anyone except John McCain. Matthew Continetti, lest we forget, is the author of The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star (Sentinel, 2009). As grateful as I am for its critique of Glenn Beck’s demagoguery, I remain mindful that the primary agenda of The Weekly Standard is to redeem Republicanism’s electoral brand, not to question its values, ethics, or ideas.