No, not Glenn Beck the firebrand, or Glenn Beck the Christmas Sweater guy, or even Glenn Beck the Time magazine cover boy giving the raspberry to his detractors on the left. The Glenn Beck I actually miss was the one I used to hear on 970 WFLA in my home market of Tampa Bay, where he started the talk radio phase of his career doing afternoons after Rush Limbaugh.
I can remember listening to that very first show, not quite knowing what to make of it (and to be fair, from the sound of things, neither did he)–but as time passed, and Glenn got an idea of what he wanted to do, things took off and the show became required listening in my home town. His “Schlub Club” bits were hilarious, especially when members of the “Frizzbeterian Church” called in to stir the pot for those who weren’t in on the joke, and his alter-ego Flap Jackson could have given Tony Clifton a run for the money. Those were good times.
I also followed Beck after he went into national syndication, feeling a bit of pride that my home market had launched the Next Big Thing in talk radio (kind of the same way we’d launched Hooters–though I doubt Glenn could have pulled off those tight orange hot pants). And man, how things grew over time. Not content with staying on the radio, Glenn followed in the entrepreneurial footsteps of his hero Walt Disney and expanded his show into a full-on multimedia enterprise, risking big (and sometimes losing big) along the way. He courted controversy, laughed off outrage and became a real powerhouse in the conservative world.
As anybody who has listened to him lately knows, however, Glenn has changed as of late. He has soured on politics, declaring himself more interested in larger cultural matters, and has lamented how half the country seems to be at the throats of the other half over petty disagreements. His disdain over how he sees Donald Trump’s candidacy in 2016 contributing to this acrimony is well known, and has earned him a lot of enemies–even among his listeners. Now the Washington Post has taken up that story, in which Glenn explains to Marc Fisher his change of heart and how he wants to make amends for his own role in dividing the country:
“I did and said terrible things,” Beck says. “I did my thinking out loud and it’s one of my worst aspects. But I haven’t changed my principles. I’ve changed the way I phrase things — for example, I’m trying to ban the word ‘evil’ from my lexicon. I didn’t notice how my language could be interpreted by half the country as racist. I lacked humility. I was the height of arrogance.”
“We’re not going to come together on politics,” he says. “But we can come together on principles. It’s just time for the hatred to end, or we’re going to destroy ourselves.”
It’s a worthy goal, one to which we should all aspire. I’ve often wondered how much better our politics would be if we actually debated issues instead of trying to personally destroy the opposition, conceding that we can disagree in good faith without ascribing evil motives to those who have different policy prescriptions. This approach, however, does require both sides to be arguing in good faith–and here’s where I think that Glenn, unfortunately, is headed for disappointment in his noble efforts.
Take his latest attempt at outreach, for example:
Another new friend is the liberal TBS comedy show host Samantha Bee, whose program, “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” he went on in December.
“My audience would like to stab you relentlessly in the eye,” Beck told Bee.
“My audience wants to kill me for normalizing a lunatic like yourself,” Bee replied.
Then they fed each other cake. They became, as Bee hesitantly put it, “allies.” The two plan to travel to Uganda together to rescue children from the sex slave trade. Next summer, they plan to invite their audiences to Detroit to do community service — paint schools, clean up neighborhoods.
A couple of weeks later, Bee featured a clip on her show which made fun of Kyle Coddington, a CPAC attendee, for having a “Nazi haircut.” Things only when downhill from there when it was revealed that Coddington’s hair was cut really short because he was undergoing treatment for brain cancer.
Bee made haste apologizing–but that just leaves me wondering, would she have apologized if it had just been a Marine or a police officer with a high and tight? Or would that have been okay? And what is it about Samantha Bee that thinks it’s funny to compare those she disagrees with politically to Nazis? Wasn’t she just trying to set a new, more respectful tone by embracing Glenn Beck?
Glenn made a point of mentioning Bee’s apology on his radio program–but I’m sure he must realize that if Bee had truly taken their efforts together to heart, she wouldn’t have compared a CPAC attendee to a Nazi in the first place. It’s more likely that she was just throwing a bomb for her audience, lest they think she was going soft on the conservatives that they love to hate. In other words, for the sake of her own ratings, Bee is running back to the same old cynical politics that has divided us in the first place–the exact oposite of what Glenn is trying to do, at great risk to his own career.
This isn’t exactly courage on Bee’s part–but it is fairly typical of the left. It also demonstrates that when it comes to pitting Americans against each other, the right does not bear sole responsibility. In fact, many of the most vicious divisions–particularly those along racial and gender lines–have been deliberately aggravated by the left as a means of consolidating their support (and by the media as a way of generating clicks and views). We can admire Glenn for being the first to say, “Enough!” and take a stand against it, but until he finds honest partners on the left who are willing to share the risk and stand with him, I’m afraid his efforts will be doomed to fail.