It's Glenn Beck's world -- for better or, um, worse -- as evidenced now by his appearance this week on the cover of Time magazine, which is still a cultural bellweather even if nobody really reads Time anymore. The article itself in Time is an interesting read; it has, in my opinion, some major problems in ignoring Beck's loathsome extreme statements over the years, such as hating 9/11 families and Hurricane Katrina victims and pulling its punches on Beck calling President Obama "a racist" (using a less inflammatory quote), and there are also some clunky attempts at pseudo-balance.
(UPDATE: Here's a look from Greg Mitchell, the editor of Editor and Publisher, on some of the major problems with the Time article.)
But those who view Beck as more of an entertainer and less a man of political conviction will be fascinated by this passage:
Last year, shortly after the election, Beck spoke with TIME's Kate Pickert, and he didn't sound very scared back then. Of Obama's early personnel decisions, he said, "I think so far he's chosen wisely." Of his feelings about the President: "I am not an Obama fan, but I am a fan of our country ... He is my President, and we must have him succeed. If he fails, we all fail." Of the Democratic Party: "I don't know personally a single Democrat who is a dope-smoking hippie that wants to turn us into Soviet Russia." Of the civic duty to trust: "We've got to pull together, because we are facing dark, dark times. I don't trust a single weasel in Washington. I don't care what party they're from. But unless we trust each other, we're not going to make it."
That said, it's clear nearly a year later that Beck is having an outsized impact on the American debate, from last week's march on Washington to the resignation of Van Jones and his role in pushing the ACORN story. So the question on a lot of people's mind is: Where exactly does Beck get his ideas?
It turns out that when you lift up that rock, it's even uglier underneath than you might expect. Kudos to Salon.com and writer Alexander Zaitchik for introducing more people to the oracle behind Glenn Beck, a deceased John Bircher named Cleon Skousen who was utimately deemed too "out there" for Beck's adopted Mormon Church:
In reality, however, the so-called 912ers were summoned to D.C. by the man who changed Beck's life, and that helps explain why the movement is not the nonpartisan lovefest that Beck first sold on air with his trademark tears. Beck has created a massive meet-up for the disaffected, paranoid Palin-ite "death panel" wing of the GOP, those ideologues most susceptible to conspiracy theories and prone to latch on to eccentric distortions of fact in the name of opposing "socialism." In that, they are true disciples of the late W. Cleon Skousen, Beck's favorite writer and the author of the bible of the 9/12 movement, "The 5,000 Year Leap." A once-famous anti-communist "historian," Skousen was too extreme even for the conservative activists of the Goldwater era, but Glenn Beck has now rescued him from the remainder pile of history, and introduced him to a receptive new audience.
I strongly encourage everyone -- Beck lovers and Beck haters -- to read all of this fascinating article; here's one more snippet:
In 1981, Skousen published "The 5,000 Year Leap," the book for which, thanks to Beck, he is now best known. But it wasn't that Skousen book that made the biggest headline in the 1980s. Toward the end of Reagan's second term, Skousen became the center of a minor controversy when state legislators in California approved the official use of another of his books, the 1982 history text "The Making of America." Besides bursting with factual errors, Skousen's book characterized African-American children as "pickaninnies" and described American slave owners as the "worst victims" of the slavery system. Quoting the historian Fred Albert Shannon, "The Making of America" explained that "[slave] gangs in transit were usually a cheerful lot, though the presence of a number of the more vicious type sometimes made it necessary for them all to go in chains."
The article also chronicles Skousen's red-scare hysteria during the time of McCarthyism and its aftermath. Today, his disciple Beck has begun leading a crusade that carries sad echoes of that unfortunate time in American history, as the Fox News Channel host leads a witchhunt in which he virtually waves a laundry list of what he claims are "known Communists" inside the Obama administration. But to find the actual blueprint for all of this, we need to look past Joe McCarthy, to an even darker place in the American soul, and that place is named Cleon Skousen.