If you’ve watched Beck’s show or parts of it or parodies of it from Colbert, you’ll understand that this phenomenon is about as unsettling as if one heard that college kids were suddenly big on coprophilia. Beck delivers lunacy to those who would have it. And, clearly, quite a few will have it, please and thankyou.
David Frum notes the hour-long ‘special’ Beck ran on Sunday and inquires (a bit obtusely – it’s not as if we haven’t had a clear idea of what Ayers has been up to from the outset)
What the hell is going on at Fox News?
Beck insists “It’s not about politics.” His special made a point of featuring images of Republican House leader John Boehner during his castigation of politicians “left and right” and both “the last administration and this administration.”
So what is it about then? What are Beck’s growing number of viewers responding to? On air, Beck promotes sinister conspiracy theories. Here he is on Fox & Friends, warning that the Obama administration is planning a totalitarian takeover:
We are a country that is headed towards socialism, totalitarianism, beyond your wildest dreams. I have to tell you: I’m doing a story tonight that I wanted to debunk – these FEMA camps – I’m tired of hearing about them – you know about them? – I wanted to debunk them. We’ve now for several days done research on them. I can’t debunk them! If you trust our government, it’s fine. If you have any kind of fear that we might be heading towards a totalitarian state: look out. Buckle up. There’s something going on in our country … that ain’t good.
And here he is suggesting that serial killers erupt because they are pushed to the wall by “political correctness.”
The audience for Beck’s Friday night special were each given copies of two books. One of them was Cleon Skousen’s Five Thousand Year Leap. Skousen, who died in 2006, is one of the legendary cranks of the conservative world, a John Bircher, a grand fantasist of theories about secret conspiracies between capitalists and communists to impose a one-world government under the control of David Rockefeller.
There’s always been a market for this junk of course. Once that market was reached via mimeographed newsletters. Now it’s being tapped by Fox News.
Conspiracy theories always flourish during economic downturns. They flourished during the terrible slump of the 1890s (when they captured even so fine a mind as Henry Adams) and again in the 1930s. Today’s slump – so vast, so difficult to understand – opens the door again.
Frum is a countryman, and though far from my favorite countryman, he has at least become a voice of relative moderation and sanity on the contemporary American right who is as unimpressed with the anti-intellectualism of the modern conservative movement as am I. He appropriately notes the long history of what Beck is pushing but he ought to have noted the seminal essay on the phenomenon. So, I will. If you haven’t bumped into it, I expect you’ll find it truly informative.
h/t Andrew Sullivan