As readers are no doubt aware, the latest swerve in the incoherent slalom of Glenn Beck's career as a pundit came when he went online for an interview with Katie Couric to insist -- after solid months of referring to President Barack Obama as a "radical" and a "racist" -- that the country would have been worse off under Senator John McCain, and that he might have voted for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is best known for what? Oh, yes! Attempting to provide universal, government-provided health care for all Americans. It was hard to watch without concluding that Beck's worldview lacked a certain -- shall we say...internal consistency.
Not surprisingly, there's a backlash brewing, courtesy of one of Beck's fellow right-wing talkers, Mark Levin:
LEVIN: How can you day after day and night after night correctly rail against Obama's radicalism, how he's undermining the Constitution, how he's nationalizing our basic industries, how he has Marxists all around him, and then say in an interview with Katie Couric, I think John McCain would have been worse than Obama? Quote: "How about this? I think John McCain would have been worse for the country than Barack Obama. How's that?" That's not good. McCain is no conservative, in fact in many respects he's a progressive. Which is why I fought him. Day in and day out. Day in and day out behind this microphone. Not only fought him behind this microphone but wrote article after article -- go ahead and Google it -- rejecting his candidacy. But to say that he'd be worse than a president that's a Marxist, who's running around the country -- I'm sorry, the world -- apologizing for our nation, who's slashing our defense budget, who's nationalizing our health care system? To say he would be worse is mindless, mindless, incoherent as a matter of fact. There's our 5-PMer, on Fox ... I don't know who certain people are playing to, I don't know why they are playing to certain people ... I think there's enormous confusion and positioning and pandering. It may be entertaining, but from my perspective, it's not. It's pathetic."
[Via ThinkProgress, LISTEN]
As someone who is frequently asked to divine Glenn Beck's primary motivations, I think Levin actually has him pretty dead to rights. Inconsistency is nothing new to Beck. For example, as has recently been pointed out, Beck's career as a bailout critic is a very recent thing. Back in September, he was angry that more taxpayer money wasn't being dumped into TARP. Now he's gone from being a tormentor of Obama appointees to the supporter of one, slagging McCain along the way, just for fun. It doesn't make much sense, until you realize that maybe Glenn Beck just badly wants to be liked. Intellectual coherence is not Beck's forte. But when it comes to cringing for approval, there's none better.
This is where the ducks start lining up. CNN's audience is told that the "weasels in Washington" know that the bailout should be bigger. Fox's audience is told that the bailout is a component of creeping oligarchy. When he meets the hosts of The View for the first time, Beck is gracious and nice; the View ladies are left with the impression that they've had a chance and cordial meeting. But when he tells his radio audience about the meeting, suddenly the View's hosts are cloying, celebrity bitches. Then he goes on the View, attempts to be charming again, gets called out, and apologizes. Then, back with his listeners, he raises a stink about it again, demanding an apology. Photographer Jill Greenberg (who got in trouble for manipulating photos of McCain!) draws Beck's fiery criticism one minute, but then Beck turns around and has no problem with her shooting him for the cover of Time Magazine the next.
Now, he finds himself in an audience with Katie Couric, and that need to win approval kicks in. Let's look at the way Beck formulates his response:
I think John McCain would have been worse -- [laughs] How about this? I think John McCain would have been worse for the country than Barack Obama. How's that?
"How's that?" In other words, "If I say this, will your audience like me?"
There's a lot that's been written about Beck, but one thing I return to, again and again is that he is first and foremost a somewhat mediocre comedian. The desperate need to connect to whatever audience he is standing in front of is always apparent. But more to the point, as Salon's Alexander Zaitchik ably documents, the guiding influence in Beck's life has been a radical Mormon rightwinger named Cleon Skousen. Beck pimps Skousen's books, and has basically adopted Skousen's views as his own and has used them to create a sort of "found art" punditry that requires very little new thought from Beck other than a little 21st century polish. But the Skousen's true influence on Beck is not political:
By 1963, Skousen's extremism was costing him. No conservative organization with any mainstream credibility wanted anything to do with him. Members of the ultraconservative American Security Council kicked him out because they felt he had "gone off the deep end." One ASC member who shared this opinion was William C. Mott, the judge advocate general of the U.S. Navy. Mott found Skousen "money mad ... totally unqualified and interested solely in furthering his own personal ends."