Glenn Beck only, finally, got my attention once I'd read something he'd actually written. Makes me a dinosaur in the age of McLuhan but, strangely, I feel pretty good about it. Anyway, I initially thought Beck was just a mouthpiece for his owners' party line, but it turns out things are worse. He's what Augustine would have called incorrigibly ignorant.
And thus, we can start to see the outlines of our new idiotcratic elite: King Rush and Beck as Court monkey.
Missing ‘Common Sense’
The New American Idiocracy and its elite skip over key parts of Paine’s wisdom
While watching Congressman Wilson indulge his inner Draco Malfoy during the President’s speech to Congress, I wondered whether common sense had simply failed here in America. Maybe PT Barnum was right about us; maybe “there’s a sucker born every minute.”
Forty-one percent of Americans believed in the death panel nonsense. Twenty-five percent of Americans don’t believe in evolution. Twenty-five percent believe in astrology. Two full years after the Sept. 11 attacks, a USA Today poll found 70 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was responsible. Not encouraging.
Worse. A lot of Americans, right now, believe Glenn Beck understands “Common Sense.”
Glenn Beck has been a very naughty boy. He complains that Obama’s stay-in-school speech to students is “indoctrination” because, in his universe, urging kids to stay in school, do their homework, and study hard to become productive members of society is the sort of ideological proselytizing no American should have to hear. He’s been busy calling the president a racist and, more recently, Swiftboating members of the current administration: the first one an African American, the most recent one Jewish.
It’s his job.
I initially thought Beck was just a true-believing lock-stepping Moonie shill for his bosses at Murdoch’s News Corporation and thus, merely stupid, but last week I had the misfortune to read his recent pamphlet. It’s appended to the front of Tom Paine’s revolutionary classic “Common Sense.” I assume the editor stuck them together to lend Beck’s refrigerator-door finger-painting the appearance of, for lack of a better word, competence.
Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Tom Paine.
Beck claims that the solution to our political woes is for America to return to moral virtue as a guiding principle. Sounds good, if you don’t think about it too deeply.
Unfortunately for Beck, about three pages into “Common Sense,” Tom Paine writes this: “Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world.”
Let’s read that again: Paine says the rise of government is rendered necessary by “the inability of moral virtue to govern the world.”
Paine understood full well, as did the Founders, that you cannot rely on “moral virtue” to govern the world because everyone has a different idea of what moral virtue is.
The voices we have to listen to in order to create a just society and a responsible government are not those shrieking about “moral virtue,” soaked as they are in the kerosene of human fear, but to the voices of reason. Reasoning, I might add, is a lot more work. Sorry about that.
Anyway, why would Beck do something this stupid? I have two hypotheses: 1) he doesn’t care so long as the money rolls in and 2) he knows most of his readers will endure about one paragraph of Paine’s 18th century prose and fall asleep before they realize Beck doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
The reality, of course, is that my little crumbs of criticism hardly matter for, even though Beck doesn’t understand a lick of “Common Sense,” his book is a big best-seller. When a fundamentally flawed understanding of one of the most important texts in American history can stand in for thoughtful political insight and make money, PT Barnum starts to look like a genius. When we’re willing to believe anything, anything stupid can happen.
For instance: last week, when the president addressed the nation’s school children – as Presidents Bush and Reagan had before him – our local school district had to send out an e-mail to quell rumors that children would be dressed in Obama t-shirts, Obama masks and forced to participate in some kind of Obama Indoctrination Day celebration.
What’s even more interesting than the fact that someone, maliciously, started this rumor, is that so many people believed it – enough people, in fact, that their complaints kept local school kids from hearing the president of the United States tell them to work hard and stay in school. Some of these people, no doubt, embody the contradictions in Glenn Beck’s version of “Common Sense.” Fortunately, there is an American political theorist more insightful and relevant than Glenn Beck, who summarizes perfectly our predicament with regard to the enemies of good government and common sense. It’s the 1930s Sunday cartoons character Pogo, of course, whose most famous maxim carries the most common sense of all: “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”
Although, more and more, I'm thinkin' not ALL of us.