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Glenn Beck is a flatterer. If you watch his show on Fox News, there's a good chance you'll be told how intelligent and perceptive you are. On September 29, during a rant on how the (non-Fox) media "think that you are too stupid to figure it out," Beck told his viewers: "I'll treat you like an adult. Fox treats you like an adult. Bill O'Reilly treats you like an adult. They'll treat you like boys and girls." It's a classic salesman's gimmick. "Hey, I can tell you're a smart guy and I'm not going to waste your time, but this extended warranty is really worth the money."
The earnest Beck fan who feels confident that the Fox News host respects his or her mental faculties might be a touch confused by Beck's latest book, Broke, which purports to grapple with the complexities of national debt but looks a lot like a fifth-grade history textbook, albeit with more references to the Bible and the flat tax.
Broke features the author comically mugging on the cover; glossy pages with huge margins; and chapters stuffed with silly cartoons, countless diagrams, and non-sequitur insets labeled "A.D.D. Moments." It caters to the easily-distracted reader, constantly giving them something to focus on. It's the same formula Beck utilized in his last book, Arguing with Idiots, right down to the comic mugging and "A.D.D. Moments."
The tone, however, is more staid than the typical Beck book. Sure, the childish insults, hackneyed jokes, and ham-fisted cultural references are there, but he also drones on for pages at a time about the statutory debt limit and public vs. intragovernmental obligations. Those seemingly interminable passages are sandwiched between a long-form retelling of American History Beck and Beck's plan for saving the country, pithily dubbed "The Plan." Let's deal with the history first.
Earlier this year, Glenn Beck caused a bit of a stir when, on his television show, he toyed around with the idea of a "private army" taking over America's combat operations in Afghanistan because "I have not seen the government do anything except cause problems."
For his comments, Beck was slammed by veterans groups for "insulting our men and women in uniform." Nevertheless, a little over a month later Beck said he didn't believe that the government had to operate the army.
But in his newest book, Broke, Beck dismisses the notion that anyone but the federal government handle national security [Page 270]:
Obviously, there are certain things that only the federal government can do. We can't have competing armies or competing judicial systems, but that's why the federal government exists in the first place. Remember, the list of things they should do is pretty short: national security, judiciary, international relations, and patents and copyrights. Competition among states in those areas would be a disaster. And that, in fact, is a pretty good litmus test for figuring out whether a program or agency should be at the state or national level: If competition would be a bad thing, then the feds should probably have it.
So which is it? Do we have roving bands of mercenaries fighting our wars or not?
Glenn Beck fancies himself a learned man, and he truly believes that Broke is a scholarly work of near-unfathomable intellectual heft.
And what do all great thinkers do in the pages of their "most scholarly efforts"? They shamelessly advertise for their schlocky, poorly-written thriller novels, of course.
From page 36 of Broke:
This is getting to be pathological. Glenn Beck's all-consuming hatred of Woodrow Wilson seems to have rendered him physically incapable of honest discussion about the man.
On page 54 of Broke, Beck writes about Wilson's role in the progressive "social engineering" scheme:
Wilson's desire to control got so creepy that at one point he decided to create a "new standard for manhood" for American soldiers. The result was a "Commission on Training Camp Activities" that regulated everything from approved soldier recreation to sexual practices, promising "protection and stimulation of its mental, moral and physical manhood."
First of all, he's seriously begrudging the man for wanting the government to regulate the conduct of soldiers? Really?
Secondly, the Commission on Training Camp Activities didn't regulate "everything from approved soldier recreation to sexual practices." It proffered solutions to combating the drunkenness and prostitution that were prevalent on and around military bases:
The task of this Commission, therefore, is to re-establish, as far as possible, the old social ties -- to furnish these young men a substitute for the recreational and relaxational opportunities to which they have been accustomed -- in brief, to rationalize, as far as it can be done, the bewildering environment of a war camp. It is also for the Commission to prevent and suppress certain vicious conditions traditionally associated with armies and training camps.
Essentially, their mission was to get soldiers to spend their free time in theaters and the gym instead of in saloons and VD clinics. And Wilson had a very good reason to want his soldiers happy and fit instead of drunk and syphilitic -- the country was at war.
But to Beck, Wilson was a "creepy" control freak who wanted to "regulate sexual practices."
It's a well-established fact that Glenn Beck doesn't like Woodrow Wilson. It's also a well-established fact that Glenn Beck is a phenomenally awful and lazy researcher. These two character traits achieve synthesis in Broke, in which Beck goes on an extended tirade against Woodrow Wilson that is, in large parts, lifted directly from Jonah Goldberg's 2007 book Liberal Fascism.
To be sure, Liberal Fascism makes up the bulk of the citations for the several pages he spends trashing America's 28th president, which should explain why the quotes Beck used, the conclusions he drew from them, and even the punctuation in some cases match up exactly with Goldberg's book.
From page 51 of Broke:
Wilson saw government as a new god, a vehicle through which power could and should be delivered. Writing in his book ominously titled The State, Wilson declared "Government does now whatever experience permits or the times demand."
From page 86 of Liberal Fascism:
Wilson, along with the vast majority of progressive intellectuals, believed that the increase in state power was akin to an inevitable evolutionary process. Governmental "experimentation," the watchword of pragmatic liberals from Dewey and Wilson to FDR, was the social analogue to evolutionary adaptation. Constitutional democracy, as the founders understood it, was a momentary phase in this progression. Now it was time for the state to ascend to the next plateau. "Government," Wilson wrote approvingly in The State, "does now whatever experience permits or the times demand."
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The last third of Glenn Beck's new book, Broke, is devoted to his "plan" to fix our supposedly broken country. (Spoiler alert: stop spending money, implement a flat tax, and privatize everything -- all while praying.)
Here's a rule of thumb: If you can Google something and find a private company to do that task, then that's probably where the responsibility for it should be. Profit motive has a funny way of making companies act efficiently. In fact, giving some tasks to companies can often run an expense item into a revenue item. [Broke, pg 308]
Beck proceeds to argue that we should consider privatizing, among other things, military arsenal production, ports, and air traffic control. After a brief, apparently irony-free section about rising health care costs -- remember folks, "profit motive has a funny way of making companies act efficiently" -- Beck announces a "War on Defense Dollars." As Beck explains it, "we must break free of this perpetual cycle of military operations that is helping to bankrupt us."
After announcing that he is "not an expert in this area," Beck turns to someone with more experience: Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater (now known as "Xe."). Beck repeats several of Prince's suggestions under the guise of Prince telling people "how to make the military more efficient."
Leaving aside the numerous other ethical scandals Blackwater has been involved in over the years, if Prince really wanted to help combat Pentagon waste, one of his first steps would have been to propose better-regulating companies like the one he founded.
Glenn Beck is very proud of his new book, Broke, having once boasted that it "is our most scholarly effort" with fifty pages of "just footnotes."
In a literal sense this isn't true. Broke contains not a single footnote, which are little notes at the bottom -- or "foot" -- of the page that allow the reader to know immediately the sources you cite. Nor does Broke contain endnotes, in which sources listed at the back of the book correspond to numbers sprinkled about the various chapters. No, what Broke has are known simply as citations -- a series of pages that attribute a source to a specific quote on a specific page.
And Beck manages to screw them up regardless, getting wrong both the name and publication date of one of Woodrow Wilson's books, in addition to ripping a quote from it out of context.
Anyone familiar with Beck knows that he despises Woodrow Wilson -- "a man who did more damage to the fabric of America than anyone who's come before or after," as he puts it on page 49. And on page 51, Beck makes the case that Wilson was power-mad:
What made Woodrow Wilson especially dangerous was that he had taken the faith of his Presbyterian minister father and his mother, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and mixed it with a lust for power leavened with a heaping dollop of socialism. In fact, in his own writings, Wilson made no secret about his fixation with power. In his book Congressional Power, Wilson wrote, "I cannot imagine power as a thing negative and not positive." Apparently, atrocities at the hands of dictatorial governments and regimes never crossed his mind, even as the country suffered through a world war.
First things first -- Wilson's book was not called Congressional Power. It was called Constitutional Government in the United States, as Beck's "footnote" for this quotation makes clear. However, the "footnote" claims that the book was published in 1917, which is wrong. It was published 1908. This is significant, in that World War I had not yet broken out and Wilson would therefore have had little reason to reflect on the war-induced suffering of his country, as Beck claims he should have.
Under the heading "Tough Love" on page 43 of Broke, Glenn Beck writes:
If you want to really understand how Lincoln viewed our country's obligation to get out of debt, take a look at how he responded to his own stepbrother, who'd hit him up for eighty dollars. After you read Lincoln's letter, think to yourself how someone like George W. Bush or Barack Obama would've responded to the same request.
Beck then prints a letter from Lincoln rejecting his stepbrother's request for money and urging the stepbrother instead to "go to work, 'tooth and nail,' for somebody who will give you money for it."
You can see where this is going, right?
From Glenn Beck's radio show from September 22 of this year (emphasis added):
GLENN: [Obama's] salvation depends on a collective salvation. He can't go to heaven unless we all go to heaven.
PAT: Mmm hmmm.
GLENN: That's why he's got to be his brother's keeper. He'll let his aunt starve on the streets but his brother he'll let live for 75 cents a day.
PAT: A month.
STU: A month.
PAT: Oh, he would be a wildly wealthy man if he made 75 cents a day. 75 cents a month.
GLENN: 75 cents a month?
PAT: Yeah, yeah.
GLENN: Has Sally Struthers called Barack Obama?
STU: I don't know.
PAT: Barack, for less than the cost of the humpback whale in the tasty butter sauce I just ate, you could feed your brother George Onyango in Kenya. You know?
STU: That's persuasive.
PAT: It is. It is good. I'm not sure she got his name right, but
GLENN: Is there more Zeituni? Because I love her.
Yup, that's Beck and his cronies slamming President Obama for failing to provide for his Kenyan half-brother George (as we've noted, after conservatives used the initial reports of George Obama's living conditions to attack President Obama, George called the reports "exaggerated" in an interview with CNN, saying: "I was brought up well. I live well even now."). So he hits Obama for not giving money to his real half brother, and he hits Obama for hypothetically giving money to his fictional stepbrother. Nice.
Glenn Beck's new book, Broke, came out today, and it's thus far staying true to the well-worn Beck formula: Founders = wholly good; progressives = wholly evil; limited government = awesome. Add a healthy dollop of factually-challenged revisionist history and some love from conservative book clubs, and you're looking at another Beck bestseller.
The conceptual boogeyman of Broke is "debt" in all its forms, and, in accordance with the above formula, Beck tells us on page 16 that the Founding Fathers were champions of "thrift":
Flash forward to today: When most people hear "thrift," they think about thrift stores or thrift clothes, terms that are associated with concepts like "cheap" and "low quality."
America's Founders saw it differently. They prized thrift -- not just because they saw firsthand what extravagance can lead to, but because they understood that frugality wasn't just about saving money; it was also about saving freedom. If you think about debt as a tie that binds you to others, then it's not a stretch to believe that personal savings yields personal liberty.
At this point, if you're at all versed in the biographies of our Founding Fathers, you might be thinking: "Wait... didn't Thomas Jefferson live an extravagant lifestyle that was well-beyond his means and die deeply in debt at his home in Monticello, the rights to which he maintained simply because creditors respected the fact that he was Thomas Jefferson?"
If so, bully for you. But fear not, Beck has an explanation for that on page 25: "What's fascinating is that even though Thomas Jefferson himself died cashless under loads of personal debt, he still understood that taking other people's money and blowing it on frivolous junk was immoral." Beck's lesson from Jefferson's profligate personal spending is: "Ah... financial stewardship. What a novel and bizarre concept."
I'm sure you'll be completely unsurprised to hear that in Broke, Glenn Beck describes President Lyndon Johnson as a "true progressive at heart," and goes on to castigate virtually every aspect of his presidency. But Beck has a problem in attacking Johnson -- while his economic policies have been slammed by the right and his decision to escalate the Vietnam War has been savaged by the left, it's almost impossible to find someone who doesn't champion the Voting Rights Act of 1965 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Beck's Fox colleague John Stossel excluded, of course).
So what does Beck do? He smears Johnson's passage of landmark civil rights legislation as entirely motivated by political expediency. Beck writes:
The truth was Johnson couldn't have cared less about the plight of blacks. What he did care about was his image, and he knew that being perceived as a civil rights crusader would help strengthen it. [pages 77-78]
After several pages of attacks on LBJ's Great Society, including a reference to the work of white supremacist favorite Charles Murray, Beck returns to the point:
All along, Johnson's voting record proved that he had little interest in racial "equality." Instead, he knew that shifting black voters into the Democrat column would be a key component for Democratic victories moving forward. The sad truth is that his strategy actually worked. In 1964, LBJ got 94 percent of the black vote, a record for presidential elections that stood until 2008, when Obama got 96 percent.
In 1965, LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act, and since then no Republican presidential candidate has ever gotten more than 15 percent of the black popular vote. [page 85]
Ok, a few points here. First, did you notice how Beck glosses over what happened prior to the 1964 election that might have led to record black support for Johnson? Johnson, who Beck despises, pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964; his opponent in that year's election, Sen. Barry Goldwater, the sort of libertarian Beck loves, opposed the bill. So yeah, Johnson's support for civil rights and his opponent's opposition to it probably did shift African Americans into the Democratic column.
But was that really why Johnson supported the bills? Let's put it this way: There's no story about the president signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, turning to Bill Moyers, and saying, "We have won the black vote for a generation." But there is one about Johnson telling Moyers, "We have lost the South for a generation." You may recognize the quote; it's probably the most famous thing Johnson is ever reported to have said, though Beck completely ignores it because it doesn't fit his narrative. Johnson knowingly sacrificed a large chunk of the Democratic coalition to pass civil rights legislation.
After all, if it was that easy -- pass civil rights legislation and reap the political benefits -- wouldn't it have happened before Johnson's presidency?
In a sidebar on page 264 of Glenn Beck's Broke entitled "Poverty 1, America O," Beck quotes President Johnson saying "I have called for a national war on poverty. Our objective: total victory." Beck comments, "You would think that people would eventually realize that national wars on things like poverty and drugs only result in more poverty and drugs," and goes on to advocate for "cities and states doing what is best for their communities, not a career politician in Washington deciding how to dole out federal aid money."
In reality, Johnson made the comment Beck cites in 1964. According to the Census Bureau, 19 percent of Americans were living below the federal poverty level that year. The next year, it dipped to 17.3 percent; the following year, to 14.7 percent. In 1969, the year after the conclusion of Johnson's presidency, only 12.1 percent of Americans were living below the poverty line, a drop of nearly 7 percentage points in the five years after Johnson declared his "War on Poverty."
Since then, there have been only four years in which the number of Americans living in poverty has exceeded 14.5 percent; the highest rate was in 1983, under Ronald Reagan -- probably the president who did the most to follow Beck's "cities and states" strategy.
Don't you hate it when the facts get in the way of good rhetoric?
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