You’ve probably heard that Glenn Beck is going to McAllen, Texas — and bringing a few truckloads of food, water, teddy bears and soccer balls for the for the thousands of underage refugees who were detained at the border.
I know, what a dick.
Beck and his team at TheBlaze have received some nasty tweets and emails that don’t deserve any more attention. But not all the criticism has been silly. Breitbart’s John Nolte has offered some cogent criticisms that warrant some debate.
Nolte, for example, argues that Beck might be inadvertently encouraging other parents to send their children on this incredibly dangerous and likely fruitless trek. This is not an absurd concern. Sometimes even acts of compassion can have unintended consequences. On the other hand, almost any act of charity implicitly carries with it the risk of creating a moral hazard.
Additionally, Nolte worries that by publicizing his efforts, Beck is selfishly handing the liberal media talking points to criticize securing the border, even as he revels in the warm glow and attention.
Personally, there are a lot of things I like about what Beck is doing. Conservatism shouldn’t be just about politics, and, of course, it isn’t. Conservatives (even the evil Koch brothers!) tend to be charitable — at least, in terms of giving money.
Nolte argues that Christian charity should be done in secret, and to a certain extent, I agree. But isn’t there something to be said for leaders who are willing to set a positive public example? Isn’t there something gained from Glenn Beck challenging his audience to put aside politics and anger — and instead react to a humanitarian crisis simply as humans and people of faith?
I suspect there is.
Of course, there is still a question of motive. Let’s concede the obvious point that it’s probably good for people to see public displays that demonstrate conservatives aren’t heartless. If that’s his aim, it might not be the purest motive, but I would suggest — contra Nolte — that this sort of demonstration has a positive cumulative effect on the conservative brand. (And if other conservatives think this makes them look bad in comparison, what’s stopping other deep-pocketed conservative leaders from joining him? Perhaps they should…)
Beck isn’t hogging all the attention, in any event. My understanding is that Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert and Utah Sen. Mike Lee are currently planning to join him on this trip. Now, if you’re cynical, you might suspect this will give them cover to pursue their anti-immigration reform policies — but maybe this actually comports with their values. It’s possible, after all, for someone to oppose immigration reform and still want to help people in need — which is the point of Beck’s project.
Additionally, isn’t it possible that Beck and Gohmert and Lee will — having seen the plight of these refugees — come away changed or have a different perspective? One wonders how bad things must be in Guatemala or Honduras for a mom and dad to pay a coyote to smuggle their child into a foreign land. Perhaps this will result in some introspection …
Lastly, isn’t it good for leaders like Beck to publicly call on their audiences to transcend the political bickering and also take part in such charitable endeavors? This is especially noteworthy and admirable considering that this specific issue is at the heart of the current culture war fault line.
Let’s be honest. In the past, Beck has been part of the problem. His Fox News show, for example, too often stoked division and paranoia — and I’m sure there are people reluctant to allow him this chance to reinvent himself as a paragon of virtue here. But let’s give praise where it is due. And this is a praiseworthy project. Motives matter, of course. But the little kids on the border will benefit either way. And my guess is that Beck’s oscillations are more about the fact that he’s a deeply conflicted man than about the fact that he is manipulating us.
It appears that this autodidact’s words and actions are often the product of whichever book he last read. When the last book he has read is by Cleon Skousen you probably get a different Beck. In this case (he said on the radio the other day) he has been reading a lot of Lincoln. And so, there is “malice toward none” and “charity for all.” At least, for now.
Someone better hide the Ayn Rand books.