Passing without much political comment last week was a bizarre performance by faded conservative figure (I cannot write icon) Glenn Beck. Beck was a guest on the extremely overrated “Full Frontal,” fronted by the tediously left-wing “comedian” Samantha Bee – who, I am, distressed to admit, was also born in Canada. Looking like a celebrity fresh out of rehab, anxious to share his addiction horrors and earn the acceptance of a forgiving audience, Beck confessed that he had “divided” people in the past as a conservative commentator.
His earnest repentance was apparently a matter of little consequence to his dismissive host who considered Beck irredeemable: “My audience wants to kill me for normalizing a lunatic like yourself,” said the irascible Bee, who as far as non-liberals are concerned, might attempt to resemble bonafide comedian Don Rickles but lacks the comic timing to make the insults work.
Nonplussed, Beck proceeded to do his level best to ingratiate himself with his lefty viewers – both in-studio, and apparently, those overwhelmingly bored enough at home to tune in as well.
Beck, you may recall, enjoyed more than his five minutes of fame more than a decade ago when he burst on the scene and quickly had an afternoon show on Fox News. After a short burst of conservative euphoria, the bloom quickly fell from his daily rants. Beck’s format can only be compared to a musician whose only rehearsed song loses its charm with each succeeding performance. Beck would lecture on how all American history concerned the march of the progressives and their vice-like grip on U.S. politics. He would never bother to distinguish what progressive meant in the late twentieth century from what it meant in the early 1900s when people like Republican President Theodore Roosevelt – certainly not a Marxist fellow traveler – embrace progressive causes like the Clean Food and Drug Act.
After wearing out his welcome at Fox, syndicated radio was next. That experience too left many listeners wondering just how this guy was allotted air time when every show sounded like a bunch of guys in a frat house trying to muster a faint hint of intellectual profundity as they tossed around the news of the week.
Beck has moved on to internet news since then and had apparently found a comfortable niche there – until the arrival of Donald Trump. For some reason – never clear to anyone who had endured Beck’s sophomoric approach to conservative ideas – Beck found Trump completely unacceptable to the conservative cause, a horrendous embarrassment and unelectable. After embracing the NeverTrump mantle, he then apparently experienced an epiphany following election day and offered his services to the president-elect.
Perhaps because the call for assistance never came, Beck has decided to begin an ideological journey that will end God knows where but presumably in a place of enhanced financial security.
Beck is another chapter in the book of ideological metamorphoses – or, more precisely, political makeovers. For some, the change can be financially very worthwhile. Before she co-founded (and later sold) the extremely profitable Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington was a conservative pundit on the evening news and married to right-of-center Republican Rep. Michael Huffington: the union ended after the congressman declared his bisexuality.
Arianna marched on – deciding that politics was all performance and spectacle after all so why shouldn’t an articulate and telegenic talking head merely adopt a different message? Would anyone notice? Apparently not.
If political pundits can shift their ideological base with such apparent ease of movement and conscience, it is probably due to the febrile state of political punditry. Commentary today – for both the left and right – is often conducted not by political thinkers but by entertainers who issue often outrageous and provocative political statements on-air in order to sell their latest book on-line or in the store.
Take a look at the political landscape and try finding anything that is remotely close to the intellectual caliber or stimulating dialogue of William F. Buckley’s Firing Line. You can find a lot of those old shows on YouTube and they’re really worth watching. Buckley took on Southern Democrat segregationist George Wallace in one memorable segment and had a meandering but fascinating bout with left wing boor/poet/beat writer Jack Kerouac in another bit of television history.
If your political thought is not grounded in some epistemological foundations – if you don’t know why you hold the ideas that you do – than your politics is ultimately nothing more than a label that flutters to the ground when the winds of debate or the promise of financial windfall come your way.
Follow David on Twitter @DavidKrayden