I've had some complaints about covering the Glenn Beck Circus, under the assumption that he's just a foolish irrelevant clown. I understand that and certainly hope that's the case. But I think it's foolish to fail to keep an eye on political phenomenons like this because nobody can tell the future. It's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it.
However, I'm an amateur at analyzing this particular freakshow. The professional is Dave Neiwert, whose new book The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right couldn't be coming out at a more propitious time. He wrote about the Beck show this week-end at Orcinus and it's well worth reading to understand what Beck is doing. (Whether Beck's fully conscious of it is another question, but the result is the same.)
Neiwert takes on Beck's twisted history lesson in the particulars (Jonah Goldberg's silly book as well.) And he quotes Beck's favorite American Revolutionary to prove him an ass:
Even more to the point, perhaps, is Thomas Paine's Agrarian Justice, which is essentially a treatise on the need for community sharing and consensual taxation:
It is a position not to be controverted that the earth, in its natural, cultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race. In that state every man would have been born to property. He would have been a joint life proprietor with rest in the property of the soil, and in all its natural productions, vegetable and animal. ...
Every proprietor, therefore, of cultivated lands, owes to the community ground-rent (for I know of no better term to express the idea) for the land which he holds; and it is from this ground-rent that the fund prod in this plan is to issue.
As for Glenn Beck's oft-stated view that charities, and not government, should be taking care of the poor, here's Paine's view of that:
There are, in every country, some magnificent charities established by individuals. It is, however, but little that any individual can do, when the whole extent of the misery to be relieved is considered. He may satisfy his conscience, but not his heart. He may give all that he has, and that all will relieve but little. It is only by organizing civilization upon such principles as to act like a system of pulleys, that the whole weight of misery can be removed.
The plan here proposed will reach the whole. It will immediately relieve and take out of view three classes of wretchedness-the blind, the lame, and the aged poor; and it will furnish the rising generation with means to prevent their becoming poor; and it will do this without deranging or interfering with any national measures.
Of course, Thomas Paine's name is familiar to anyone who watched Friday. At the end of the same show, Beck tried to "channel" Paine with a right-wing rant that was all about inspiring Americans to rise up against the administration they just got finished electing. Why? Because they're taxing us.
And the real Thomas Paine's grave was registering the whirling on the Richter scale.
But hey, we've got "originalist" Supreme Court Justices telling students that Americans care too much about the Bill of Rights and should care more about a non-existent "Bill of Responsibilities," so what else is new?