Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Glenn Beck: "I'm a uniter! We have you surrounded!"

I wanted to use my first post here to flesh out an exchange I had with a friend about Glenn Beck's recent turn for the hysterical, in particular, some problems I have with both his "We Surround Them" and "9/12 Project" storylines. I decided to start things by giving the guy a fair shake, and read his founding principles or however he refers to them. Right off the bat, this jumped out at me:

America is Good.”

What does this even mean? There’s no extrapolation here, not even some out-of-context quote taken from Washington or Lincoln. “America is Good.” What are we calling America here? What are we calling good? This almost seems like a deliberate anti-thought instead of a thought: as in, what we are secretly agreeing to here is that we aren’t going to think very deeply or in a mature fashion about this question. America Good. Unamerica Bad. Ungh.

“We surround them” vs. “the Spirit of 9/12”

Weepily, Glenn Beck asks us to think back to the day after 9/11, and look past our partisan ways. On the banner at his “9.12 Project,” he states “The day after America was attacked we were not obsessed with Red States, Blue States or political parties.” This cry for unity is pretty disingenuous when Beck’s recent tagline for his 9/12 project is “We surround them.”

First off, as regards the veracity of that claim in the first place, no, Glenn, WE (Democrats/progressives) surround YOU (Republicans/conservatives), pretty damn overwhelmingly*.

( source )

More on the demographic/ideological shift taking place right now can be found at an excellent series of pieces at Slate, or just by tracking the issue on five thirty eight.

Initially, I expressed dismay that Beck has such a large pulpit from which to express his views, and that someone so obviously unbalanced has such a large audience. A friend of mine said, fairly, that I couldn’t have it both ways – I couldn’t see Beck and his followers as marginalized *and* be dismayed by the size of his audience. I actually think that, after parsing the issue a bit, that’s completely reasonable. Beck’s audience is, on average, 2.2 million viewers a night at most recent count. That’s a respectable cable audience, to be sure, and most certainly linked to Beck’s recent turn for the hyperbolically apocalyptic, but let’s put things in perspective. America’s population currently stands at 303,824,640, give or take (number taken from the CIA factbook). The number of cable subscribers right now stands at 64.4 million. That means that Beck is pulling in about 3% of the total cable viewership. A big audience, but still a niche within a niche within a niche.

Now, numbers don’t mean a damn thing by themselves, and the only reason I’m throwing these around is to counter the numbers that Beck likes to throw around. I don’t begrudge Beck his desire to make it seem as though his “movement” or whatever it is is larger than it is – the first instinct of a cornered animal is what, after all? To puff itself up to appear larger than it actually is in the interests of self-preservation.

But to use such intimidating language – “WE surround THEM” “this is OUR country” and then to claim that your aim is unity is blatantly hypocritical and doesn’t make any sense. If you’re using the fiery rhetoric of “us and them,” you lose the ability to play the unity card.

* - A personal note to my friend Aaron here: you asked me if this poll was purely partisan, and I responded that, indeed, it only counted self-identified Democrats/Republicans. And I understood the point you were making: that more conservatives are distancing themselves from the Republican party because they don’t feel that it accurately reflects their conservative values (I would argue that it’s just as much because of the damage the GOP has done to their own ‘brand value,’ but that’s a discussion for another day). I was wrong: Gallup’s methodology tries to includes ‘leaners’ and ‘independents’ to parse for conservatives and liberals who don’t identify with either party.


  1. Glenn has said both "you are not alone" and "we surround them" On the one hand he is trying to tell people like me that if I speak up, I will find I'm not alone in my thinking. If he is trying to convince me that people who think like me are some kind of national majority, I disagree with him and he has not convinced me. On the other hand, I think when he says we surround them he may be talking about the people surrounding the politicians. He may be saying there is a national majority of people who agree with 7 of his 9 principles, but in terms of actually having contacted them and mobilized them, I think he is a long way off from that. Glad to have this chance to go back and forth with you.

  2. This is where most of my political blogging ended up lately.