Thursday, June 18, 2009

An idiot in Thomas Paine's clothing

I saw with some degree of horror last night, that Glenn Beck's new book is titled Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine. That should read Inspired by bizarro Thomas Paine, since the actual Thomas Paine would be a totalitarian "liberal fascist" by Beck's standards.

Glenn Beck, an anti-intellectual, anti-science paranoid, conspiratorial kook, is invoking Thomas Paine, an avatar of the Enlightenment as inspiration for waging a "civilest" civil/revolutionary war to dismantle the welfare state, which Beck is incapable of distinguishing from the totalitarian governments of Stalinist Soviet Union, Mussolini's Italy, or Hitler's Germany. The same Thomas Paine who, in two of his major works, wrote that the French revolution could establish its legitimacy by creating a welfare state with progressive taxation.

Thomas Paine's "common sense" were views that he believed were the obvious consequence to rational, scientific consideration of an issue; in essence, Paine's "common sense" was a celebration of the primacy of reason over dogma and tradition (including that of religious tradition/superstition.) This is not Beck's "common sense." I have seen on at least two occasions Beck giving as an exemplar of "common sense" your household dog, who just knows when something is wrong, intuitively; for Beck, "common sense" is thinking with your "gut." In other words, Beck's "common sense" celebrates the primacy of emotion over reason.

Which is why you get exchanges like this from Beck

Eugene, Ore.: Mr. Beck, over the last 20 years we have seen deregulated free market capitalism make a mess of the energy market (Enron), the financial markets, and the planet -- unmanaged natural resource harvest, global species loss, industrial toxins in our water, all at the cost of the common man or woman. Isn't regulation really a common sense approach to containing human greed?

Glenn Beck: No. Self-regulation is the common sense approach to regulating greed. What our founders called indispensable, the application of the laws of nature's God. And we have totally abandoned those things. Corporations need to know that by screwing the other guy, be it the janitor or another company, is bad long-term for the company. Polluting the rivers and skies to make a tire cheaper is ultimately bad for the company.
Is it? Shucks, I suppose we should probably get rid of our totalitarian laws preventing people from robbery or fraud, too, since self-regulation is the only "common sense" way to regulate greed. It's not like a company would create a product that would be highly addictive, highly damaging and deadly, conceal that information while waging a public relations campaign against anyone who pointed out the dangers of the product for decades while the company's consumers got sick and died. Or that this pattern of behavior would occur over and over. If Beck was more interested in empirical investigation of reality than his "gut" impressions of the matter, he'd find his views on this matter refuted again and again by the real world. Just ask the people of Libby, Montana.

But, like I said, history doesn't exist for Beck.


Alan said...


It will be interesting to see if any major media figures will publicly call him on this.

Hume's Ghost said...

Other than Olbermann, Maddow, Colbert, and Stewart (and maybe Ed Schulz ... don't know, don't watch his program, as I'm not to thrilled to see that slot go to a radio host talking head rather than a journalist) I doubt it. Dan Froomkin getting fired from the WaPost isn't too reassuring.

I doubt anyone in the mainstream press even knows that Beck's call for non-violent revolutionary/civil war recycled from the proto-fascists of the extreme "right." Of course, I find Beck's statement's denouncing violence to be a bit of having his cake and eating it too. If you watch that Tea Party edition of his program where he has the old guy dressed as Paine ranting for 3 minutes or so, it sure as heck comes off like he's trying to rally the troops for battle.

Check out this one from "Paine", which makes a quasi-fascist appeal to unify the nation against foreigners, multiculturalism, people that are in favor of Social Security/healthcare, secularists/atheists and what not ... whom he calls "traitors." Then he says that unless "Americans" i.e. persons who share his political views take back the country by making elected officials do what they want then blood on the streets will happen again. It's kind of an ultimatum, either they when an election and get what they want or it's time to storm the Bastille (stimulus spending is compared to Pearl Harbor and 9/11, "will of the people" is equated with Beck, Bizarro Paine and their followers.)