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Why So Many on the Right and the Left Can't Figure Out How To Deal with Glenn Beck

Posted on September 26 2009 5:32 pm
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here
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Today one of our commenters, Ben, posted a link to Media Bistro on David Horowitz’s post about the newest installment in the debate with David Frum.

Ben did so to demonstrate an interesting point: Glenn Beck did fairly well in a recent public opinion poll. Only 19% of Americans have a negative view of him. Compare that to the 50% who have a negative view of Rush Limbaugh. When it comes to Beck most people are either neutral or ignorant of him.

The source of Media Bistro’s information was a blog by Nate Silver, the influential polling analyst behind FiveThirtyEight.Com. And it was there that I discovered an idea far more interesting than Beck’s low negative numbers. Silver identified Beck in a fashion I’d never considered before, but now cannot help but enthusiastically embrace:

Beck is a PoMoCon — a post-modern conservative. And his philosophy is not all that difficult to articulate.

I’ve previously identified David Horowitz as a post-modern conservative. It’s a label that I identify myself with as well. (Note: I refuse to use PoMoCon. It just sounds dumb. Sorry.)

Silver describes the conservative components of this emerging political philosophy:

It borrows a couple of things from traditional American conservatism:

— It shares an extreme distrust for government, particularly the Federal Government.
— It shares the notion that American society is in some sort of state of existential decline.

There are a few other key elements as well that link postmodern conservatism to traditional conservatism which Silver leaves out (or perhaps was not aware of.) First and foremost is an overwhelming enthusiasm for the principles of the founding and the Founding Fathers themselves. Second is a revulsion at the the decidedly non-postmodern nature of the True Believer Left. So much of Beck’s approach — as well as the emphasis of Horowitz, many at the Freedom Center, and myself — is an analysis and a relentless critique of the Left. This sort of conservatism — one that develops in reaction to the Left — is unfortunately alien to many conservatives today. Because they do not understand the Left they cannot effectively fight it.

Silver goes on to elucidate where postmodern conservatism parts ways with traditional (Limbaugh and Mark Levin) conservatism:

On the other hand, it also features some important differences:

— It is much more distrustful of non-governmental institutions, such as labor unions, corporations, political parties, community groups, the media, and scientific institutions.
— It is largely indifferent toward ‘social issues’.
— It is much less explicitly aligned with the Republican Party.
— It has much less use for elites, which it also distrusts.

These four aspects of postmodern conservatism allow the ideology to expand to reach out to the apolitical, the moderate, and the open-minded elements of the Left. It allows for the defense of America and the spirit of the Founders to penetrate beyond the confines of the Conservative Movement.

Silver also describes a very important stylistic and temperamental difference:

The PoMoCons are not so much less self-consistent as they are less concerned with consistency, as compared with traditional conservatives. Theirs is a bric-a-brac, skeptical (sometimes to the point of paranoid), play-it-by-ear, relatively spontaneous reaction to the here-and-now — not something cooked up by a K Street thinktank. There is no future, no past — there is only today. And today is a pretty good day to be Glenn Beck.

In other words: Beck and other post-modern conservatives are OPEN-MINDED. They have a functioning core of patriotism and freedom-oriented libertarianism but they are willing to take in new ideas and adapt to the circumstances of a changing world.

One of the key side effects of this is something I observed when watching Beck the other day. I realized my enthusiasm for what Beck was saying throughout his show would fluctuate wildly. I would be with him one moment, in complete agreement, and then all of a sudden he might present an idea or say something in an over-the-top fashion and I’d strongly disagree. I probably found myself supporting maybe 70-80% of what he had to say with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Other times I’d want to reach through the screen to yank him back before he stumbled off an ideological cliff. Such is the nature of a figure like Beck whose mind frees itself to explore the world of ideas with less rigidity than a traditionalist.

My friends, this is the next evolution in Conservatism. This is what will transmit the defense of the American Idea to the next generation and the politically disenchanted masses. And Beck is its representative in the mass culture of cable news and talk radio. Therefore it is all the more vital to make sure Beck does not stumble down Wile E. Coyote-style as he chases the Road Runner of the Left.

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