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The Left Continues To Smear Glenn Beck & the Tea Party with its Skousen Shellgame

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Posted on January 3 2011 8:00 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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I’d hope that by now everyone understands how a shell game works.

The charlatan has three shells and a pea. He hides the pea under a shell and invites his mark to keep an eye on it. Then he shifts around the shells slowly in a way in which it’s easy to keep track of the shell that supposedly hides the pea. His innocent Mark points to the shell only to be stunned when the pea isn’t there.

How does it work? Easily: the charlatan palms the pea when his mark isn’t looking. Then he’s able to stick it underneath another shell to make it impossible for his mark to win the bet.

And of course leftists engage in shell games on a mass scale in our culture today. And unfortunately there’s a vast mass of uneducated, good-intentioned, barely-paying-attention “independents” and “centrists” who get taken in all too often by by their cons.

We see this on display in Christopher Hitchens radical assault on the Tea Party movement in this month’s issue of Vanity Fair:

Glenn Beck has not even been encouraging his audiences to reread Robert Welch. No, he has been inciting them to read the work of W. Cleon Skousen, a man more insane and nasty than Welch and a figure so extreme that ultimately even the Birch-supporting leadership of the Mormon Church had to distance itself from him. It’s from Skousen’s demented screed The Five Thousand Year Leap (to a new edition of which Beck wrote a foreword, and which he shoved to the position of No. 1 on Amazon) that he takes all his fantasies about a divinely written Constitution, a conspiratorial secret government, and a future apocalypse. To give you a further idea of the man: Skousen’s posthumously published book on the “end times” and the coming day of rapture was charmingly called The Cleansing of America. A book of his with a less repulsive title, The Making of America, turned out to justify slavery and to refer to slave children as “pickaninnies.” And, writing at a time when the Mormon Church was under attack for denying full membership to black people, Skousen defended it from what he described as this “Communist” assault.

So, Beck’s “9/12 Project” is canalizing old racist and clerical toxic-waste material that a healthy society had mostly flushed out of its system more than a generation ago, and injecting it right back in again. Things that had hidden under stones are being dug up and re-released. And why? So as to teach us anew about the dangers of “spending and deficits”? It’s enough to make a cat laugh. No, a whole new audience has been created, including many impressionable young people, for ideas that are viciously anti-democratic and ahistorical. The full effect of this will be felt farther down the road, where we will need it even less.

Here’s how the Smear-The-Tea-Partiers-As-Racist-Reactionaries Shell Game works. The Five Thousand Year Leap is indeed an integral part of the Glenn Beck, Tea Party, 9/12 Project movement. Beck has endorsed it, pushed it on his shows, written a new forward, and propelled it onto the bookshelves of the conservative grassroots. That much is true.

What isn’t true is that its contents are anything like what Hitchens describes. Instead of quoting from the book itself, Hitchens slides the pea of racism and crackpot conspiracism under the Leap shell. He cites other Skousen texts which might very well have some objectionable contents — books which have no role whatsoever in the Tea Party movement and that Beck hasn’t pushed the way he has Leap — and then tries to claim that Leap expresses the same ideas. (Of course how accurate Skousen’s critics are about these other texts is anyone’s guess. Paul Skousen, the author’s son, has defended his father here in the comments of a piece by Ron Radosh. Whether Skousen was actually the Alex Jones of his day is a task requiring more effort to ascertain than it seems necessary to spend.)

(By the way, the Right has been debunking this particular Skousen shell game for some time. I first blogged about it more than a year ago in October of ’09 here.)

Hitchens certainly hasn’t bothered to read Leap. Doing so would defang this smear immediately. He’d discover that instead of a racist, conspiracy-monger’s guidebook it’s actually just a summary of the political philosophy of the founders made up primarily of their own words. (I have a feeling that if one did a textual analysis of Leap then the result would be more words from the founding fathers than from Skousen himself.) Skousen crystallizes the founders’ ideals into 28 principles. Since Hitchens won’t be reading the book, here’s the cliff notes version of the ideas in it:

Next: Click the next page for a quick summary of Leap.

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