Last night, I completed Glen Beck’s The Overton Window, although I am not sure why – light reading that was just sitting there, perhaps, to punctuate my progress through Gone with the Wind. In many respects, I did enjoy the book. No doubt less noble material currently sits on the shelves of the local book store. Yet, I was left confused over just what precisely I had read. Still sorting it out, here are some timely thoughts. Today is the day before Beck’s “Restore America” event.
Beck is not a conspiracy theorist, he tells us. In the opening “Note From the Author,” Beck prophecies that his enemies will try to spin such an attack without even reading the book – so goes Beck’s spin against his critics before they have yet written anything to not read. No, not a conspiracy theorist, nor a spin-scum sophist appealing to the more crass emotions of the populist. Beck is rather a novelist, a master of humanities and critical thinking, a creative artist fostering “deeper conversations”. In the Afterward, Beck writes:
It’s one of the intriguing potentials of this sort of fiction: When your mind suspends disbelief, it may also become more willing to consider a broader spectrum of possible outcomes to the events and agendas that are playing out around us every day (294).
But even here, in this one brief didactic attempt to set the record straight and explain his sober educational intentions, Beck cannot help but suggest a little bit more: “It’s unlikely we’ll face anything close to the challenges” the protagonists are up against in the story. “But after experiencing their scenario in its fictional setting, maybe it will become a little easier to have deeper conversations about the important forces that are actually at work in the real world.” I call your attention to the critical phrases “anything close”, “experiencing their scenario,” and “the important forces that are actually at work in the real world.” So the reader is given the green light to imagine just how non-fictional the simplistic, conspiratorial plot really is.
Character development within the story does little to mitigate a concern over conspiratorial intentions, even though Beck seems to make great efforts to moralize just here. The popular rhetorician, Danny Bailey, learns the importance in setting up careful boundaries on his own rhetoric and lust for attention, but only in so far as Danny might unwittingly incite literal violence, more specifically, the use of an atomic bomb on the city of Las Vegas. That is not setting a high bar for carefulness, scholarship, self-critical inquiry, humility, and sobriety – to put it mildly.
Therefore, despite how much I did enjoy the story and many of the interesting facts and cool quotes about authoritarianism and freedom, I can find little evidence from The Overton Window to warrant a rejection of Steven Benet’s hypothesis today regarding Glen Beck’s mental state (found in his Washington Monthly article ‘Political Animal’). This hypothesis was captured well by Benet’s quote from Atrius of the Eschaton blog: “The slightly interesting thing about Beck is that he appears to be an insane megalomaniac who is self-aware enough to be aware of that fact. It’s what allows him to be a huckster clown on top of it.”
Benent’s on-line article provides Beck’s brief video advertising the event set for tomorrow. The video’s narrator explains that “Man has always searched for a better way. . . . a new world founded on faith . . . by a people who believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was a power greater than man guiding them.” Beck gets the nature of faith right here. Faith is the unquestioned certainty that one knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that one’s thoughts are in fact Gods thoughts and that one’s will is in fact God’s will. A monstrous proposition of course, and so it is not surprising that the narrator double-speaks: “Men guided by their own reason.”
The Overton Window is not silent here. The wisest sage of the story, Molly, explains that the difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution was that “We believed we had the will of God behind us.” Beware, I say, of someone who makes a career out of mocking Ivy League institutions and the ‘elitists,’ for it is perhaps only there where our history may be rightly preserved.
But all this is perhaps too much rigor over the profoundly banal. If Beck wanted to gain the respect of someone like me, he would not be sharing the stage with Sarah Palin, and he would certainly not then state on Fox news that her presence was “nothing political.” But we need not ponder even these facets of the man’s psychology. The tail was already pinned on the donkey. Earlier, Beck explained his expectations for tomorrow’s event:
And that’s kind of the point of 8/28: you just have to stand where the Lord wants you to stand. He’ll explain it to you when the time comes. You can feel the presence of the Lord. I mean, the Spirit is so strong. When you, two hundred, three hundred, five hundred thousand people on the Mall in that space right there between Washington and Lincoln with the Reflecting Poll – a spiritual space in our nation – the Spirit of the Lord is going to be unleashed like I think you’ve never felt it before.
I comfort myself with the possibility that within some halls of our Universities, there remains a small flickering flame of what we are inclined to call progress.