Tears of a Clown, Dana Milbank's new book on Glenn Beck, is "just as caustic" as Beck's on-air "vitriol" against progressives and President Obama, says Ed Pilkington in The Guardian. The book gives Beck "a taste of his own medicine," says Pilkington, with one important difference: "Milbank's account is factually accurate." Conservative critics are not so impressed by Milbank, a Washington Post political reporter: "He is not here to find answers or challenge assumptions," said Mark Judge in The Daily Caller recently. "He is here to propagandize." (Watch Milbank discuss Glenn Beck.) Accurate or not, here are five key assertions from Milbank's look at one of America's most controversial media icons:
1. Beck is dog-whistling an old Mormon prophesy
Milbank makes "a pretty convincing case," says Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic, that Beck is "using Mormon code against Obama," particularly when he is with fellow Mormons like Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). The code? Beck's frequent use of the phrase, "The Constitution is hanging by a thread," believed to have originated with founding Mormon Joseph Smith in 1840. This phrase is at the heart of "the White Horse Prophesy," which holds that Mormon elders will ride in on "the proverbial white horse" to save America when the Constitution is "hanging by a thread." This is Milbank's most explosive revelation, says Chris Rovzar in New York, because legions of Beck's Protestant followers "mistrust proselytizing liberals, but they mistrust proselytizing Mormons even more." Milbank is just trying to drum up book sales, says Jack Stuef at Wonkette, who's betting Milbank's next effort will be called: "'If I Write About Sarah Palin Now, Will This Book Get a Lot of Pageviews?'"
2. Beck doesn't understand Nazism, or history
Beck is "an amateur historian," Milbank says. "Very amateur." He frequently uses history to bolster his "fringe theories," but he mangles the allusions, probably to score ideological points. Take his "Nazi fetish" — he constantly brings up Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to warn his viewers about everything Obama, from health care to expanding the Peace Corps. He's a self-taught historian," says The Economist, and anyone without formal guidance is bound to "draw a lot of shallow and inaccurate conclusions."
3. He uses fear to sell gold
"People don't follow Glenn Beck because he is right," Milbank says. "They follow him out of fright." And his "focus on fear naturally leads to paid endorsements for gold as an investment," says Loyd E. Eskildson at Basil & Spice. His "relentless plugging of gold" as "a sure-fire way for them to protect their savings amid economic collapse" is a big reason Beck's empire is worth $32 million, says The Guardian's Ed Pilkington, summarizing Milbank. And nothing is "off limits" in his paid promotion of gold seller Goldline — including invoking the Founding Fathers.
4. Beck really, really hates Woodrow Wilson
"Unlike his Hitler fetish, Beck's obsession with Woodrow Wilson is of recent origin," Milbank says, starting with his reading two years ago of a book on Wilson by conservative historian R.J. Pestritto. Now he blames the 28th president and his Progressive Era presidency for "just about everything bad in the world," from communism to income tax, from the Weather Underground to Barack Obama. A sampling of Beck's disdain: Wilson was "an evil SOB," "a dirtbag racist," and "a horror show."
5. He is obsessed with "one-world government"
One of Beck's great successes, says Milbank, is bringing a healthy fear of "one-world government" into the political mainstream. In Beck's world, practically all multilateral activities are part of a plot to bring about a "global government" — the "global bank tax" and "global standards," "social and ecological justice," a "machine to redistribute the wealth all over the globe," and climate-change efforts. ("The goal is the United Nations running the world.")
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Republicans love this new health care plan. Too bad it's basically a tax cut for the rich.
- Is it now OK to have sex with animals?
- In defense of Gwyneth Paltrow
- In Ferguson, Michael Brown lost his life — and America's police lost the benefit of the doubt
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 17 old proverbs we should use more often
- Don't blame Chuck Hagel: Obama's foreign policy has been a disaster from end to end
- 8 tricks to surviving the holidays without gaining weight or being grouchy
- Adam Sandler's 'Thanksgiving Song': Explaining the 22-year-old tune's pop-culture references
Subscribe to the Week