by Jesse Walker
Writing in The American Conservative, Jack Hunter opines:
Warning that popular talk radio and Fox News host Glenn Beck was "Harmful to the Conservative Movement," Peter Wehner wrote on Commentary's "Contentions" blog in September: "he seems to be more of a populist and libertarian than a conservative, more of a Perotista than a Reaganite. His interest in conspiracy theories is disquieting, as is his admiration for Ron Paul and his charges of American 'imperialism.' (He is now talking about pulling troops out of Afghanistan, South Korea, Germany, and elsewhere.)"
Wehner is not alone in his criticism. When Beck told CBS News' Katie Couric, "John McCain would have been worse for the country than Barack Obama," fellow radio talker and The New York Times bestselling author Mark Levin fired back: "to say that he would be worse than a president who's a Marxist, who's running around the world apologizing for our nation, who's slashing our defense budget ... to say he would be worse is mindless ... incoherent, as a matter of fact."
Beck has been criticized from both Left and Right for his melodramatic, sometimes conspiracy-minded, intermittently bizarre style. But his conservative critics seem most offended not by Beck's manner but by his deviationism. He won't stick to the ideological script....
During the George W. Bush years, Beck's politics were less differentiated from those of other radio talkers. He deferred to the Bush administration, promoted militarism as patriotism, and called the day's news along partisan lines. When Ron Paul received national attention for questioning America's interventionist foreign policy during a 2007 GOP presidential primary debate, Beck called Paul "crazy" and asked, "how did this guy get on stage?" At the time there were no complaints about Beck from the likes of Wehner and Levin -- because Beck sounded much like them.
Hunter has his own problems with Beck, but he commends the Fox host for being "the only A-list conservative pundit willing to capitalize on the sentiments of Republicans disgruntled with their own party, and the only one to address the taboo subject of Bush-era foreign policy." You can debate whether that "only" is accurate, but the underlying point is on target. Love him or hate him, Glenn Beck is far more independent than Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, or even Bill O'Reilly. The popularity of his present incarnation shows there's a substantial audience for such heterodoxy. If we're lucky, it'll be a bellwether for a new trend in the cable news sphere: a greater willingness to stretch beyond the old categories of Red and Blue, into the wider spectrum of opinion that thrives online.