CPAC2010: The World According to Glenn Beck

On Saturday, Glenn Beck closed out the CPAC conference with great theater. Believe it or not I got a great deal out of watching his keynote address.

Beck starts by taking us back to the 1950’s. You see the problem is what it has always been — Communism! Yes, according to Beck, communism comes about by revolution but progressivism comes about by evolution. Progressivism sneaks up on you and before you know it you’re living in a communist state. Now I was left scratching my head on how we moved from socialism, the usual bogeyman, to communism but I guess the specific “ism” is not important so long as you strike fear into the masses.

What I sincerely love about Beck is that he stretches. He works at it. He makes Rush Limbaugh look like little more than a politically minded Andy Rooney. You know what I loved the most about Beck’s speech? In very simple terms Beck helped me understand the difference between liberals and conservatives and because he aimed his gun at Republicans even more than Democrats he came off pretty even-handed.

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You see, our differences go back to the very definition of America and the nature of the American dream. Beck sees an American tradition of hardscrabble men and women who pulled themselves up from their bootstraps. Pioneers who asked for nothing but a God-given chance to succeed without any expectation of success or sense of entitlement. Beck spells out three core beliefs that clarify what it is to be a conservative:

  1. We all have the right to pursue happiness, but not the right to happiness itself.
  2. All men are created equal … but don’t necessarily have to end up that way.
  3. Life is not fair … tough.

What bridges the pursuit of happiness to the attainment of it, according to Beck, is self-reliance, accountability and just plain hard work. If everyone starts at the same place, then the only differentiating factor for where we end up is what we DO.

Beck hammers his point home at the end of the address by delivering two readings of “The New Colossus”, the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. In his first subdued reading, the one he says most progressives interpret, Lady Liberty is saying that if you send us “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” then we Americans will rehabilitate them and restore them to strength and prosperity. In Beck’s words, “Well if you read it like that and you really think it through, what are we? A hospital?”

Then Beck delivers the poem again, this time the words leaping from his mouth, and he ends by saying, “That – that is the message. Even the people that you reject can make it here. They will give it all to be successful – here. You can make it – here.”

In other words, this is the land where a man can make himself great. Not be made great, but make himself great.

And that my friends informs the entire debate between conservatives and liberals. As Beck himself says, our Constitution is really only there to protect us from “the bad guys”. It’s there to get people out of our way so we can succeed beyond our wildest dreams if we just work hard enough. But the liberal says that the devil is in the details. The best ideals of the Constitution are worth nothing more than the paper upon which they are printed if laws do not deter men from yielding to their darker nature. The more the federal government tries to protect men from their baser selves, the more the conservative views that as unnecessary interference.

The health care debate is a prime example of this difference in the meaning of America between liberals and conservatives. It’s not that conservatives want people to die. They just don’t think it’s the government’s job to help keep them alive. Conservatives are afraid of the nanny state. Again, this harkens back to a theme in Beck’s address. There is this fundamental belief that independence is inextricably tied to self-reliance. If we become reliant on the government, we lose our independence and then some form of slavery cannot be far off.

Beck paints the picture of a country going through a terrible hangover after too many nights partying. Beck’s personal struggles with drug and alcohol abuse give him a palpable fear for what it is to lose control. The conservative philosophy is grounded in that fear, the fear that if  we give too much power to the government, we will lose control.

I submit that watching Glenn Beck’s CPAC keynote address would make the average liberal hate the average conservative just a little less. In Beck’s world, conservatives and liberals probably want the same end-game which is a society of people free to excel to their greatest potential. The difference, at least according to Beck is that liberals think the weak must be helped and in being helped everyone is uplifted while the conservative believes there are the weak who cannot be helped and that the intrusion of government to help them endangers the freedom of everyone.