A Look at Glenn Beck and “Common Sense”

Glenn Beck’s latest addition to the American literary canon is entitled

Glenn Beck’s Common Sense

, and it is comically bad. It reads like a transcript of his radio talk show, which means that it is filled with italicized words, SENTENCES IN ALL CAPITALS, and extraneous exclamation points to show outrage! The level of discourse is slightly above what you might see on an anonymous internet forum. In the 167-page book, Beck first draws comparisons between progressives and Nazis on page 77 and roughly every 5 pages thereafter. Suffice to say that if Gutenberg knew that Glenn Beck would eventually publish this book, he would never have invented the printing press.

As you can see, I am not a huge fan of Glenn Beck or his style of rhetoric. Actually, that’s a lie. I enjoy Beck much in the same way that I enjoy Nicolas Cage—they’re both such ridiculous figures that I can’t help but watch them sometimes. In fact, reading Glenn Beck’s book was a lot like watching

Con Air


The Rock

—it was a tour de force of awfulness.

But while almost everyone agrees that Nicolas Cage is a terrible actor, a lot of people seem to think that Beck is onto something. His reincarnation of

Common Sense

has sat at the top of The

New York Times

Best Seller list ever since it was released. His radio show ranks second in listeners only to the god of conservative AM radio, Rush Limbaugh. His TV show regularly competes with “The O’Reilly Factor” for ratings. He has been profiled in




, and

The New York Times


What should the average citizen make of Beck’s sudden rise in popularity? Certainly it says something about the state of the nation when the #1

New York Times

bestseller has a disclaimer against political violence as its second sentence. People across the country are angry about politics these days. Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst of “You lie!” during President Obama’s healthcare speech was just the tip of a very large, very bitter iceberg. Like the crew of the Titanic, Democrats ignore this reality at their own peril.

With its hokey metaphors and endless sermonizing,

Common Sense

does a poor job of articulating the logic behind this anger. A cynical reviewer might say that Glenn Beck is trying to profit from the national mood. His justifications for the growing outrage in America—government double standards, deficit spending, and a perceived loss of liberties—seem a tad hypocritical coming from an ex-supporter of George W. Bush. After all, Glenn happily ignored these sins during eight years of the Bush presidency—why the sudden change of heart?

However, ex-President Jimmy Carter didn’t explain the reasoning behind conservatives’ long summer of discontent any better. His allegations that undue “animosity” toward Obama is driven by racism just don’t hold up. Sure, the nutjobs who try to bring guns into town hall meetings are not about to join the NAACP. But who honestly thinks that the 53 percent of Americans who say the country is on the wrong track are racist?

Perhaps there is something more fundamental at work here. Maybe people aren’t angry about what the Democrats are trying to do, but the way in which they are doing it. By and large, debate over the two most pressing issues in Washington—healthcare and the economy—has been disturbingly polarized. The bipartisanship and atmosphere of mutual respect that Barack Obama promised as a candidate are nowhere to be seen. Justifiably or not, Congressional Republicans feel like the Democrats did under Bush—shut up and shut out. Nobody likes to be ignored, but the conservative inferiority complex is especially agitated by neglect (luckily, they draw attention by being louder, crazier, and having guns).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of the biggest Obama supporters you’ll ever meet. But you don’t have to be Glenn Beck to say that things have gone too far. Take healthcare, for instance. It’s probably the main issue that will determine the future of the economy and, ultimately, the nation. Right now, our political parties are arguing in opposite universes. Sarah Palin is freaking out about death panels, and Nancy Pelosi won’t accept anything less than a single-payer system. On a slightly higher plane, there are still heated debates over whether the basic fee-for-service model is a financially sustainable and ethically justifiable way to provide medical care.

There are plenty of important questions to address in the healthcare debate, but they cannot be discussed or answered when both sides are butting heads. It falls upon the Democrats, the party which controls Congressional dialogue, to ensure that the final bill is a responsible piece of legislation with a broad consensus (which means more than 59 Democratic Senators and Olympia Snowe). Failing to win over moderate Republicans simply empowers the loonies like Glenn Beck and sets the Democrats up to lose massively in future elections. It’s bad strategy, bad policy, and bad precedent—and that’s just common sense.

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