NEW YORK -- Glenn Beck does not like to be compared with Father Charles Coughlin, the radio priest from Detroit. Coughlin, whose weekly show was listened to by as many as 40 million Americans in the 1930s, began as a Roosevelt New Dealer and ended up a raving anti-Semite.
The radio priest was finally pulled out of politics by the Vatican as Nazi Germany began to march through Europe, demonstrating where anti-Semitism could lead. Beck is no anti-Semite, as far as I can tell, but he sure as hell is a first-class rabble-rouser with a magnetic hatred of the sitting president.
Worst of all, in Beck's words: "Nobody even knows who Father Coughlin was. ... First he stood with (Roosevelt), but then they had a disagreement. FDR's people sent people from the administration to Father Coughlin and said, please, you've got to come back to FDR; you've got to help us out with the New Deal. Toward the end of the New Deal, (Coughlin) said this is a sham, this is a total and complete sham."
Beck wants people to remember him. He wants them to remember he could bring hundreds of thousands of people to the Lincoln Memorial in the year 2010 to cheer him and his almost unintelligible anti-politics, anti-progressive and pro-God ravings. You could defend him, as his Fox News colleague Bill O'Reilly did, only by saying, "Hey, he's funny!"
"He is everyman sitting on a bar stool. Why shouldn't every man have a show?" said the Irish ranter the other day. For me, that comparison bit. I have always thought of O'Reilly sitting alone at the end of the bar, waiting for someone to sit next to him and demonstrate, so he can tell them how smart he is, trapping them with his theories about how the world works. Easy for O'Reilly to say. Beck makes him look like Socrates.
I'm not sure what Beck was trying to prove last Saturday, other than the fact he is a great entertainer and apparently has a one-on-one relationship with God. I particularly liked the line when he said his "Restoring Honor" was originally going to be a political rally of the Tea Party type. But then, divine intervention. "I kind of feel like God dropped a giant sandbag on my head."
That explains a lot. Let's hear it for God!
Politically, Beck kind of defined himself last February, when he told the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference: "What's the difference between a communist or socialist and a progressive? Revolution or evolution? One requires a gun and the other eats away slowly."
"Progressivism, this is the disease. This is the disease in America," he continued. "Progressivism is the cancer in America and it is eating our Constitution!" He also sees it as a great conspiracy, pushed forward by remembered folks like John Dewey, Walter Lippmann, Woodrow Wilson on to Frances Fox Piven, George Soros and John Podesta. And, of course, Barack Obama.
"Progressivism," he has said, "has less to do with the parties and more to do with individuals who seek to redefine, reshape and rebuild America into a country where individual liberties and personal property mean nothing if they conflict with the plans and goals of the State."
Then the call to battle:
"This is a day that we can start the heart of America again. It has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with God ... turning our faces back to the values and the principles that made us great."
The night before the rally, he expanded on that, telling a friendly audience: "My message to you tonight is stand where He wants you to stand and trust in the Lord. If He tells you to do it, do it. If you can't figure it out, He will. Just do it."
Do what? I can't figure it out. All I trust is that decades from now in another summer of our discontent, another frazzled demagogue will deny he is anything like Glenn Beck -- and anyway, people won't even know who Glenn Beck was.