This is the strangely compelling emotional range of Beck, America's top populist in its hour of need. That very morning, he was the subject of a page-one Times story that sought to explain his phenomenon. He lustily devotes the last few minutes of airtime to it. "I never thought I would say this," he says, mischievously lowering his large pink head to the desk, "but the New York Times was actually fair!"
He's called himself a "rodeo clown," but he insists his own outrage is no act. A "libertarian, big time," he compares the moment he heard about the first round of bailouts to "another 9/11." And though his vision of the future is nothing less than apocalyptic--we could be heading into "the darkest period in American history"--in delivering it, he sounds less angry than hurt. Last month, he gave a sobbing sermon of consolation to disenfranchised conservatives ("They don't surround us. We surround them") that's now a YouTube classic. Is he afraid that crying might become his trademark? "Yes, it bothers me. I'm a crybaby. I cry at commercials. I am 90 percent chick in that territory. I'm such an easy target. I'm surprised SNL hasn't come after me." (Sure enough, Stephen Colbert gets around to mocking Beck the next night, making him seem like a teary militia member.)