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Glenn Beck: the Televangelist Con Man Selling God's Plan for America

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During yesterday's Glenn Beck radio show, Beck delivered a 10-minute monologue in which he hit all of his phony-baloney touchstones -- some of them, as I've been writing for the last several weeks, are dangerous and some are simply ridiculous. But primarily, Beck was in full televangelist mode about God and something about a "plan" and, in the process, he dovetailed into a little McCarthyism and, as usual, a little historical revisionism. He even shrunk into a defensive bit refuting the accusations that he's a faker who's conning his audience.

Now, before you listen to this epic clip courtesy of Media Matters, I should warn you to turn down your speakers, because the over-the-top levels of audio compression and EQ on Beck's voice (say nothing of the half-dozen or so Beck sound-alikes who also occupy his studio) will absolutely blow out your speakers.

Most radio stations employ some sort of digital processing to make the host or disc jockey sound more resonant, but I've never heard a talk show with this much compression. Clearly, the BOOM! is there to enhance Beck's voice in a way that augments his level of psychological persuasion -- the deeper, diaphragm-vibrating low end increases the physical connection between Beck and his audience. A more subconscious aspect of his scam.

The overarching theme of this monologue is that God is speaking directly to Glenn Beck and giving him the plan. It's classic televangelism, which is commonly seen as nothing more than an exploitation of religious naiveté with the goal of making the televangelist rich. Listen to me. I have the answers. Because God is speaking to me. So give generously if you want to hear what God's plan is.

Right off the bat, there's the very recognizable televangelist delivery. You'll notice the characteristic melodrama and pathos -- the theatrical tone of voice. The pregnant pauses, the slight quiver in the voice and, as I mentioned, the artificially-enhanced resonance. These are all acting techniques we recognize from infamous televangelists like Oral Roberts, Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart -- not to mention the even more nefarious Benny Hinn faith healer school of persuasive speaking and gimmickry.

As for the content, it's always simultaneously vague and grandiose. He describes a lot of his crazy theories, which we often see illustrated as fact on his chalk board, as things that he's "felt but didn't understand." Or as Stephen Colbert once said, "Anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news at you."

"It's darkness and I can just feel it coming," he says. What's coming? We don't know. He didn't say, other than it has to do with a plan and some form of "darkness." But we ought to look for the answer. To what question? Is "darkness" a question? And where do we look? We ask God, of course.

Naturally, this intentionally blurry Beck-inspired Question Time with God will yield all varieties of answers from all varieties of people based on their wide varieties of life experiences, values and biases. Never mind all of that, though, because whatever God says to you personally (okeedokee) is irrelevant because the plan, Beck says, is "hard for people to understand." But don't worry about trying to suss it out. Glenn Beck has the answer. God has delivered unto him The Plan:

The problem is that God is giving The Plan, I think, to me [...] I think the plan that the Lord would have us follow is hard for people to understand. But I'm telling you, here's what I feel with everything in me.

Evidently, God is personally writing material for Glenn Beck. Yet another staff member writing Beck's stuff for him. There's ghost writer Kevin Balphe (not credited on Beck's book covers), there's a staff of writers and researchers, there's the several on-air co-hosts who sound exactly like Beck and then... there's God. All working in cubicles at Mercury Radio Arts. I wonder if God has to write His name on His Cobb salads in the staff fridge, or if staffers know it's God's Cobb salad because of the cherubim hovering around it.

But then, he doesn't say what this God-written plan is. Unless it's his "The Plan" from last week's series of TV shows, which was nothing more than Beck going through the list of cabinet-level departments and simply eliminating them indiscriminately, with a little help from Arthur Laffer, by the way. Genius! We just don't know what the plan is. Ask God. When He's not writing new acronyms for the chalk board.

At this point in the segment, however, Beck slides off into a tangent about how he used to be just "an entertainer," and now he's not. Clearly a self-conscious, back-pedaling response to his all-too-revealing "I don't give a flying crap about political process" quote from the recent Forbes profile. Another window into Beck's scam.

Anyway, so after leaving this defensive crouch, he circles back around and tells us that it's all about "faith." We should just have faith in what Glenn Beck is telling us about God's plan -- irrespective of reality. We feel it, therefore it is.

Now, see if you can figure this one out. Beck says in his monologue, "Do not accept coincidence in your life. Look for the answers of your life -- look for your answers in your life through coincidence. Because there's no such thing as coincidence." It sounds as though he's saying, there's no such thing as coincidence, but look for the answers in your life through coincidence. Okay, so is there coincidence or not?

Let's assume for now that Beck is anti-coincidence. In other words, the crazy connections he scribbles on his chalk board (the misspelled OLIGARHY acronym, for example) have to be true because there's no such thing as wild supposition and God is speaking the truth to him personally. There's no such thing as coincidence. Therefore if someone in the Obama administration mentions the name "Mao" in the context of a joke, he or she is obviously a communist, which, in turn, makes the president a communist, which, in turn, means there's a communist plot to take over America, which, in turn, means that we should all buy gold from Goldline in preparation for the coming barter economy. Because, you know, there are no coincidences. Full Joe McCarthy at 11 with more crazy and even less actual evidence.

This is all intertwined with the televangelist Call to Action. In Beck's words: "now is the time," "will you pick up the mantle?" and "your God will ask you: what did you do?" He also asks people to pray for him, "I beg of you to pray for clarity on my part." Because it's really all about him. Pray for Glenn Beck. And by the way, when you're not praying for him, fork over $75 a year for his "Insider Extreme" website (It's Glenn Beck! To the extreme!), or $20 for one of his conveyor-belt, staff-written books. But I digress. The only path to salvation, televangelists and faith healers say, is to give. Give money. Give prayers. To them. In Beck's case, he's added the political layer to the equation which, if ultimately successful, will financially benefit Beck and his peers in the wealthiest one percent.

And in between his wild delusions of grandeur, Beck recommends what amounts to faith-based activism inspired by both God and Gut, rather than empirical and objective reality. And so it's no wonder that he, like Sarah Palin, is passing off this utterly false history that the Framers of the Constitution never intended a separation of Church and State. Consequently, it's okay to propose and pass new laws based entirely on faith. This couldn't be more ridiculous. There are dozens of quotes refuting the Beck/Palin lie, including the separation clause of the First Amendment and the objective fact that many of the primary Founders were deists and products of the Enlightenment, but here are two quotes from the Framer of all Framers of the Constitution, James Madison:

"Strongly guarded as is the separation between religion & Gov't in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history." (Detached Memoranda, circa 1820)

"Having always regarded the practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government as essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States, I could not have otherwise discharged my duty on the occasion which presented itself." (Letter to Baptist Churches in North Carolina, June 3, 1811)

Madison knew that the door swings both ways. If we allow religious dogma to interfere with secular law, then secular law is capable of interfering with religious dogma. Put another way: if religious zealots successfully blur the line between what happens in the pulpit and what happens in Congress, then it's that much easier for Congress to tax and regulate what happens in the pulpit. Put yet another way: be careful what you wish for, Beck and Palin.

There's no denying that Glenn Beck is nothing if not a masterful performer. He's talented, but at the same time, he's transparently derivative. Glenn Beck is, at once, capable of borrowing the most effectively persuasive techniques available in order to manipulate his audience, and he's gifted enough to pull it off. But what are the consequences? Like it or not, he's a major player and activator right now and so he's achieved, for his part, a gravitational field that pulls upon the trajectory of American political discourse. That makes his role a serious one. One with consequences. He's pumping the discourse with nonsense, false history and pure coincidence while also resurrecting McCarthy style communist witch hunts.

Glenn Beck is a political faith healer. And the sooner his viewers recognize the scam, the better off they'll be.

Oh, and it turns out that all this talk of "the plan" appears to be nothing more than a way to plug a book -- over and over and over again. Specifically, Glenn Beck's latest book just happens to be titled The Plan. Coincidence?

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[Edited the section about the Forbes article for clarity. -Bob]