Beck v. Levin, Part I

The first day of CPAC 2010 had concluded by the time I had a chance to actually look at my program. It was then that I realized that Mark Levin was nowhere to be found on the schedule. Strange, I thought. I was 90% positive that I remembered conference organizer Lisa dePasquale Tweeting at least a couple of months prior that Levin was a confirmed speaker this year. Puzzled, I Tweeted a fellow attendee to verify that Levin had been booked. My friend replied that he didn’t think so. Since I had left myself open to that 10% margin of doubt, I assumed I had either misread Lisa’s Tweet or maybe even dreamed the whole thing. (Yes, I must admit it. Phantom Tweeting has occurred in my dreams. Hello, my name is Glen and I’m a hopeless Twitterholic.)

By the end of the conference, though, I had developed a theory, which I shared that night at the Reaganpalooza gathering with the Media Research Center’s Kevin Eder (incidentally, the same friend I’d Tweeted a couple days prior). It all clicked as I was contemplating Glenn Beck’s closing speech over a rib dinner at my favorite DC barbecue joint, Red, Hot & Blue. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before that moment: Mark Levin doesn’t like Glenn Beck. THAT’S why he didn’t speak this year. Kevin didn’t disagree this time.

I didn’t expect confirmation as soon as I received it. Mark Levin posted a Facebook note the Monday morning after CPAC, February 22. The first paragraph stated that he had, indeed, been on the agenda, but had withdrawn once he found the John Birch Society was a sponsor. Fair enough. I accept that explanation, at least partially, but the remaining four paragraphs were all devoted to Glenn Beck and all of the reasons Levin is displeased with Beck’s methods.

Meanwhile, Glenn Beck’s speech was only 2 days old and was given on a Saturday evening, so this same Monday represented the first chance for many pundits to dissect it and gain a hearing. A rather heated war on Twitter ensued for the next 2-3 days, with some weighing in on the veracity of Levin’s charges and others vigorously defending Beck. Jonah Goldberg wrote a piece for National Review Online’s “The Corner” providing the rationale for Beck’s speech, while Rush Limbaugh meticulously critiqued it all afternoon. (Rush never mentioned Beck by name, though, as is his wont; he very rarely ever specifically cites any other radio hosts for any purpose, positive or negative.)

No good conservative loves a fence straddler, so it is painful to assume that stance in any event. Nonetheless, I remain a fan of both Glenn Beck and Mark Levin, though for wildly different reasons.

I recall very clearly when I first heard Glenn Beck’s program; it was nothing like it is today. In February of 2002, my wife and I were traveling east on a snowy Wednesday morning. To that point, Rush Limbaugh’s program was the only one I was aware of that was nationally syndicated on AM radio. Randomly seeking entertainment, I decided to flip on Fort Wayne, Indiana’s blowtorch AM station, 1190 WOWO. What I heard sounded like the airwave equivalent of a train wreck, but it was wildly entertaining and wickedly funny. Beck bantered back and forth with Stu and (at that time) Dan Andros to a much greater extent than Rush did with his staff. Stu’s and Dan’s mics were on, as well, in contrast with the silence on the other side of Limbaugh’s window. AND they didn’t linger on any one subject for long. Most of it, frankly, wasn’t even that political. It made for a different kind of feel than anything I had discovered to date in talk radio.

I doubt that any of us, including Glenn himself, could have foreseen at that moment in time where he would be today…his stratospheric ratings increases each year on radio, the launch of his CNN Headline News program in May 2006 and the meteoric popularity of his Fox News program in a very difficult time slot, after only a bit over one year on the air.

I evolved from an occasional Beck listener to an avid fan by early 2005. In my mind, though, Beck was comic relief tinged with occasional serious political commentary. His show was the perfect warm-up act to the serious, competent (though also hugely entertaining) analysis that started at 12:06, when that rolling Rush Limbaugh theme music began to resound. Pam and I went to Glenn’s Indianapolis show that June 2005. I had to Google it just now to remember what the name was: “Glenn Beck: On Ice.” It was a complete stand-up comedy routine; the Murat Theater in Indianapolis was jammed wall to wall with fans howling with uproarious chuckles over Beck’s zingers, most of which concerned everyday life. Once again, there was little to no political content; in fact, the Wikipedia entry for Glenn describes this tour as one in which “Beck advocated diminishing the role of politics in daily life.”

But for Glenn Beck, a funny thing happened on the way to the top. I don’t remember exactly when Glenn began to incorporate warnings about the economy, combined with the history book recommendations and citations of the Founding Fathers’ wisdom we have all come to expect from him. I know it was well before the economy commenced its current continuing nosedive, so probably in late 2006 or early 2007.

I have always been a reader and am more of one today than ever. I can look up at my bookshelves and effortlessly tick off multiple volumes that are there because I first heard about them on the Glenn beck program, from arguably the most frequently mentioned The 5,000 Year Leap to Larry Schweikart’s Patriot’s History of the United States to Bruce Feiler’s America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story. The two most important volumes I consumed last year were Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism and Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man, both of which were heavily promoted by Glenn in late 2007 and early 2008 and which are now timelier than ever.

I feel I owe a personal debt to Glenn Beck, although at times I have serious objections with the ways in which he frames certain arguments.  The reasons why, as well as the history of my awareness of and appreciation for Mark Levin, will have to wait for my next post.

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2 thoughts on “Beck v. Levin, Part I

  1. Excellent. I too am both a twitteraholic and a Beck and Levin fan. I listen to them for different reasons and find them both entertaining and enlightening in different ways. To me, as long as you are learning, the source of the information isn’t important. Great post.

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