Beck v. Levin, Part II

In contrast to the vivid recollection I maintain of my inaugural exposure to Glenn Beck, I don’t remember when I first became cognizant of Mark Levin. It had to have been in the mid-90’s, though, when I first heard the incomparable Rush Limbaugh refer to “F. Lee” Levin. This was in the heyday of the O.J. Simpson trial; consequently, many of us were familiar with F. Lee Bailey, one of O.J.’s highly esteemed “Dream Team” of attorneys. This was the context in which Rush affectionately bestowed the moniker on his friend.

I vaguely remember doing a little research to find out more about this fellow. Rush Limbaugh, whom most of us adore, is a huge influence in the conservative movement today, but in the ‘90’s, he was bigger than life, the only game in town on nationwide conservative radio. Anyone that was a friend of Rush was someone about whom I wanted to learn more. I discovered, probably with the aid of the fledgling World Wide Web, that Mark Levin stood at the helm of the Landmark Legal Foundation, a public interest law firm that has specialized in advancing the interests of limited government since 1976. But I never heard Levin’s voice or, the best I can recall, read anything he wrote until Sean Hannity’s radio show went national in 2001.

 Levin and Hannity used to have a running gag back in the early days when Hannity took more phone calls than he does now. Sean would be going through a raft of calls and, intermingled with all of them, announce, “Mark, from Washington, D.C., how are you?” Levin, the “Mark” in question, would reply, “Dr. Hannity?” (in that trademark voice that you never forget after you hear it once). Sean would play along and say, “Yes?” Levin would then quickly dispense some sort of pithy admonition, often involving his colorful opinion of a previous liberal caller, then hang up. Not real intellectual, but it was unfailingly funny.

But here was the deal: Levin IS an intellectual and a notable one. Levin’s merciless and pointed skewers of Leftist personalities and, at times, juvenile use of political humor belie a very sophisticated understanding of Constitutional issues and a. Those who are only superficially familiar with him get ticked when he calls David Frum a “putz” or lambastes MSNBC’s David Shuster as a “little twit” or tells a caller that irritates him to “Get off the phone, you big dope!” But the casual Levin samplers fail to appreciate his powerfully cogent ability to break conservative principles down for the average reader and explain them in terminology the man on the street can grasp. (Alright, so admittedly, it probably helps that I can’t claim to differ with Levin’s characterization of Shuster. At least, I’m coming clean.)

I began to realize that Mark Levin was a force to be reckoned with when he published his book on the Supreme Court, Men in Black: How the Supreme Court is Destroying America. This was a life-changing volume for me. Levin traced the increasing activism of the Court over American history, beginning with an explanation of the principle of judicial review as articulated in Marbury v. Madison, examining the bio of the racist Justice Hugo Black, analyzing the ramp-up of judicial intervention under the Warren Court and much, much more.

Levin had done a Sunday afternoon radio show on WABC in New York since 2002 and had filled in for Sean Hannity from time to time. He launched his own syndicated nationwide show in 2006 and is an immensely popular host today in his own right.

But it was in March of 2009 that Mark Levin bequeathed to the world what I believe will prove to be his most enduring component of his legacy. I purchased his newest book Liberty and Tyranny: a Conservative Manifesto a few weeks after it was published. I didn’t get around to reading it until a couple of weeks ago. Chapters 5 and 6 (“On Federalism” and “On the Free Market”, respectively) are worth the price of the whole book. Simply put, every teenager should read this book at least twice and then continue to review it periodically. Would that these ideas were taught in our public junior high and high schools, rather than the newest collectivist, pseudo-Marxist literary sensation! Not terribly likely, though, since the NEA is the newest target in the sights of Landmark Legal.

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Mark Levin has made no secret of his contempt for Glenn Beck for several months now. The term of ridicule he reserves for Beck is “The 5 PM’er” (a take-off on Beck’s time slot on Fox News). It is clear that Levin regards Beck’s comprehension of conservative principles as shallow and does not appreciate Beck’s invitations to such libertarian personalities as Ron Paul for extended and friendly appearances on his show. And it is not difficult to intuit from Levin’s Facebook note of February 21 that he fears that Beck is moving towards advocacy of a third party.

I have my own differences with Glenn Beck. Probably more than anything else, Beck tends to generalize in his attacks on the Republican Party and on the “weasels in Washington.” And with respect to my Libertarian friends, I am with Levin on his third-party fears; Levin’s (and Rush Limbaugh’s) rationale is that a third-party splintering is a dead-end street that will only lead to increasing liberal/statist dominance. It is hard to argue against that, after studying history, from Teddy Roosevelt’s ill-fated run to George Wallace’s segregationist bid to Ross Perot’s populist adventure.

But the fact of the matter is, most talk show hosts oversimplify periodically. It happens when operating in the dynamic, spontaneous forum of which talk radio consists. And most steady listeners take this for granted. When I hear Glenn Beck issue a carte blanc repudiation of Washington politicians, I am also aware that Jim DeMint and Michele Bachmann and other true blue DC heroes are regular guests on his show.

This is as good a time as any to highlight an additional truth. Most of us do not unquestioningly imbibe every single word ANY talk show host utters, including, Rush, Glenn, Mark, Sean, Neal, Hugh and all the rest. We listen and we like much of what we hear, but we also employ the filter that our analytic skills are intended to proffer, in complete contrast to the “mind-numbed robot” caricature the media employs when describing the average talk radio listener. Furthermore, these hosts not only expect that; they welcome it.

I admire Mark Levin and greatly appreciate his continuing contributions to the Constitutional movement. But I take issue with his characterization of Glenn Beck for several reasons.

For one, the Republican Party HAS endured a major crisis of integrity in the last few years, with incessant spending, the passage of a huge entitlement program in Medicare, Part D and participation in the passage of TARP I. Beck’s CPAC description of “Morning in America” as a “head-pounding, vomit-inducing morning” was rhetorically unappealing, but everyone in the audience could see his point. He is far from the only one who questions whether the GOP is truly prepared to lead again, even though it appears that majorities in both houses of Congress are within reach this November.  

Glenn does occasionally misspell a word and his prime-time tears are not always effective. But he brings heart, warmth and empathy to both his radio and TV audience. Mark Levin is perplexed at Glenn Beck’s repeated references to his past alcoholism. Yet, this is, I’m convinced, a key factor in Beck’s enormous popularity. Good people who are mired in debt, struggling with addiction or otherwise gripped by seemingly insurmountable vices hear Glenn Beck’s story of finding victory over his bedeviled past …and feel hope spring anew within them, as well. Beck is a Mormon and as such, is a member of a sect with whom I have serious and fundamental theological disagreements, but he articulates the truths of redemption and second chances better than most other public figures, with a simple sincerity that is deeply appealing, though one that the Jewish Mark Levin probably finds mystifying.

Above all, the ground that Glenn Beck has broken in one year as a Fox News host cannot be overlooked. Remember Van Jones? Notice how he doesn’t work for the President anymore? How about Anita Dunn and her fondness for Chairman Mao? Who revealed that to us? How about the ACORN stories that Andrew Breitbart helped break? Who provided the platform on TV for the video footage to be run? Glenn Beck’s 9/12 project was joined early on in the state of New York by a local businessman named Doug Hoffman who made history in the 23rd district this last November, even though he did just come up short in the final race. And these are only four examples of the yeoman’s work Beck has done.

As conservatives continue the process of revitalization, American Conservative Union chairman David Keene is not troubled by the disagreements and creative tensions that are accompanying this renaissance. Keene sees it all as a sign of thriving health and a movement that is teeming with new ideas and inspired by fresh vision. I tend to agree and so, while Glenn Beck and Mark Levin may not have much to say for each other, I plan to continue enjoying and learning from both for years to come. Both champion adherence to the Constitution, both love the country, both are gifted and unique communicators and both contribute to the creative exchange of ideas. For me, that is more than par for the course.

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One thought on “Beck v. Levin, Part II

  1. Levin and his neoconservative buddies you mention claim to want smaller government while they embrace perpetual war. That is an obvious paradox which he does not and cannot explain. You call him an intellectual, I call a narrow-minded bully who does not listen or understand the point of view of others. Say what you want about Beck’s intellect, he shows the ability to listen and even change his opinion, like he has with Ron Paul in a few small ways.

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