Glenn Beck -- germophobe

The Fox News host wants his supporters to "quarantine" Washington

Published September 12, 2009 8:13PM (EDT)

Today is a big day for Glenn Beck. Back in March, he announced the initiation of the “9/12 Project,” an effort to return the country to how he remembers it the day after the terrorist attacks. Now it's 9/12.

As Beck sees it, politicians have disrupted the spirit of community that Americans experienced, and this, somehow, explains our various national crises. It’s not about Democrats and Republicans and their partisan bickering, says Beck. Everyone’s rotten. So naturally, at the urging of the Fox News host, historically illiterate protestors turned out nationwide today to accuse President Obama of lying about his plots to kill their grandparents, outlaw their religion and confiscate their property.

But you can hardly blame the angry, costumed thousands on the National Mall and elsewhere for filling in the blanks on Beck’s histrionics. The guy wants to cleanse America like an obsessive-compulsive in a pigsty, except he can’t really come up with any good examples of what’s wrong. “There is only one simple answer -- and both Republicans and Democrats can unite on that -- it’s our politicians,” he said on his show today.

Beck now apparently believes that the single greatest threat to the Republic is corruption -- old-school Boss Tweed stuff like bribery and graft. That’s probably why his Fox News show opened today with an icon of a snake wrapping itself around the Capitol. “There is a plague,” he says. “There is a sickness, there is a disease, there is a cancer in our nation’s Capitol.” Beck even shows us a simulation of a swine flu epidemic to show that corruption can spread like a disease. Sounds pretty nasty.

The sum total of examples Beck offers of this cancerous plague of corruption fever are a throwaway reference to Charlie Rangel, Chris Dodd, Barney Frank, Duke Cunningham, Bill Jefferson and Fannie Mae. Here we’ve got, respectively:

That’s it? That's the snake strangling the seat of government? That’s six examples. Of the six, only two are really current, and only two even involved any clear-cut lawbreaking by, as Beck calls them, "politicians." Still, says our host, “You must quarantine Washington, DC, nothing in or out.” He’s calling on his supporters in the Twelver protest movement to shut down the government with their opposition -- “no infected legislation comes out” -- until the rot is gone.

It’s an almost perfect encapsulation of the way in which the paranoid right attributes blame. There are 535 men and women in Congress, and the membership changes every two years. Yet Beck's list is short. That is probably because while he'll reach back two decades to trash Barney Frank, and include Cunningham as a GOP token, he is reluctant to mention the whole list of post-millennial Republican miscreants. Jim Trafficante, who Beck didn't even mention, is so '90s -- how about Ney, Delay, Foley and Craig, for starters?

But today, as his followers gathered across the nation, Beck leapt from a few unconvincing pieces of evidence to claim that there’s “only one simple answer . . . the politicians.” So in order to get the country moving again, he wants his supporters to paralyze the government. And the thing is -- as the summer of town halls showed -- it’s not that hard to get a convinced minority in Washington to throw a wrench in the works. Then everyone wonders why the government isn’t doing its job, and the process starts all over again.

By Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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