Beck, McCain and Popular Culture Communication
Though I think it isn’t quite accurate and certainly isn’t fair to McCain for Glenn Beck to say that McCain would have been worse, the public would not have been startled to take notice of what is happening without Obama. I opposed McCain most strongly among the original 14 Republican candidates in 2000. In fact, I now regard that as a mistake. No way would McCain have been the flagship of the kind of spending that Bush was. The Congress would not have even tried it. Rather than sitting on it for six years, McCain would have been flashing the veto pen like an AK-47.
I have described McCain as "philosophically incoherent." Here, we also have illustration of the popular relevance of a Beck vs. a less dramatic and more even-tempered and rigorous expositor. George F. Will properly positively pounded McCain on his unconstitutional heterodoxy on for instance, campaign finance reform. Will is clear and sharp on this point. Nevertheless, Congress passed and President Bush signed McCain-Feingold. And McCain the heretic was the Republican nominee in 2008, and Will supported him, asserting that it “is unbecoming” that we should oppose in the contest and subsequently abandon the winner because we lost. But, the repetitive and lucid criticism of the clearest popular writer and pundit of the past 50 years came to no practical effect.
As able and widely syndicated a writer as Will is, his readers amount to a tiny minority of the electorate of weirdos like me. Beck on the other hand, speaks dramatically to 3 to 5 million people, not counting those whom I expect are a large number, who record his 5 o’clock program to watch when they can later, and those with whom all of these speak. This is the only way that a conservative communicator can compete with a lefty pop-culture comedian like Jon Stewart. And once you sort out what will seem dramatic and annoying to some, Beck and his guests bring some very relevant and thoughtful information to those viewers. In that respect, he’s invaluable and novel: fantastic like nothing in my lifetime.
However, his abrupt summation in a case like McCain’s is unfair to McCain. Beck has summarized “progressivism” as a singular threat to the American ideals of liberty and self-government, and it is. But, there is also the implication of an egghead intellectual conspiracy to undermine and override the will of the less-intelligent majority of Americans, as with Woodrow Wilson, the Roosevelts, and now Obama. But, McCain is none of that. John McCain is not an academic social engineer. He’s a soldier and a patriot and not a rigorous thinker of any particular sort. He supported campaign finance reform because he spent decades watching politicians essentially sell their votes for the financial support of big donors. McCain is also not the pointy-headed philosophical conservative like some of us who will not abandon an element of freedom (of speech, in this case) in a (now demonstrably) misbegotten grasp at suppressing corrupt politicians.
But, McCain has what I think is an adult sense of the social imprudence of lavish government spending and excessive taxation. When Beck decries McCain as “a progressive,” he usually follows up, saying that McCain “would have given us the same cap & trade, the same health care reform, the same comprehensive immigration reform (or amnesty)…” That’s a fine curt account of positions McCain has taken, but specifically it is untrue.
In fact, McCain voiced support of an unspecified cap & trade idea to reduce a global warming effect (I never have. I’m a denier-I’m informed). He opposes the massive energy taxation that has been proposed. McCain favored some form of health care program. But, he was one of the most assertive opponents of the Democratic proposal. McCain supported the 2007 immigration reform package that Bush supported, which in fact included securing the border. After it crashed and burned under public pressure he said, “I get it. People don’t trust us. We have to secure the border first. He was right. I didn’t trust the government. The whole idea was ridiculous, essentially saying, “We haven’t enforced the law, lo all these years. But, we will if we pass this bill.” Yeah. Pull the other one. And McCain has stuck with that ever since. Personally, I think we have a problem with the formulation and implementation of our law and don’t like the idea of a wall, though I think our border should be tightly monitored as most borders are.
McCain’s gut instincts are conservative. But, his unsystematic mind has been 30 years in the fishbowl of error that is Washington D.C. and the mass-media culture. It’s kind of like Ben Stein, whom I like a lot. Stein has advocated for consideration of intelligent design and the revival of recognizing God as a legitimate idea. And, he is a conservatively leaning economist/financial analyst like his father was. But, also like his father, he has lived his life fully submerged in the (erroneous) Keynesian paradigm. He supported TARP and a Keynesian stimulus. He also supported some idea of the wealthy funding health care for everyone. I support a vibrant free market that provides the most opportunity for everyone, and help for those in need that begins at the nearest family and community levels. And, I’m NOT a Keynesian!
So, I think its right and fair to McCain to distinguish someone who does what he thinks is best in a confused environment, from those who adopt a supercilious posture of social construction, as academics so often do and which John McCain is not.