This week Glenn Beck has gone out of his way to hit the ball right down the middle of 2010 whacked-out right-wing thought -- a place where every Muslim is a radical extremist/terrorist, and where the sensibilities of 9-11 families trumps all else, even the better American angels of religious freedom and tolerance. Indeed, over the course of several days Beck's comments about the proposal from moderate Manhattan Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf have veered into Newt Gingrich territory and beyond, as Beck even called the proposed Islamic center roughly two blocks in lower Manhattan an "Allah tells me to blow up America mosque."
But Beck insists his opposition for to the mosque is driven by nothing more than his love and respect for the survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The other day Beck asked: "[A]fter you've killed 3,000 people, you're going to now build your mosque?" -- one of a number of expressions of concern for those who suffered loss in the terror attacks nine years ago.
I don't know about you, but I'd love to see a debate between 2010 Beck and 2005-06 Beck, whose outlook on just about everything four years ago was the exact opposite -- more tolerant toward the notion of moderate Muslims, more, um, intolerant and bizarre than imaginable toward 9-11 relatives and loved ones.
He even shared a studio in with Imam Rauf in 2006, back when Beck was still "respectable" enough to appear on ABC's "Good Morning America." Here, remarkably, is what happened:
During the ABC segment, Rauf condemned the extremists who issued death threats against the Pope and political cartoonists, specifically saying that "these reactions are not at all called for by Islamic teaching. The teachings of Islam are very similar to the teachings of Christianity, of loving the one God and loving thy neighbor. These are the two common principles."
When Diane Sawyer mentioned that Imam Rauf says the radicals are just a "group of people" and "not him," Beck seemed to agree, saying "sure, sure." He added, "I believe it's a small portion of Islam that is acting in these ways."
Beck, for his part, even appeared to gesture to Imam Rauf when he invoked the idea of "good Muslims."
His tune on 9-11 families -- voiced in the time of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005 -- was a tad different back then. Remember this classic riff:
When you are rioting for these tickets, or these ATM cards, the second thing that came to mind was -- and this is horrible to say, and I wonder if I'm alone in this -- you know it took me about a year to start hating the 9-11 victims' families? Took me about a year. And I had such compassion for them, and I really wanted to help them, and I was behind, you know, "Let's give them money, let's get this started." All of this stuff. And I really didn't -- of the 3,000 victims' families, I don't hate all of them. Probably about 10 of them. And when I see a 9-11 victim family on television, or whatever, I'm just like, "Oh shut up!" I'm so sick of them because they're always complaining. And we did our best for them. And, again, it's only about 10.
All of which points to one thing. Glenn Beck, above all else, is just a guy who says stuff. Period. Yes, to swaths of the mass American audience the things he says can be highly entertaining or even emotional -- but they are still always empty words. Beck doesn't give a second thought to whether what he's saying contradicts what he said last year, or even what he said right before the last Goldline International sales pitch five minutes ago.
Now, in six days, Beck is planning to hijack the national conversation, in a rally in the dark shadows of where Martin Luther King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech some 47 years to the day earlier. I don't what he will say on the big stage, but I can assure that it will be just more stuff -- empty and entertaining stuff that will scare some of those in the audience or move them toward xenophonia or apocalyptic paranoid or whatever else pops into Beck's head that moment.
Just like the things that popped into Beck's head in 2006 -- when he could be more tolerant or less tolerant, whatever kept them coming back for more.
- Glenn Beck