Arguing with Idiots in real time

Last week I noted that Glenn Beck's new book, Arguing with Idiots, is a tour-de-force of straw-man attacks. Beck debates with “the idiot” throughout the book and has little difficulty smacking down “the idiot's” laughably absurd arguments, but only rarely does he provide examples of actual people making the silly arguments he attributes to “the idiot.” As I wrote at the time, Beck is essentially arguing with himself, and boasting about how he's winning the debate.

Well, I had the rare opportunity to experience this same process first-hand as it leaped from the static pages of Arguing with Idiots to the vibrant world of talk radio. Today, Beck responded to a “stupid blog” that criticized the free-market health care pitch he made in Arguing with Idiots. He didn't mention the “stupid blog” by name, but since I'm so eager to put a name and face to “the idiot,” I'll assume for the moment that “the idiot” is me, and Beck was responding to what I wrote yesterday about his exhortation of retail health clinics as a free-market solution to rising health care costs.

Here's what Beck and what I guess I'll call the “radio idiot” mockingly said this morning:

RADIO IDIOT: I read in your health care chapter in your dumb book, you don't even address how to cure my child's specific illness. You don't even address it.

BECK: Is this a serious critique?

RADIO IDIOT: Yes it is! Your solution for every illness is to go to Wal-Mart. You can't cure my son's impossibly rare disease at Wal-Mart.

BECK: Really?


BECK: I was sure that you could perform all major surgeries in the frozen food aisle at Wal-Mart.

Beck has a point here -- it would be very stupid to fault him for not addressing how to cure impossibly rare diseases in his book. Thankfully, my critique didn't come anywhere close to doing that. I specifically mentioned the plight of professional baseball player Sal Fasano, whose son has hypoplastic heart syndrome, because that is exactly the kind of serious medical condition that is primarily responsible for driving up health care costs. Beck's example of a free-market solution to rising health care costs -- retail health clinics at Walgreens -- dealt only with minor health problems, and thus didn't address the primary drivers of rising health care costs. Here's what I wrote, word-for-word:

A 2006 study by the Department of Health and Human Services found that the five most expensive health conditions to treat were heart disease, cancer, trauma, mental disorders, and pulmonary conditions, and that these five conditions alone accounted for 31 percent of the total growth in health care spending from 1987 to 2000. To what extent can retail health clinics defray the expense of treating these conditions? Beck doesn't say -- indeed, it doesn't appear as though he even considered it.

Nonetheless, Beck goes on to smack his newly created man of straw right in the face:

BECK: Do you know why I didn't address your child's incurable disease in the section about Wal-Mart in Arguing with Idiots?

RADIO IDIOT: Yeah, I know why -- because you have no answers! No answers!

BECK: No, it's because that's not what that section is all about. It's not how to cure the individual children's illness, it's not about catastrophic scenarios. That particular few paragraphs is about how the free market causes new innovation and cost reduction.

RADIO IDIOT: How convenient for you.

BECK: That overarching principle is the best long-term way to attack health issues, big and small. Wal-Mart was just a good example of the small.

Beck and the “radio idiot” go on to claim that I said the entire chapter was about Wal-Mart (I didn't), and that I “cherry-picked” Beck's arguments (I didn't). You get the idea.

The bottom line is that Beck isn't interested in addressing what real people are saying. It's much easier to just make up the other side's arguments, make them sound stupid, and then heroically portray yourself as the arbiter of sense and reason.