Right Wing News, Daily Pundit, and other eminentoes of the conservative blogosphere have criticized Charles Johnson (or dropped him from their blogrolls), whose Little Green Footballs blog used to be as important as any. Johnson has taken more and more to attacking the religious right and such conservative stars as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck. He also wages a campaign against the Tea Party movement because some of the protesters are racists, gun nuts, birthers and religious fundamentalists who believe Barack Obama is the Antichrist.
It’s not easy to untangle it all — at least not for me; if you have it figured out, please comment. Like some of the people Johnson attacks, he is a mixture of good and bad. The good is that he is an atheist who exposes the nuttiness of the religious right. The bad is that he looks like the Rockefeller Republicans of old — those trembling conformists who sneered at any conservative who stood on principle as “extremist.”
With something like the Tea Party movement, you have to evaluate whether the bad signs represent the essence of the movement or even a large percentage of it. All the speakers I have heard have talked about individual rights, more liberty and smaller government. If you’re going to show the racist and religious nutty signs, justice demands that you keep them in context. The Tea Party movement is not fundamentally about religion or race. If it ever becomes about those things, then it will self-destruct as all the sane people leave. I think Johnson has been unfair here. In a crowd of 70,000, you will get some stupid signs.
I don’t know if he’s necessarily going to incite violence, but I do think it’s irresponsible. It kind of drags down the discourse to a level that I, for one, am not comfortable with.
TIME Magazine’s David Von Drehle asks: Is Glenn Beck Bad for America?
I don’t know why anyone would think a far right populist demagogue who rants and weeps in front of millions of people and spreads conspiracy theories straight out of the canon of the John Birch Society would be a bad thing.
Johnson has persuaded me that Beck is a menace because the Fox News personality is promoting a bizarre book called “The 5,000 Year Leap.”
“Leap,” first published in 1981, is a heavily illustrated and factually challenged attempt to explain American history through an unspoken lens of Mormon theology. As such, it is an early entry in the ongoing attempt by the religious right to rewrite history. Fundamentalists want to define the United States as a Christian nation rather than a secular republic, and recasting the Founding Fathers as devout Christians guided by the Bible rather than deists inspired by the French and English philosophers. “Leap” argues that the U.S. Constitution is a godly document above all else, based on natural law, and owes more to the Old and New Testaments than to the secular and radical spirit of the Enlightenment. It lists 28 fundamental beliefs — based on the sayings and writings of Moses, Jesus, Cicero, John Locke, Montesquieu and Adam Smith — that Skousen says have resulted in more God-directed progress than was achieved in the previous 5,000 years of every other civilization combined. The book reads exactly like what it was until Glenn Beck dragged it out of Mormon obscurity: a textbook full of aggressively selective quotations intended for conservative religious schools like Utah’s George Wythe University, where it has been part of the core freshman curriculum for decades (and where Beck spoke at this year’s annual fundraiser).
I have not read this book, but the last time I saw Beck he was arguing with Yaron Brook about God, so I’m done with Beck. Defending America with mysticism is the fastest path to the fascist dictatorship that makes Glenn Beck’s eyes tear up on national TV.
Beck’s response to Johnson is utterly wrong:
Quite honestly, it’s a destructive attempt to silence free speech. That’s something blogger Charles Johnson should know about, since he’s been called an anti-Muslim bigot by most of the same people that unfairly said the same things about me.
Johnson’s criticism does not threaten Beck’s free speech. Only the state can do that. Beck’s argument is the same one liberals make whenever they think their patriotism is impugned: “You’re judging me, so you’re violating my right to free speech.”
John Hawkins speculates on Johnson’s arc from conservative favorite to anti-conservative:
What happened to Charles Johnson? I don’t know. I think he has always been a little to the left-of-center and maybe because of that, he was never really comfortable with his almost universally conservative compatriots in the fight against radical Islam. Then, as the economy went in the toilet, the Dems rose to prominence, and the war on terror became less of an issue, he started to become much more outspoken about what he really thought.
I think the explanation is that Johnson is a 9/11 conservative. He was shocked by the events of September 11, 2001, and found himself allied with the right as he fought Islamic totalitarianism. Like most former liberals, he probably finds some form of welfare state inevitable — a metaphysical given, like the air we breathe — and does not understand free market principles.
Ayn Rand is supposed to have said about liberals who defect to the right that they never really change. (I forget where I heard that.) Whether she said it or not, it’s true: they never really change. They might be pro-American and anti-communist, but that certainly does not make them radicals for capitalism. They’re the ones who can only muster two cheers for capitalism. Sometimes I wonder if, in the long run, the moderate defenders of liberty are not greater threats than the Michael Moores and Barack Obamas of the world.
If Charles Johnson is mixed, so is America. I’m glad Johnson is on the case against the religious fundamentalists and their media allies such as Glenn Beck. I’ll keep reading him, though not without analyzing and judging him. But then, we should analyze and judge everything we read, and take nothing on faith or because we fear parting from the group-think.
UPDATE: Corrected a word. I wrote liberal, when I meant conservative. Nuance.