“My View” from the Oct. 4, 2012, edition of “Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer.”
Tuesday night at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, I had the unique experience of debating Glenn Beck.
For me, this was like wading into the belly of the beast. Of the several hundred people in the audience, a not insubstantial number were devout Beck fans, many of them card-carrying members of the tea party. And what I realized during my exchanges with them and Beck was that these folks operate in a fact-free zone.
Nonetheless, I did my best to bring facts into the debate.
And in place of facts, Beck came with libertarian rhetoric and some random quotations from the Founding Fathers that he tried to pass off as historical knowledge.
Beck’s arguments wandered from the bizarre to the irrelevant.
The passion he and his fans summon for their anti-government rhetoric is based on a strong emotional need to channel a deep-rooted, visceral anger — caused by God knows what — and the government has become the perfect target for their ire.
What transforms their nihilistic views into a form of bizarre patriotism is the way they turn the founders of the nation into paragons of virtue. They say that if only we had remained true to the virtues of the founders, things today would be all right.
I tried to counter their views in three ways. First, by disagreeing with their underlying and pervasive pessimism about the state of the world with what I think is a well-founded view that things, when framed in the grand arc of history, are actually pretty good.
At an ideological level, we are winning the larger global battles, and even if things are economically tough now, we are better off than we were four years ago when we were staring into the precipice and our impending doom.
Second, by using facts, I tried to show that their attacks on President Obama’s policies are simply wrong — their views about the role of government and the economy simply don’t hold up under the slightest scrutiny.
And third, I tried to show how our current politics and even the individual mandate for health insurance do in fact fit neatly into the vision of the nation as embodied by the Founding Fathers and our Constitution.
The result, quite frankly, was to convince not a single member of their camp. Perhaps that is not surprising, given the rather fractured and polarized nature of our politics, but it was troubling to me. Facts simply bounced off of them. In the Beckian worldview, fear runs roughshod over truth and absurd claims about the role of government pass off as an ideological construct. How do you debate that?
Just about all we could agree on: Thank goodness for the First Amendment!
That’s “My View.”