Before CPAC tapped him for its keynote address, the Fox host’s history was riddled with drugs and mental illness. John Avlon
The most anticipated speech at CPAC this year isn’t from a presidential candidate courting the support of the far right—it’s from an ideological entertainer whose emergence from obscurity and subsequent impact on politics rivaled the Tea Parties in 2009: glenn beck.
Last year, the Saturday night CPAC keynote speech slot was held by Rush Limbaugh—Beck’s Fox show was only one month old. El Rushbo pronounced the speech his first televised address to the nation, and the Obama resistance caught fire as the Tea Party protests began.
Now the torch has been passed to Beck, a man who a decade ago was just starting his post top-40 DJ career with a talk show broadcast on a single Radio Station in Tampa. Today, he is the king of all conservative media, with a hit television show, a nationally syndicated radio program, and five books on the best-seller lists. Now the consummate showman is already promoting a new book, The Plan, which he will debut in August with an open-air rally of followers on the Washington Mall. Will his speech offer a glimpse into his “plan” to take America back from President Obama and what Beck has repeatedly called “the cancer of progressivism”?
One thing is certain: The man is crazy like a fox. The best way to get a sense of where Beck might steer the conservative debate in 2010 is to study his past—it’s a story of ambition and addiction, mixing politics and religion. He recycles old fears with apocalyptic urgency, polarizing for profit, making himself the Pied Piper for a new generation of angry, anxiety-ridden, and alienated Americans.
The most influential Wingnut leader in the first year of the Obama administration wasn’t an elected official. He isn’t even a Republican but an independent conservative—a former Top-40 radio DJ, self-described “borderline schizophrenic”1 and recovering drug addict turned Mormon convert with a taste for confrontation and confession. He presents a manic mix of politics and religion, loftily billed as “the fusion of entertainment and enlightenment.”2
In the course of a few years, glenn beck has transformed himself from a talk-radio curiosity into a multimedia cottage industry, with a nationally syndicated radio show, 5 p.m. Fox News program, a magazine, and five books—both fiction and nonfiction—on the bestseller lists.3 Behind his tearful Mad Hatter act, the man is crazy like a fox—a talented and intelligent radio artist, an entrepreneur of anxiety and redemption. His loyal customers constitute a standing army, and he has already proven they can be deployed at will to the tune of tens of thousands.
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