Perhaps I should confess at the outset that I listen to and watch Glenn Beck very little, partly because of time-constraints, and partly for aesthetic reasons. His views aside, I find his performance discomfiting. The same goes for Bill O’Reilly, Chris Matthews, Rush Limbaugh, Randi Rhodes, Mark Levin, Charles Gibson, Rick Sanchez, and Michael Savage, among many others. Within seconds, I find myself squirming because of something in the performance itself.
I find pundit-talkers Thom Hartmann, Ed Schultz, and Michael Medved easier to take–again, politics aside. I especially like the extent to which Hartmann actively seeks opposing views and is willing to debate coolly and politely. Usually when he interrupts, it’s because of rhetorical impatience (he reminds me of the “A” student who often has “the answers” and gets excited), not because of calculated rudeness or bullying, and more often than not, he lets opposing views be stated fully. Rachel Maddow is even more patient and polite than Hartmann. Limbaugh’s format, of course, does not allow for opposing views in any legitimate, robust sense.
Having set out a mild disclaimer, then, I want to point to parts of an Associated Press news story I read on August 13. The version I read is called “Who are health care protesters?” [absence of capitalization = sic], and Erica Werner wrote it. An excerpt:
“In some cases, it’s [the frustration expressed by those attending town-hall meetings, for example] been nurtured by talk radio and Glenn Beck’s 9-12 Project, which seeks to unify Americans around nine values such as honesty, hope and sincerity and 12 principles, including, ‘I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.'” [This blog will likely have much to say about “sincerity” later.]
The pedantry of a professor induces me to want to add a comma after “hope” (the Oxford comma) and one after “have” in Beck’s principle, and I would replace “who” with “whom,” but these are mere nits picked.
Of more interest, even to me, is that the statement is characterized as a “principle.” “I work hard for what I have” is what Id’ call an assertion, one that may be more or less accurate, one that is contestable. I’m not sure how that assertion works as a “principle.” I understand the sentiment behind the words, however, and the same goes for “I will share with who[m] I want,” although this latter one seems idealistic, at best. For example, I don’t necessarily want to share my coins with a parking meter in a city, but I make a calculation or simply follow routine and share the coins anyway, even though, strictly speaking, I don’t “want” to. “Government cannot force me to be charitable.” I think this statement may be the principle toward which Beck was working as he was composing.
However, to what extent does the statement–especially when applied to the health-care-reform debates–confuse “charity” with “taxation”?
That is, I note that Article I, Section 8, Paragraph one of the U.S. Constitution reads as follows:
“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”
[taken from a Barnes and Noble edition of the Constitution, with an Introduction by R.B. Bernstein, published in 2002, p. 43]
The Constitution seems, then, to enable “government” to “force” me and Glenn Beck, among others, to pay taxes, if not to be “charitable.”
Maybe a difference between charity and taxation could be illustrated this way: Let’s say I and other citizens of a city pay a tax that helps to establish a fire department, partly because a consensus has developed over the centuries that this method of combating fire is better than one in which individuals each seek personal fire-fighters or provide “charity” to volunteer fire-fighters who roam the streets with buckets of water.
Applied to the health-care-reform debate, President Obama’s argument seems to be that the common good (“common welfare,” if you will) of the U.S. would benefit from a higher tax (actually, a lower rate of deduction) on those who make $250,000 or more per year. President Obama has been transparent about this element of taxation as a mode of paying for reform.
Beck appears not just to oppose this particular tax but, if I interpret his principle correctly, all taxation. Or most taxation? I’m not sure. Perhaps he supports “charity” (taxation) for “the Common Defence” (sic)–the military–but not “the General Welfare”–such as a health-care system.
In any event, is his position on government-and-taxation more like that of an Anarchist (in the political sense of Anarchy) than that of a “Conservative”? Wouldn’t a “Conservative” want to conserve principles articulated in the Constitution? I don’t intend these questons to be rhetorical, partly because I ask them as a mere amateur observer of politics, albeit a professional teacher of writing and rhetoric, which involve such matters as defining terms–terms such as “charitable,” “force,” “hard [for my money],” “Anarchy,” “Conservatism,” and so on.
At any rate, a first glance at Beck’s principle seems to put Beck in the same problematic “box,” so to speak, as those U.S. citizens who have opposed this or that war and desired to withhold taxes, partly out of protest, but partly because those taxes ostensibly go to support the pursuit of the war.
Is Beck’s principle “conservative”?