Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The University Guild vs. Glenn Beck

By Amity Shlaes

Drive them crazy. That's what Glenn Beck seems to specialize in doing, whether the "them" at issue is fellow radio hosts, fellow tv hosts, or, now, professors at universities. This last group is opening its own front in the war against the television king. An associate professor, Joseph Palermo of California State/Sacramento, took to the Huffington Post to mock the broadcaster as "Glenn Beck, Ph.D." I personally noticed this since Professor Palermo mentioned me by name, in tandem with author Jonah Goldberg, as an effort to "misinform" the gullible.

The rage at first seems odd, coming from professors. Why should these serene Yodas care what a man on television bellows? Yet they are on the warpath. The academic fury is at first directed at interpretation. Mr. Beck's explanation of how the Framers viewed religion, Mr. Beck's depiction of how Franklin Roosevelt's policy affected the Great Depression; Mr. Beck's argument that regulation is currently curtailing liberty in general -- all fall short in academic eyes. Prof. Palermo, for example, calls Mr. Beck's views as "stupid and false." But the real issue, the reason professors are on the attack, is not specific content. It is rather the professional and, in the end, economic, threat that Mr. Beck represents. To academics, Mr. Beck is more dangerous than any other radio show host, and they know it.

To understand the nature of the Beck challenge, you have to recall that our system of higher education is a throwback to medieval economics: a guild. As in the classic guild, members require a lengthy period of training, with formal stages. To be in any way authoritative, a writer must have a Ph.D., a guild seal. Members of this guild have enormous discretion when it comes to the conferring of the seal - also typical. In the humanities and social sciences, Ph.D.s. and, it goes without saying, tenure-track posts -- are usually awarded to those not hostile to the master professors' views. For many decades top universities have been especially rigorous in this practice, with the result that it is difficult to find non-progressives with top credentials in the humanities. The guild demands much from its apprentices, graduate students, including dull work in obscure texts. Indeed it is proud of that obscurity, for it distinguishes academic work from, say, the easy popular histories on bookstore shelves or tv.

In the field of history, the guild also maintains a monopoly on education by generating curricula, syllabi, and, of course, a canon, a set list of texts for each period of the past. Of course the academic guild, generally on the progressive side, has made many concessions to conservatives or classical liberals. Professors have assigned the odd conservative book; they mentioned the opponents' arguments. But such offerings have generally been presented as an afterthought, secondary, less authoritative. Looking back at their education many adults saw through this pretense of fairness. They resented the guild monolith. Something was missing.

Enter Mr. Beck. At first, the radio show host appeared no different from the rest of conservative radio. In other words, another product of the 1987 repeal of the old Fairness Doctrine, which said that a radio license "may not be utilized to achieve a partisan or one-sided presentation." Pre-repeal that requirement was so strictly adhered to that radio tended the dull. After the repeal hosts were free to deliver soliloquys of rage and individual insights, legal, historical, political. This change which turned out to be welcome to millions of viewers. The first to take advantage of this market opening was Rush Limbaugh, who remains the undisputed king of conservative talk radio.

The second explanation for Beck rage however involves the guild. For unlike other hosts, who tend to pick up and drop topics, Mr. Beck has begun to develop a new canon for adults. And unlike other hosts, but indeed like a professor, Mr. Beck tends to demand a lot of his viewers. For example, he recently devoted the better part of an hour to a biography of Samuel Adams by a historian without a Ph.D., Ira Stoll, whose book highlights the revolutionary firebrand's piety. Mr. Beck breaks other tv rules. He insists viewers read books by dead men - W. Cleon Skousen's work on the Constitution, the ``5000 Year Leap." It is all a long way from "Oprah," "The Newshour" or even much of public television. Mr. Beck's broadcast was barely over when Mr. Stoll's book shot up to the highest heights of the Amazon list, where it has resided ever since. Beck-recommended books sometimes sell as well as, heaven forfend, textbooks. I had the good fortune to experience some of this after Mr. Beck talked about my Great Depression history.

Every author is glad to sell books. But the victory is far more Mr. Beck's than any individual writer's or publisher's. His genius has been in his recognition that viewers do not want merely the odd, one-off book, duly pegged to news. They want a coherent vision, a competing canon that the regulated airwaves and academy have denied them. So he, Glenn Beck, is building that canon, book by book from the forgotten shelf. Since the man is a riveting entertainer, the professors are correct to be concerned. He's not just reacting or shaping individual thoughts. He is bringing competition into the Ed Biz.

What to do? The Glenn Beck reading list may not satisfy everyone. Some of his views are indeed worth questioning. Some of us don't agree with important components of his politics. Beck's personal attacks put a lot of us off. Maybe there should be yet a third new reading list. As for the guild, a better response than its own ad hominem smearing is to widen their own reading lists and lectures. Professors can blame only themselves if Mr. Beck has taken an opportunity to teach. It is they who gave it to him.

Amity Shlaes is the author of "The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression"



Do We Now Have A “Slick” Barack?

Everyone knows of “Slick Willie,” you remember “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never. These allegations are false. And I need to go back to work for the American people,” don’t you? Well, it looks like we now have “Slick Barack.”

Let’s recap: BP (British Petroleum) gives tens of thousands of dollars to the Obama Campaign, more than to any other candidate. Obama’s administration awards BP a safety award. Obama’s administration grants BP a waiver to drill in dangerously deep waters. We have a blow out in which a surge of natural gas blows the drill pipe out and blows the safety systems off the map.

The Washington Examiner then details the next 72 hours:
"…the Gulf oil spill has exposed a breathtaking level of incompetence, political opportunism and mendacity at the heart of the Obama administration. Documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity make clear that the White House was told by the Coast Guard within 24 hours of the April 20 explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon platform that the equivalent of 8,000 barrels a day could escape into the ocean. Within three days, Obama and his senior aides were warned that the spill could exceed the in environmental damage caused by the Exxon Valdez wreck in 1989.”

“Despite these warnings, over the next two months Obama attended Democratic fundraisers, played golf, hosted basketball and football teams at the White House and delivered commencement speeches. Two weeks passed before he could be bothered to go to Louisiana.”

It is now exactly 48 days that the Deep Water well has been gushing oil into the gulf at the rate of up to 400,000 barrels per day. And the Obama search to blame someone other than his own Ken Salazar and the Minerals Management Service (MMS.) But the facts are that the MMS was asleep at the switch, and Salazar must have been wondering if he should have kept his comfortable little Colorado Senate Seat.

Obama is promising to prosecute, and Eric Holder, United States Attorney General is slavering at the mouth to get into court against BP. Yet, BP was drilling with full permission of the MMS and operating under a waiver from filing an environmental impact for BP’s lease at “Deepwater Horizon; a “categorical exclusion” from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009,” slightly more than a full year before the blowout – and that can’t be blamed on Don Howard.

Obama must be coated with oil if he expects another “slick” moniker to be added to presidential screw-ups (no pun intended). Man up Mr. Obama and “…go back to work for the American People.”



Democrats Skip Town Halls to Avoid Voter Rage

The reception that Representative Frank Kratovil Jr., a Democrat, received here one night last week as he faced a small group of constituents was far more pleasant than his encounters during a Congressional recess last summer.

Then, he was hanged in effigy by protesters. This time, a round of applause was followed by a glass of chilled wine, a plate of crackers and crudités as he mingled with an invitation-only audience at the Point Breeze Credit Union, a vastly different scene than last year’s wide-open televised free-for-alls.

The sentiment that fueled the rage during those Congressional forums is still alive in the electorate. But the opportunities for voters to openly express their displeasure, or angrily vent as video cameras roll, have been harder to come by in this election year.

If the time-honored tradition of the political meeting is not quite dead, it seems to be teetering closer to extinction. Of the 255 Democrats who make up the majority in the House, only a handful held town-hall-style forums as legislators spent last week at home in their districts.

It was no scheduling accident.

With images of overheated, finger-waving crowds still seared into their minds from the discontent of last August, many Democrats heeded the advice of party leaders and tried to avoid unscripted question-and-answer sessions. The recommendations were clear: hold events in controlled settings — a bank or credit union, for example — or tour local businesses or participate in community service projects.

And to reach thousands of constituents at a time, without the worry of being snared in an angry confrontation with voters, more lawmakers are also taking part in a fast-growing trend: the telephone town meeting, where chances are remote that a testy exchange will wind up on YouTube.

For incumbents of both parties facing challenging re-election bids, few things receive more scrutiny than how, when and where they interact with voters. Many members of Congress err on the side of being visible, but not too visible, and make only a few public appearances while they are back in their districts.

In New Hampshire, where open political meetings are deeply ingrained in the state’s traditions, Representative Carol Shea-Porter’s campaign Web site had this message for visitors: “No upcoming events scheduled. Please visit us again soon!”

Ms. Shea-Porter, a Democrat, attended a state convention of letter carriers on Saturday, but she did not hold a town-hall-style meeting during the Congressional recess. In 2006, when she was an underdog candidate for the House, she often showed up at the meetings of her Republican rival, Representative Jeb Bradley, to question him about Iraq.

In Iowa, where voters also are accustomed to coming face to face with elected officials, Representative Leonard L. Boswell, a Democrat, provided few opportunities for voters to see him last week. His itinerary included a groundbreaking for a new law enforcement center and a renaming ceremony for a Des Moines post office.

In Maryland, where Mr. Kratovil endured considerable heckling last year over the health care legislation, which he ultimately opposed, he did not hold any large gatherings with voters. After returning from a visit to Afghanistan, he held two events with veterans before arriving at an evening discussion here at the credit union in Bel Air, north of Baltimore....

An examination of public schedules for dozens of members of Congress last week showed that more House Republicans held open meetings, including several in a series of forums called America Speaking Out, which is intended to help write the party’s agenda if it wins control of Congress in November.

The anger that erupted at meetings last summer — focused, particularly, on the health care legislation — helped draw attention to Tea Party activists. A year later, some of the images are resurfacing once again and will almost certainly be used against lawmakers in television advertisements over the next five months.




What do we cherish “as Americans?”: "In a recent talk, responding to the Arizona law that’s said to be aimed at containing illegal immigration, President Barrack Obama stated that this piece of legislation ‘threatens to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans …’ I am not enough of a student of the Arizona law to pass judgment on it now but I am definitely skeptical about the claim that Americans as such cherish ‘basic notions of fairness.’ To start with, there is nothing in any basic American political document that mandates fairness across the land. Neither the Declaration of Independence, nor the Bill of Rights (or the U. S. Constitution) insists that Americans be fair. And a good thing that is, since such a demand cannot be met.”

The times they are a-changin’: "Obama’s real problem is that the era of hope and change is over, and he hasn’t adjusted to it. He’s confronted by a debt crisis, the oil spill, and high unemployment. These are front-burner issues a president is expected to address seriously and on which he’ll be held accountable. Yet Obama is still stuck on his old agenda. And he dwells on sentiments like bipartisanship that no longer resonate. It’s as if he’s relying on note cards from the early days of his presidency (nearly 17 months ago). Meanwhile, the world has moved on. When the world changed for FDR, he switched from ‘Dr. New Deal’ to ‘Dr. Win the War.’ Obama hasn’t switched. He’s still ‘Dr. Enact My Agenda.’”

Capitalism: Hollywood’s miscast villain: "Hollywood’s anti-capitalism is not accidental. It stems from three sources: the rage of directors and screenwriters against their own capitalist backers, the difficulty of using a visual medium to depict the invisible hand, and an ethical framework which Hollywood shares with most of our culture that regards self-interest as inherently immoral or, at best, amoral.”

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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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