The Mind of Glenn Beck

“It’s difficult for anyone to have warm and tender feelings for the crazy man.” – Glenn Beck, Feb. 22

It’s a surreal scene: Glenn Beck, all alone on a TV set flooded with a low, blue light. He’s surrounded by an array of chalkboards; like mirrors in a haunted house, they reflect the many, many fears of the chubby, baby-faced excuse for a man who was once the rising star at Fox News. Words like Marxism, socialism, Islamism, political correctness and George Soros cover the boards. Beck circles a word here and there as he rants about the Communist/Islamist/UN caliphate that will soon engulf the Western World. The mind of Glenn Beck is a terrifying place.

One of the items in his set is a large television screen showing five different scenes. On the bottom, video streams from Libya, Yemen and Bahrain show protesters rioting, burning cars, and clashing violently with the police. The two feeds on the top of the screen show protesters peacefully waving signs demanding that they retain their right to bargain collectively. In the mind of Glenn Beck, these are the same. He actually seems to believe that a combination of socialists and radical Islamists have banded together in places across the world in order to form a New World Order.

Beck fears these protesters so much that he seems to support any measure against them. When a prominent Libyan intellectual who happened to belong to the Muslim brotherhood called on Libyan soldiers to rise up and assassinate the leader who seems intent on butchering his people with the help of mercenaries and fighter planes, Beck expressed support for Qaddafi, who he called “the crazy man” without any sense of irony. He qualified this support by saying that the dictator reminded him of “Scar, from the Lion King.” Apparently his viewers need to use Disney cartoons in order to gauge their views of the real world.

Unsurprisingly, Beck’s ratings are down nearly 40 percent since January of 2010.  This might be because he doesn’t offer solutions to his nightmares other than to buy gold and wait in a basement for the world to end, toy rifle in hand and tin foil hat in place. He claims not to support the dictators throughout the Middle East, but if they fall for any reason other than military intervention by Republican presidents, he points to a vast, international conspiracy run by either George Soros or the Muslim Brotherhood. He sees liberal workers protesting in Wisconsin and Ohio and young people in the Middle East alike as the agents of this international conspiracy. To him, they probably all look like Jafar, from “Aladdin.”

It’s a shame that the situation in Wisconsin has not received more attention from the mainstream media. Freshly elected Governor Scott Walker has created a budget crisis as an excuse to try and undo a century of labor agreements. No longer will teachers be able to use their collective bargaining power to negotiate for better benefits. Salary increases will be tied to the Consumer Price Index, which means that, essentially, teachers will never again have a salary increase. Their “raises” will always match or lag behind inflation. Wisconsin responded with a fury that seems shocking to their new Republican leaders. As of last Saturday, at least 70,000 protesters had flooded the capital, making camp in the halls of the state capital and trying the only way they know to preserve that most American of rights — the right to unionize, to demand fair compensation for an important and thankless job, and to defend against the encroachment of a government that doesn’t respect the rights of its citizens. By villainizing the protesters, commentators like Beck are ignoring the legacy of their beloved Ronald Reagan, who said that the Solidarity movement in Poland should “remind us that where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost” (full disclosure — I stole this quote from the Facebook page of one of my high school teachers. Thanks, Mr. Feldman!).

Glenn Beck should be praising these protesters. But in the fearful mind of Glenn Beck, since they aren’t members of his beloved Tea Party, they must be Marxist Islamist Nazi Zombies. At times like these, Beck seems increasingly likely to abandon everything and flee to an underground bunker in an undisclosed location. I hear the caves in Afghanistan are great this time of year.

Education is Everything

We all watched in horror last year as the real estate market popped like an over ripe tomato, shaking the entire economy with the violence of its implosion.

As people lost homes and jobs, tax revenue at all levels of the government shrunk precipitously. Deficits — already out of control after eight years of an administration bent on passing a crippling financial burden on to our generation — exploded.

In many states, shrinking property tax and income tax revenues led to the threat of massive layoffs where our society could least afford them: in the public school system.

The stimulus package passed by the Obama administration staved off this threat — for a little while. As the stimulus money, always intended as a band-aid rather than real reform, dries up, the specter of teacher layoffs has again reared its ugly head.

The public school system was in trouble long before the current crisis. As salaries remained stagnant over the last few decades, many of the best and brightest teachers fled the schools in favor of higher-paying, higher-status jobs. Today, many teachers come from the bottom of their class into a field with long hours, meager salaries and demanding students.

Despite their best intentions, American public schools have fallen far behind both their private and foreign competition.

Public school students are about to fall even further behind. Without stimulus funds or a substantial property tax base, most schools are facing significant budget deficits. Many of them will take the same, horrifying measure of cutting budgets for after school activities, laying off support staff and firing the teachers who have not been rendered immune to reform by tenure.

The activities and electives that keep students most engaged in their education will disappear.

Class sizes will expand; test scores will contract. Children will be left behind, unable to gain entry into selective colleges or compete in the global marketplace.

Education is the cornerstone of a liberal democracy, the silver bullet for the problems of society.

It reduces crime rate, unwanted pregnancies, unemployment and the rapidly expanding inequality between the haves and the have-nots. Good public schools help to level the playing field and promote socioeconomic diversity in college and the workplace.

Without a great system for educating those who can’t afford the cost of tuition or the time to travel to private schools, we risk severe damage to the middle class and to the American dream.

If students in public schools can’t keep pace with their competition from kindergarten all the way through high school, no amount of work in college will allow them to overcome the deficit.

Comprehensive education reform has fallen out of the public consciousness: President Bush tried and failed, and the fallout makes another attempt unlikely.

Plus, with the state of the economy and a pressing need for financial, immigration, and energy reform, President Obama and the Democratic Congress have more than enough on their plate. Education should take first priority. Pumping money into the public school system — increasing teacher salaries to attract the best and brightest back into the system, retaining the activities that hold student’s interests and shrinking class sizes so that students receive more personal attention — is the most important step in putting the economy back on track.

America’s economy has always been driven by innovation and entrepreneurship. And those qualities can’t always come from the upper class.

That didn’t work for Rome, or the British Empire, and it won’t work for the United States.

The American dream requires that all hard-working citizens have the opportunity to join the world economy, regardless of their financial background.

Education is the ultimate economic stimulus. Without major public education reform — on the federal, state or local level — any other measure we take to shore up our economy is merely a band-aid.