Beck Deconstruction, part one

Ah, where would we be without Glenn Beck, the Fox network talk show host and all-around extreme conservative? I’ll deconstruct the December 21 episode of his show, “Restoring the Constitution”, line by line.

(NOTE: I did not cherry-pick this episode. This was the latest available episode when I decided to do this post, on December 22.)

(NOTE: Any inaccuracies reflecting quotes from the show itself are from the Fox transcript, available here)


The enemy to our Constitution is the progressive movement. Stop arguing about Republicans and Democrats, it’s the progressive movement.

If you didn’t know Glenn Beck, you do now. He’s one of those people who pretends he can interpret the Constitution better than the Supreme Court.

Where in the Constitution does it say the word “czar” or anything like it? It doesn’t.

And your point is? ‘Czar’, besides being the term for head of state of the former Russian Empire, is used by the media to describe the presidential administration’s policy advisers. I don’t quite know what Beck is trying to say here, but it’s almost certainly an intended dig at Obama.


Hello, America.

You would like to believe your show is presented to America in its entirety, wouldn’t you, Beck? The program, however, only draws in 0.7% of the United States population every day.

And welcome to another special edition of “The Glenn Beck Program.”

Yes, special, very special. Not at all like any other conservative talk shows

Tonight, an hour dedicated to the Constitution. Great television, I know. Crazy

This will actually turn out to be an hour dedicated to demonizing the progressive movement. Stay tuned.

Four pages, that’s all it took. And in those four pages, our Founders were able to map out the idea for a country that would ultimately become the most prosperous nation in the history of the planet.

Do you have any evidence for this whatsoever? Blinded by nativism, do you really believe without sound economic basis that the United States is definitely more prosperous than the Roman Empire, the Mongolian Empire, the British Empire, the French Empire, the Dutch Empire, Tang China, Ming China, Mughal India, the Abbasid Caliphate, the Ghanian trading empire, the Aztec Empire, or the Incan Empire? Have you even heard of all of those? You should probably check your sources.

The Constitution’s goal was [to] limit the power of government so the power would lie with you, the people.

This is directly contradicted by your later quasi-historical lecture, about how the Constitution gave the federal government more power than the Articles of Confederation did.

Today, the government has abandoned that whole crazy idea and kept power for itself and keeps gathering more.

Are you seriously suggesting that the government has abandoned the Constitution? Of course you are. You’re Glenn Beck.

So, what’s to blame for that?

After isolating a “problem”, instead of trying to solve it, you start heaping blame on people?

Well, no surprise coming from me. Enemy number one is progressivism.

We are in agreement that this is no surprise.

Tonight, I’ve got two of the Constitution’s staunchest defenders to help me out: author and historian David Barton, founder of WallBuilders; and the one and only good friend of the program, Judge Andrew Napolitano, host of “Freedom Watch” on the FOX Business Network.

Good for you, but no one else. We’ll get to these people later.

So, let’s begin at the beginning: How was the Constitution born? Our Founders started the country after we won the Revolutionary War.

Not true, they started it during the Revolutionary War. You can’t fight and fund a large-scale war without a governmental structure.

And they started our country not with the Constitution, but with something called the Articles of Confederation. It set up such a limited government that the whole thing flew apart. You couldn’t even do business across state lines. The country was a total mess.

The dangers of limited government. Now this is unexpected. I thought you would just skip over this part.

Do you know the first president of the country was? This guy. John Hanson. No, it wasn’t George Washington — John Hanson. But see, I said our country. It’s a different country under the Articles of Confederation.

John Hanson was President of Congress, not of the United States. This position had mostly ceremonial responsibilities. A direct analogue of this position is held today by not Barack Obama, but Joe Biden.

They first put it right here. It was too close to anarchy. It didn’t work. It fell apart. Every state was fighting against each other, cheating against each other. It was too close to anarchy.

Actually, the main reason the Confederation fell apart was because of the issue of state and national debt. Many states refused to pay the federal government, something they could do under the Articles. States were not “fighting against each other” as you allege; you’re quite a bit early in history for that.

So, in 1785, Congress knew that it wasn’t working. And unbeknownst to them, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson had been exchanging letters and they were trying to work on a totally new system of government. They knew that they were never going to get something this radical past any members of Congress, any of the states, because nobody trusted anybody anymore.

They were never going to get this past “any of the states”? Actually, every state ratified the Constitution.

But they have this thing called a republic. It moved this government a little farther down, moved it to about here.

Republic” derives from the Latin res publica, meaning “matter of the people.”

But they needed somebody to help bring everybody together. They needed somebody that they could trust, that everyone in the room would trust. They needed someone who they knew would bring everybody together, everybody would trust, and in the end, would do the right thing even at his own expense.

Actually, no. All they needed was a stronger government, as you got so close to admitting earlier. The Constitution, of course, did not mention George Washington, and the main difference between the two documents was simply the amount of power given to the government.

DAVID BARTON: George Washington got a bunch of them together and said we need to look at redoing the Articles of Confederation, which led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 where they did get together and redo the articles … they looked at it and said let’s scrap it and start again. And that’s where it became the Constitution.

It pains me to say that Beck was actually in the right here. Madison and Jefferson, not Washington, “got a bunch of them together” at the Constitutional Convention. Any actual historian should know this.

When you look at the Founders’ idea for the nation, it was that the people would be in charge through a representative federal government. And out of the forms of government, the Founding Fathers went through and said, democracy is worse than anything. It’s worse than anarchy. Democracy is worse than a monarchy. And we know what they thought of monarchies.

I believe the concepts of “direct democracy” and “representative democracy” are being confused here.

I mean, democracy was on the bottom of the rung because it allowed human emotion to get through. People make decisions when they’re angry or when they’re happy or when they don’t have all the facts.

So, in a representative republican form of government, everything slows down. We complain about the pace of to government, but that’s really good because now you have to debate. You have to get two sides in there. You have to look at all the aspects. You have hearings on it get all the information. It’s a slow process but it keeps the feelings and emotions out.

But they wanted the people to have the power. The Constitution forbids America from becoming a democracy. And the federal government means that we share the powers in a vertical direction.


BARTON: Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address, he went through the presidency and said, the purpose of federal government is five- fold things. And in his inaugural address, he listed the five things that the government was supposed to do.

When a conservative mentions Jefferson, you know a legacy hijack is coming…

He said, number one, is to acknowledge and adore God. It’s interesting — Jefferson said that but they all believe if you don’t start with the acknowledgement of God, you don’t understand inalienable rights.

This is a COMPLETE, ABSOLUTE LIE. Neither of Jefferson’s inaugural addresses even contain the word “god”, let alone state anything even remotely related to this. In fact, Jefferson believed nothing of the sort, as his coinage of the phrase “separation of church and state” shows.

Second thing is for the government to exercise frugality — frugality in spending and power and authority. Be a frugal government.

Neither of Jefferson’s inaugural addresses contain this either. Jefferson’s policy was in fact mixed on this matter – he advocated deficit reduction, but made the relatively lavish and constitutionally questionable Louisiana Purchase, one of the greatest American foreign policy achievements in history.

He said, third, is to restrain the infliction of injury. Government exists to keep bad guys under control. It’s not to regulate the good guys. It’s to keep bad guys from hurting somebody.

You guessed it – Jefferson didn’t say this either. Indeed, Jefferson, like the other Founding Fathers, understood the drawbacks of naïvely, childishly classifiying people as “good guys” and “bad guys”.

He said, the fourth thing the government is supposed to do is to encourage entrepreneurship and free enterprise, is to be business friendly and — because that’s where the prosperity comes from, that’s where jobs come from.

No, in fact Jefferson disliked the ideas of entrepreneurship and business, small or large. He had an agrarian view of the nation, and wanted the majority of the nation to consist of family farms. Free enterprise had little place in his vision.

He said, the fifth thing government should do is to protect property and the earnings of citizens. They consider the money you earn is your property and they couldn’t take your money away any more than they could take your house or your property or anything else away.

Jefferson never said this in the address either. I don’t know where you’re pulling any of this from, Mr. Barton. It wouldn’t be that hard to look at Jefferson’s inaugural address and report what was actually in it, would it?

And he said that’s the five-fold purpose of government. Government exists for those five reasons. We’ve shifted so much away from what they envision, which was a small, limited government with five primary responsibilities where we the people were in charge of all three branches. That’s what they wanted for America.

Don’t take my word for it, readers. Research Jefferson’s 1801 inaugural address. You’ll find the phrase “We are all Federalists; we are all Republicans,” one that should be remembered in today’s era of political violence. You won’t find anything like what Barton says here. In fact, if you search for this “five-fold purpose of government”, the only results you’ll find will be Glenn Beck transcripts.

And if we read and study the Constitution and get back to that plan, that’s what caused America to be the most prosperous, stable nation in history of the world.

It becomes tedious, Mr. Barton, to refute your incorrect, arrogant statements repeatedly. America is a relatively prosperous, relatively stable nation, but surely you wouldn’t refute that the British Empire was more prosperous, and modern-day Scandinavia more stable?


So far, Beck hasn’t even been lying himself – he’s gotten others to do it for him.

BECK: So, why have we shifted so far away from what the Founding Fathers envisioned? Progressivism. That was it.

The Civil War? America’s huge geographical and population growth? Technological modernizaton? The realization that rights should not be denied on the basis of sex or race? No, Mr. Beck, progressivism. That was it.

But what exactly is progressivism?

Progressivism (n.) the political orientation of those who favor progress toward better conditions in government and society

– Princeton WordNet

More to come. #



12 responses to “Beck Deconstruction, part one

  1. I don’t like Glen Beck, this post made me smile and lol, but the middle portion seems awfully harsh. I’m holding a copy of Jefferson’s 1801 First Inaugural Address. He doesn’t explicitly break his points into the Five Purposes of Government, but he does mention all of Barton’s points as important factors/priorities.

    In paragraph three, he lists off the “blessings” of the United States. Last in the list is “acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence,” Barton’s #1. Jefferson then asks “what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people?” and answers “Still one thing more fellow citizens – a wise and frugal Government” (Barton’s #2) “which shall restrain men from injuring each other,” (Barton’s #3) “shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it had earned” (Barton’s #4 & 5).

    (On religion: You’re right, “God” isn’t anywhere in the speech, and substituting “God” for “Providence” is definitely taking liberty with the text. Jefferson talks in paragraphs three, four and two about “a benign religion… practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man,” “freedom of religion,” and his satisfaction at “having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered.” But it’s hard to deny that, in this speech, he sees the influence of religion on government as a *good* thing. He closes with “And may that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe lead our councils to what is best….”)

    Whether Jefferson’s other writings and actions in office (you mention separation of church and state, Louisiana purchase, etc.) are consistent with the government/business principles he lays out in his first inaugural address is another matter. Barton is definitely using the document to support his own position, but calling his interpretation “a COMPLETE, ABSOLUTE LIE” seems kind of unfair.

  2. Jefferson did mention “Providence” as a *good* thing, that is correct. But he never said it was necessary.

    He said being “frugal” was a good thing, but again, not a necessary one for government, just one to strive for.

    He said government should “restrain the infliction of injury,” but not that that was its only purpose, or that it was one of only a few purposes in government, or that people could be split into moral good or evil. Mr. Barton here, like so many other places, starts with the seed of a quote, adds other non-quotes, and ends up with a wildly diverging interpretation.

    Jefferson believed in, and referenced God. I do not deny this. However, Thomas Jefferson did not say that adoration of God was *necessary* – THAT is the lie of which I spoke.

  3. ??? Jefferson’s third paragraph, where he makes the five Barton points, ends with “This is the sum of good government and this is *necessary* to close the circle of our felicities.”

    In particular, he makes points 2-4 in answer to the question “What more is *necessary* to make us a happy and a prosperous people?”

  4. The final sentence in the third paragraph is specifically talking about the previous sentence, “Still one thing more, fellow-citizens—a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” This, however, is not in fact Mr. Barton’s second point, as “spending and power and authority” were not alluded to, Jefferson was just outlining ideals.

    The question “What more is *necessary* to make us a happy and a prosperous people?” is in response to his outlined list of American advantages and virtues. The rhetorical question “What more is necessary?” is meant to convey that these virtues are sufficient. However, it does not mean that they themselves are necessary, as other qualities, at least according to the syntax of Jefferson’s speech, could produce the same ideal conditions as well.

    Also, the vague idea of “labor” in the third paragraph should not be construed as to refer to entrepreneurship or free enterprise. Given the historical context of Jefferson’s views, he was not saying anything related to “business friendship”, rather the agrarian virtues he idolized.

  5. (You wanted to start a fire? AyW.)

    Bollox. If I didn’t know better, Dlf, I’d think you hadn’t read the speech very carefully before writing this post and were retreating into pedantry in order to save face.

    Point four isn’t verbatim – perhaps the difference between people having “free enterprise” and people being “free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement” is worth discussing. His other references to the speech, before he explains his interpretations, are almost word-for-word (allowing for the metonymical difference between “earning bread” and “earning money” in point five). And yet you’re prepared to argue “Neither of Jefferson’s inaugural addresses contain this,” “Jefferson didn’t say this,” “Jefferson never said this,” “Neither of Jefferson’s inaugural addresses… state anything even remotely related to this.”

    I don’t *like* David Barton. I don’t *agree* with David Barton. He is picking and choosing the elements of Jefferson’s speech that he finds convenient, and he is updating them for his own use in a very dubious manner. Attack him for cherry-picking, if you like. Attack him for vagueness. Attack him for reinterpreting and reapplying Jefferson’s legacy, even. But I don’t see How you can attack him for fabricating the document, because It’s Right There.

    Much of this post deals in criticizing conservatives for fabricating evidence in their case against progressivism. I’m not going after your main point, and give you give plenty of good defenses for it that have nothing to do with Barton and Jefferson. But when you make precious little comments like “I don’t know where you’re pulling any of this from, Mr. Barton. It wouldn’t be that hard to *look* at Jefferson’s inaugural address…, would it?” and “Research Jefferson’s 1801 address…. You won’t find anything like what Barton says here,” it’s as if you’re fabricating allegations with which to assault the fabricators. The irony is delicious, but the case is weak.

  6. I did read the speech. I’m sorry to say that I either didn’t catch the “frugality” statement, or attributed it to a relatively meaningless platitude, rather than THE foundation of government as interpreted by Mr. Barton. Upon reading the Inaugural Address, Jefferson seemed to make no points of the sort. I just didn’t even consider the idea that Jefferson would, according to Mr. Barton, choose to hide important policy points directly in between flourishes like “honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man” and “delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter”.

    To revise/restate my position, Mr. Barton used *words* in the address to promote *ideas* that were evidently not in the address. When I say “You won’t find anything like what Barton says here,” I mean that his almost artful juxtaposition of out-of-context, reinterpreted ‘quotes’ and blatant conservative analysis is completely foreign to the spirit of the address. And even the letter, if you read it correctly.

  7. I would like to point out just a few things.

    First, I feel like your argument is weakened by your presentation. The almost line-by-line break up of the comments makes you appear almost fanatic, like you can’t wait to jump on any inaccuracy, no matter how small. Especially when your interjected comments offer no further argument. I think you would certainly appear more credible if you approach this with a little more levelheadedness.

    You harp on Beck for calling America the “most prosperous nation in the history of the planet.” It’s definitely an extreme claim, but I don’t think it would be that hard to argue for. (You only mention other cultures or nations instead of actually giving any return argument.) Also, you are thinking too narrowly, interpreting “prosperous” as solely an economical term. I think he intended it as a more general term. In that respect, The United States isn’t the longest lasting nation. It doesn’t control the most land or have any sort of global monopoly. But the time in which it has existed is increasingly more dynamic. Ray Kurzweil, in a more technological sense, argues that the rate of human progress is increasing exponentially. That 50 years of progress at our current rate will really only take 15-20 years. Thinking this way, The United States’s combination of true economic prosperity (especially compared to the rest of the world) and its duration its probably unmatched by any other civilization.

    You said, “They were never going to get this past “any of the states”? Actually, every state ratified the Constitution,” in reference to the development of the Constitution while the Articles of Confederation was the law of the land. I believe Beck was making the more general point that what the Continental Congress was doing was technically illegal. Perhaps not the “states” specifically would object, but if Madison and Jefferson had presented less refined ideas they could have been shot down.

    That’s my 3 cents.
    (I value myself a little more.)

    • First: I admit I first approached this with quite a bit of bias, and I wished to refute as much of the show as possible. There isn’t even much of Beck’s main point in this segment of the show, so I just wanted to sort of provide a prelude to his actual arguments against progressives in the later posts.

      Yes, I do agree that America is either in a Golden Age or it has recently passed through one (though that is an oversimplification.) I do believe that in terms of absolute prosperity, America (and other modern nations) far surpass most to all previous nations. But relatively, in most comparisons of modern nations, America doesn’t come out #1.

      Yes, but Beck framed it incorrectly, that’s my point. Even where he makes a potentially valid point he seems to syntactically mess it up somehow.

      Thanks for the comment.

  8. Pingback: Beck Deconstruction, part two « Il Piano

  9. Also, that Barton guy is an idiot. Claiming that Washington called everyone together to fix things?

    And bonus points for mentioning that Jefferson wanted a more agrarian society. I remember reading about that in AP US History, but that was before I had any idea what was going on.

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