Sunday, April 12, 2009

Beck's 912 project

Conservative commentator Glenn Beck has a project. He calls it the 912 project, and its main mission is to "bring us all back to the place we were" the day after 9/11. "We were not obsessed with Red states, Blue states, or political parties. We were united as Americans..."

A noble ideal to be sure...until you look at it a bit closer. Beck has 12 values which he believes the project embodies: honesty, reverence, hope, thrift, humility, charity, sincerity, moderation, hard work, courage, personal responsibility, and gratitude. Alright, a good start.

Then you look at the 9 principles the project promotes. Via Wikipidia:
* America Is Good.
* I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life.
* I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday.
* The family is sacred.
* If you break the law you pay the penalty.
* I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results.
* I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to.
* It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.
* The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me.
Basically, a conservative's laundry list of values. First, the belief that America is good is, again, noble. But, looking at who the author is, this belief borders on blind patriotism. Believing that America is good is one thing; believing that it can do no wrong is another.

The second principle -- a belief in God and making Him the center of your life -- ignores a growing trend in America: more people are looking elsewhere for meaning in their lives. I'm not harping against Christians or Christianity (I myself am one), but to make being Christian a principle upon which it means to be American ignores not only this new trend but also the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Being more honest is a trait that is worth having. It would do Beck good to take his third principle to's all nice to say you want to be more honest today than yesterday, but putting it into practice is something Beck needs to work on (for example, his understanding of Thomas Paine is greatly skewed).

The fourth principle (the family is sacred) is more an appeal, I'm sure, by Beck to promote so-called family values. These values usually rely upon conservative reasoning, again a flawed view that tradition trumps rational decision making when it comes to how people live their lives.

The fifth principle promotes the enforcement of law and punishment of those who are convicted of crimes. Again, there is nothing wrong with this in theory, but coming from such a staunch conservative as Beck, it probably really means he's against the appeals process as it stands in America today. We ought to embrace that process in order to be sure we have rightly convicted those who are guilty, rather than leaving doubts to fester when we send someone to prison.

Principle six sounds ideal, too, in that no one can expect the same results as another person when it comes to happiness. In other words, results WILL vary, and I agree with Beck when it comes to happiness, we cannot expect to all be at the same level. However, his results-may-vary disclaimer, when applied to liberty, is disturbing. Shouldn't everyone expect to have the same results when it comes to their liberties? That is how a democracy works -- it has to apply to everyone equally or else it isn't functioning properly.

Working hard for what you have is a strong American principle, as is sharing it with whom you want. But this principle may be Beck's way of endorsing a "no taxes" clause within his list of principles. Taxes are an important part of our nation; no one likes them, but they love the results. A modest tax doesn't hurt anyone, and a progressive tax ensures that the poor aren't getting screwed by the system, something Beck likes to look over when he talks about "big government."

Principle eight is interesting because it endorses the belief that dissent is patriotic. However, is this truly a principle America endorsed in the days after 9/11? Ask Bill Maher, whose network television show Politically Incorrect was canceled after he refused to believe the terrorists were cowards (he didn't condone their actions, but felt it was hardly cowardly to perform the acts that they did). Dissent during the Bush administration was hardly acceptable, whether you were dealing with the government or the media. But now, with a liberal president in office, the right to dissent is suddenly being re-evaluated by the conservative activists who once derided it. Funny how that works.

Finally, principle nine, read literally, shows that Beck believes the government works for him. Of course, when writing it, he meant that the government works for the people. But in practice, Beck doesn't show much respect for this principle. The people elected a candidate who wasn't too reserved when talking about raising taxes on the rich, something that Beck vehemently opposes. Populism, then, is only beneficial to Beck when it works in his favor.

These principles do not represent what it means to be an American; they represent Beck's vision for America, a conservative utopia where the rich get richer, the poor stay poor, and religion rules the day in all other aspects of life.

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