Katie Couric is launching a new online interview series, called @katiecouric, this week, and her first subject is a pretty big get, at least if you believe what you read in TIME magazine: Glenn Beck. (Fun fact: Back and Couric have the same publicist. Because he just despises the MSM’s bias, not their professional assistants.)
In an online excerpt, Couric throws some political names at Beck, and “Hillary Clinton” elicits an interesting response, above. Interesting, but maybe not surprising.
People tend to lump TV opinion hosts—and anybody else with an opinion about politics—under either “liberal” or “conservative.” People thus call Beck a conservative talker, and he’s even used the label for himself. It’s true insofar as it goes, but it also goes to show how inadequate and limiting our language for describing politics is.
The fact is, there are numerous subgroups within “liberal” and “conservative,” and some of the liberal subgroups have more in common with come conservative subgroups than with other liberals; the same is true in reverse. In a column I wrote earlier this year about Glenn Beck, I made a point—then, I think, deleted it for space—about how calling Fox News a “conservative” opinion haven is true but insufficient.
Fox News, I wrote, is like the bar in The Blues Brothers that has “both kinds of music: country and western.” That is, it does so well in part because it brings under one umbrella several different kinds of conservative. There’s Neil Cavuto’s Wall Street, big-business conservatism, Mike Huckabee’s religious conservatism, Sean Hannity’s party-line Republicanism, Bill O’Reilly’s grouchy reactionariness—and now, touching a hot-button in the year of budget stimuli, Glenn Beck’s conservative (and paranoid) libertarianism.
You can argue whether all those labels are accurate or whether those hosts are consistent in their values, but the point is, these can be very different beliefs when it comes to issues like bank bailouts or foreign policy. “Liberal” and “conservative” imply that there is a single axis on which American politics is plotted, and all that needs to be done is to figure out where any given person lies on that line. But there are a lot of axes: authoritarian vs. libertarian, internationalist vs. nationalist, activist vs. laissez-faire, individualist vs. communitarian, moralist vs. nonjudgmental, social libertarian vs. economic libertarian, and so on.
To someone like Beck, with his get-government-out-of-the-way refrain, a President who believes in government doing a lot, vigorously, is bad, period. You can argue whether that’s really an accurate description of McCain, but as Beck says, it is an accurate description of McCain’s idol Teddy Roosevelt. The fact that anyone would reflexively assume that Glenn Beck and John McCain would be simpatico only shows how weak and inaccurate “liberal” and “conservative” are as labels and how much nuance we lose with them.
And yes, I did just use “Glenn Beck” and “nuance” in the same sentence. Have at me in the comments.