Glenn Beck vs. Van Jones: McCarthyism Enters the 21st Century

mcbeckWhen Fox News’ Glenn Beck called President Barack Obama a “racist” and claimed that he had “a deep-seated hatred for white people” an African-American netroots group,, organized a successful boycott of Beck’s corporate sponsors. It wasn’t long until 57 of Beck’s sponsors jumped ship lest they be associated with Beck’s own “deep-seated” white supremacy.

Burned, Beck and his right-wing Republican producers sought revenge by using his slice of the echo chamber to go after Van Jones, one of President Obama’s most important advisers on green jobs, who could be linked to ColorOfChange. Beck and his buddies viewed Jones as the low-hanging fruit of the Obama White House and launched a focused smear campaign against him.

During one of his many conspiracy-laden tirades Beck asked: “Will progressive pigs fly right out of Van Jones’ butt and pedal bicycles to” replace coal power? It didn’t take much time under the glare of Beck’s assault for Jones to make the politic move and resign his official post.

The New Republic‘s John McWhorter criticized Beck’s bullying of Jones raising the question: “What, precisely, would have been wrong with letting Glenn Beck and the others keep screaming their heads off about Jones’ purported radical intentions?” I think McWhorter poses a valid question but in the current political context of the looming health care Battle Royale handing the Far Right a 24-hour news cycle feeding frenzy centered on Jones would be a distraction the president does not need right now. Regrettably, the right-wing echo chamber flexed its muscle and Jones is gone. He had little choice but to leave. (Van Jones is still the “Top Story” on Beck’s website.) But that doesn’t make it right.

The Beck vs. Jones saga illustrates that even with the Republicans out of power their control over a propaganda ministry called Fox News, combined with their domination of the AM radio dial, still allows them to frame the debates within our wider political discourse.

What Glenn Beck, Roger Ailes, and their allies did in drumming Van Jones out of the government was an example of 21st century McCarthyism. They smeared Jones’ past political remarks and associations the same way Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn smeared a young Boston lawyer named Fred Fisher for being a member of the National Lawyers Guild, which they called “the legal mouthpiece of the Communist Party.” There’s no difference.

I always said that if Joe McCarthy were alive today he’d have his own show on Fox News. Well, there you have it. Beck’s tactics, which are identical to McCarthy’s, have entered the bloodstream of our body politic. At some point someone has got to ask the well-timed question that Joseph Welch asked Joe McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” That “sense of decency” to which Mr. Welch referred left our political discourse long ago, somewhere between Lee Atwater and Karl Rove.

What I find interesting about the hyperventilating and shrill denunciations of Jones’ mild past remarks coming from Beck and his legions of aggrieved white men is that President George W. Bush had surrounded himself for eight years with a stunning collection of political hacks and charlatans who had said things in the past that would make Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachmann sound cool and rational.

To take just one of many possible examples, Bush chose a guy, not just to be one his advisers, but to sit on the federal bench in Little Rock, Arkansas named James Leon Holmes. Holmes was the former president of Arkansas Right to Life who wrote that “the wife is to subordinate herself to her husband” and “the woman is to place herself under the protection of Christ.” An earlier example of what flowed from Holmes’ pen said this: “[c]oncern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.” (Miami saw snow once in a hundred years; there were 32,000 women who became pregnant by rape the year Holmes wrote this drivel.)

I only bring up this example to show that no right-wing administration has to worry about purges of their people from a powerless but noisy Left, showing once again the bankruptcy of the faux balance the mainstream press insists on imposing on these types of political fights.


If you serve a right-wing Republican president you can write or say anything you want, even be connected to the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (C of CC). But if you serve a liberal Democratic president, like the “pinks” who fell victim to McCarthyism, you can be taken down in a heartbeat.

Joseph Palermo

Originally published by the Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author

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Published by the LA Progressive on September 9, 2009
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About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).