So, the other day, Glenn Beck got on his radio show and advocated that parents abuse and bully their children in an effort to teach them about their rights (no, really). A friend posted the article that accompanied the rant on his facebook page with the comment that “the degree to which left-leaning websites have taken the last paragraph out of context is laughable.” Since I needed more space than a facebook post could provide me to prove that, no, the last paragraph is NOT being taken out of context – that, in fact, the entire premise upon which Beck is making his claim borders on actual insanity – I decided to deconstruct Beck’s paranoid, delusional rant here.
You won’t believe what these people are trying to do, and it fits right into that, just on a very grand scale. This is just a small scale. ‘The Bill of Rights are outdated. Bill of Rights are outdated, kids. So, let’s help rewrite it. In fact, why don’t you tweet your answers.’ The Bill of Rights are outdated? I have a right to speak. I have a right to worship God. To my understanding, I have a right not to be searched. I have a right not to testify against myself.
So far, so good. Ignoring the dismissive and disrespectful (and contextually vague) “these people,” he DOES have those rights, though I think he’s failing to address that he doesn’t have complete and unfettered rights to those things. He does have the right to speak, but there are also limits on those rights; he’s not allowed to slander, he’s not allowed to lie under oath, he’s not allowed to threaten or incite to riot. He does not have the right not to be searched; we’re searched at airports and some sports and entertainment venues, and if a reasonable suspicion exists that we’re concealing something illegal or dangerous, law enforcement does have the right to search our persons and our property. The point is that these are not free-for-all, unencumbered rights; there are legal limits placed on all of them.
…Who do these people think they are? They think they are God because the Bill of Rights is outdated. The Bill of Rights, that’s what gives us the understanding of, you know, when people say, it’s an empty quote, ‘I’ve got rights, you know.’ Really? Name them. Name them. ‘Well, I’ve got rights.’ Name them. Name them. Tell me what they are. If you can’t name them, tell me where you get them. Where do you get them? Has anybody ever said, ‘I get my rights from the government.’ If you are saying that, the government then can take them away then, can’t they? So the government just decides, ‘Oh, you don’t have those rights.’ ‘I have rights.’ No, you told me the government gives you those rights. So, the government can take them away. If the government issues them, then the government can take them away.
Again with the “these people”? Regardles; um… yeah. The government CAN – and HAS – taken rights away.
It’s pretty clear here that Beck is aiming straight at the “GOD gives us rights!!” position. I’m certain he’s going there because the Declaration of Independence enshrined the idea that we “are endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (I find it interesting to note here that, when I brought up the idea of the Declaration in the last argument I had with an ultra-conservative article, I was told that the Declaration didn’t matter; it was the CONSTITUTION that mattered. I’m coming to understand that, like religious fundamentalists and the Bible, conservative fundamentalists only quote the bits of the founding documents that suit their purposes).
‘Well, I have rights.’ No you don’t. Now, where do you get your rights? All men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable, unchangeable rights.
Well, would you look at that! That’s exactly where Beck went! Surprise, surprise!
You cannot take them. You cannot amend them. You cannot bend them. Certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And the outdated Bill of Rights takes that a step further and says, ‘Because all men are created equal and given certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the government shall not ever do anything to stop you from speaking your mind. You have that right from God. And government shall never infringe on your right to say what you believe about the government.’
Okay, here’s where we get good. I don’t know where he’s getting the meme that the Bill of Rights is “outdated” (though there are certainly parts of the Constitution that could use some amendment. The Constitution was INTENDED to be a flexible document; the Founders were smart enough to know that the world wasn’t going to be like they knew it forever, but that’s a topic for another post), but he’s dead wrong when he says “you cannot take them” and “you cannot amend” or “bend them.” By way of investigation – and to be very clear about our parameters, let’s look specifically at what the First Amendment actually says, shall we?
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
This is the exact text of the First. If we look at it piece by piece, we see that the subject of that sentence is Congress and the verb is shall make, with the direct object being law (or, more specifically, no law). That’s pretty straightforward.
The first thing about which Congress shall not make a law is the establishment of religion, or the prohibition of the free exercise of religion. Basically, that means that the government can’t sanction a religion for the State (so when the ultra-conservatives and tea-party types scream that this is a “CHRISTIAN NATION!!” they are, not to put too fine a point on it, dead. Fucking. Wrong). To this point, the government has done an okay job with this one; *I* would argue that the Church as too much influence in politics and governance, and I would further argue that if Churches are going to partake in the political process, they should be taxed just like every other venture, but that’s an argument for another day.
The second thing that the First protects is the freedom of speech and the press. Again, this is not an unfettered right, regardless of what Beck and others like him would want you to believe. There are a NUMBER of limitations put on the freedom of speech.
Let’s start with Brandenberg v. Ohio. This was a case in which the Supreme Court established the “imminent lawless action” standard, which creates the “principle that the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action” (citation here). Short version; this is the “you can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded theatre” provision.
Further, speech is limited when it involves “false statement of fact” (a statute under which the entire organization of Fox News and 90% of the GOP should be prosecuted). This was decided in the Gertz v. Robert Welch case, in which SCOTUS ruled that “there is “no constitutional value in false statements of fact.” This gives us libel and slander law, among other things.
Speech is also limited in cases of obscenity (Miller v. California) and child pornography (New York v Ferber), “fighting words” and offensive speech (Chaplinski v. New Hampshire), threats (Virginia v Black), speech owned by others (plagiarism; Harper and Rowe v. Nation Enterprises), and in diminished protections for “commercial speech” (false advertising, bait-and-switch, etc).
FURTHER, the government enacts any NUMBER of limits on speech in its myriad capacities. The speech of government employees and members of the military is regulated. What can be broadcast over the airwaves is regulated. The speech of prisoners is regulated. Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, anyone?
The short version of all this is that GOD does not give us the right to free speech; the GOVERNMENT (and, to perhaps a greater extent, society) does. That means that, yes; the government CAN take that “right” away when it sees fit.
There are also restrictions on the right to assemble (which GOP governors seem to be making good use of as they order the detention and arrest of any number of protestors in their respective State Houses) and in petitioning the government for redress of grievances (one can be counter-sued by the government for bringing what it considers to be a frivolous claim).
Too many people were burned at the stake because they stood up against the church or they stood up against the government. And they were burned at the stake when they stood up against the church because the church was the government, which leads us to the other part of that: the government shall not endorse any religion, make a religion a requirement. You can’t force people. If you want to be mayor, I can’t force you to be a Catholic. Otherwise, only Catholics can be mayor. I cannot go against your conscience. If your conscience says, ‘No, my God tells me, my religion tells me that I will not comply. I will not go against what god tells me to do. I will not perform an abortion. I will not supply abortion pills or aid to abortion clinics because my God, my understanding of God tells me I don’t have to.’ You want to. You can. I will have no part in that.
Bullshit. We live in a society with rules and laws. Your religious beliefs DO NOT supersede the laws of the land. You cannot abuse children because your religion tells you to (up to an including denying children medical treatment). You cannot practice polygamy in the United States, even if your religion requires it. You cannot practice child marriage in the United States. Certain psychedelic substances are banned, even from religious ceremonies. If your God tells you to practice ritual human sacrifice – even with a willing victim – you will go to jail for murder. You have a right to BELIEVE however you want, but you DO NOT have the right to BEHAVE however you want.
…That’s why you have the second right: that you will never be infringed. A right to keep and bear arms. Our government was not afraid of a foreign force. They were afraid of government. They were not afraid of jihad. They were afraid of the government because they had just lived through it.
No, they weren’t “afraid of government.” The Second Amendment was passed to strengthen militias (think National Guard) to put down citizen rebellions (like Shay’s), slave revolts, and Indian attacks. Armed rebellion against the new government was considered treason, and hey, guess what? IT STILL IS!
You can’t put soldiers in my house and make me feed them.
This is true, and there hasn’t been any need for the military to do that, so it’s not a big issue of contention.
You can’t haul me off in the middle of the night.
Um… yeah, we can. If law enforcement has a warrant, they can haul you off in the middle of the night, in the middle of the day, or right in the middle of supper.
I have a right to say what I want to make my case, let my voice be heard, stand in front of a jury.
That’s true as far as it goes, but you do NOT have the right to “say what [you] want to make [your] case,” if saying what you want involves lying under oath. That speech is NOT protected.
There are no secret courts.
Not that we’re aware of, no, but that’s part of the problem with “secret” courts….
You can’t spy on me.
Really? Been watching the news lately, have ya?
You can’t come in and take my papers and just look at all my stuff. You need a warrant. If people understood this, they would never have gone for the IRS. The IRS you are guilty until proven innocent. You are guilty. They tell you, provide the information. Show us how you have not cheated us. Show us. I tell you what, federal government, why don’t you abide by the Constitution? You show me how I have violated it. You show me the evidence. I’m innocent until proven guilty. Who are you to tell me? Produce these things. You produce them.
Yeah… no. The 16th Amendment was passed in 1913 WITH the requisite number of states’ ratification, so it IS, by definition, a Constitutional organization. Its operation is highly regulated and adjudicated. What’s more, Beck can’t have it both ways; because taxes are constitutionally required, either it is the individuals’ responsibility to report their income in order to determine their tax responsibility OR the government knows exactly how much we earn because they require regular reports of our income. Which would he prefer?
The whole world has been turned upside down and inside out by progressives. ‘It’s an outdated document.’ No. I’m sorry. Universal truths are never out of date. They may be out of fashion because man’s tastes change. Sometimes they want to be free. Sometimes they just want to be counted. Sometimes they just want to be seen. Sometimes they just say, ’I’m not a number. I’m a human being.’ Sometimes we see the struggle of the individual. Sometimes we see that one person, that every single one of us matters. And then other times as always happens, whether it’s the length of skirts or the cut of hair. Fashion comes and goes and fashion dictates… And the rights of man. The rights of man are much more important than the rights of men, a single man.
I’m not entirely sure what he’s trying to say here; if I received this from a student, I’d send it back asking for some pretty serious clarification. He doesn’t offer any evidence for the world being “turned upside down and inside out by progressives,” so I’m not sure what, exactly, he’s whining about here. He hasn’t made much of a case for “Universal truths,” as I’ve demonstrated through case law that the truths that Beck is claiming are “universal” are, in fact, subject to the established legal precedent of the government. The “they” in his sixth sentence refers to the “truths” in the fifth, but the “they” in subsequent sentences does not, so I’m not certain to whom Beck is referring here (though he COULD be talking about the “progressives” in his first sentence, who’ve apparently turned the world inside out and upside down, but I can’t be sure).
The rest of his paragraph is incomprehensible; I honestly have no idea what his point is here, though the last sentence seems to be saying that it’s okay to limit the rights of the individual for the greater, common good. If that’s an accurate reading, then EVERY SINGLE THING he’s said to this point has just been invalidated because, up until now, he’s been trying (in his fevered, paranoid, barely comprehensible way) to argue that the “rights” of the individual are sacrosanct. For him to close this (I suppose you could call it a “thought”) by saying that the rights of “man” are more important than the rights of “a single man” is self-contradictory.
Here’s where he goes for the big finish. Brace yourselves:
Ask your kids tonight at dinner, what gives you the right. Challenge them. Get in their face.
“Get in their face.” Translation: bully them. Intimidate them. Threaten them. I challenge my kids (both biological and academic) by asking them questions, not “getting in their faces.”
You talk about, I’ve got rights, you know? Really? Who issues them? Teach them a lesson. Push them to the wall, they are going to cry, it’s going to hurt their feelings.
In the common vernacular, “teaching someone a lesson” usually involves the application of some kind of force. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not in the habit of TRYING to make my children cry or of purposefully hurting their feelings. Apparently, though, Mr. Beck thinks I should be.
Push them. Because if you don’t do it now, it’s going to be much worse when they are pushed and they are shoved and they are shot.
So, the only way that people are reasonably challenged in Beck’s world is if they are challenged violently, huh? Okay, I suppose that makes sense. Beck’s worldview seems to be that of a maligned and threatened truth-teller whose efforts to enlighten the population inexplicably results in his being the target of threats and violence, apparently.
Push them. Teach them. They need to know the truth. And they need to be pushed up against the wall once in a while so they know they can defend themselves.
The only time people need to “defend themselves” is when they’re being threatened. Beck is advocating THREATENING children. You can argue that “pushing them against the wall” is metaphorical – and perhaps it is – but that doesn’t change this idea one bit.
Further, the parent-child relationship is INHERENTLY unequal. Backing someone of lesser power or authority than you up against a wall – literally or metaphorically – is threatening and intimidating.
Beck is NOT advocating the kind of defense I practice with my kids. What I do is ask my kids to think critically about topics; to look at EVIDENCE and advocate for a position. Often, I ask them to take the CONTRARY opinion so that they can practice thinking beyond their own experience. I do not tell them WHAT to think. He’s advocating putting people – particularly children, who are already at a disadvantage in the relationship – in a position where they have to challenge authority that they’ve likely been told they have no right to challenge (and in what are likely very stern terms; the conservative family is pretty high on the “honor thy mother and (particularly) thy father” bit). It’s VERY clear, both from this rant and from what I’ve heard him say on prior occasions, that he’s not at ALL interested in entertaining ANY position but that which he advocates. Say the wrong thing, kid, and you’re getting the strap (or worse, getting kicked out of the house). People do not do good critical thinking under threat.
And what “truth” are we talking about here? This line, maybe more than any other, tells me that Beck is NOT advocating challenging people (children) to think critically. If there is a “truth” that people “need to know,” there’s no room for questioning or speculation; you either believe and adhere, or you don’t (not that this stance surprises me in the least).
They know they can survive. They don’t run around like little girls crying at the drop of a hat.
There is nothing about this sentiment that is not blatantly offensive. Not only does it equate girls with weakness (BIG surprise there), but it also implies that Beck does not think that “little girls” are subject to this “truth” knowing. “All men are created equal,” unless you’re a woman, I suppose.
Push them. Failure is important. It is the only way to success. Let them fail. Teach them that it’s the way that you fail and you treat your success and your failure, so are both imposters, to quote Rudyard Kipling, and treat them both the same.
I have NO idea what this last sentence means. The only Kipling quote I could find about failure is “we have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse,” but I can’t figure out how that ties into what Beck is trying to say…
What is inside of you? Who are you? And what right do you have? And who gives it to you?
Ending a thought with a question is a fine tactic IF you’ve offered enough evidence in the body of your work to allow your reader/listener to come up with an answer. Beck hasn’t done this; in fact, all he’s succeeded in doing is mashing together a bunch of paranoid, baseless assertions about God and rights and the implication that, somehow, the world is coming to an end.
In the end, I don’t think there’s a bit of this that’s logically defensible. That being said, I really didn’t expect anything else from Glenn Beck.