Glenn Beck, Republican strategist

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By Gabriel Winant and Tim Bella Salon

Oct. 12, 2009 | Something strange has happened to rank-and-file Republicans since President Obama took office. These past few months, standard-issue gray lawmakers have sounded like fire-and-brimstone demagogues. Conspiracy theories and over-the-top legislation to fix imaginary wrongs are flying wildly around formerly mainstream GOP circles.

     

It turns out that like so much of what ails the world today, this can be traced back to Glenn Beck. Some fifth-term Iowa senator might be railing against death panels, but it’s really Beck’s voice you’re hearing. With his show on Fox News, Beck has successfully positioned himself as the weirdo right’s ambassador-at-large to the rest of the world. When the patron saint of the Tea Parties lets his freak flag fly, seemingly normal right-wing functionaries have been known to line up and salute. Republicans parrot Beck’s crackpot notions and pet issues routinely — sometimes running with his manias the morning after he first airs them.

Take Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. In the middle of the Senate Finance Committee’s debate over healthcare reform legislation last month, he broke out with an analogy about frogs failing to jump out of boiling water, one that seemed to have little to do with what he was discussing. "Sounds to me like it’s the old story about the frog in the pot of water on the stove that pretty soon the heat’s turned up so slowly that the frog doesn’t know it’s cooked," Cornyn said. Where might he have gotten the idea? Perhaps from Beck — who the night before had pretended to boil a frog on TV. "You know the old saying, if you put a frog into boiling water, he’s going to jump right out, because he’s scalding hot, but if you place the frog in lukewarm water and gradually raise the temperature, it won’t realize what’s happening and die?" he asked viewers (who, apparently, included the junior senator from Texas). "We have been tossed quickly into boiling water!"

Democrats watch this all with some bemusement. "In the absence of any new leadership and an unwillingness to put forward any new ideas, the Republican Party has become the party of cranks and conspiracy theorists," Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan says. "And that’s exactly why their popularity rivals that of swine flu. And they will remain marginalized so long as they continue to talk to the tinfoil hat crowd." But Beck is more than a harmless — if deranged — entertainer. His ability to push the GOP from rhetoric to action means he can inject toxic ideas and fears directly into the body politic. It was Beck who raised the most alarm over Obama’s czars and his allegedly totalitarian instincts, after all. Here’s a guide to some of Beck’s greatest hits, and how they wormed their way into the real world.

Read more at Salon

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