Does Glenn Beck have any shame? He'd like for us to think he does because the conservative host quickly apologized for making fun of President Barack Obama's 11-year-old daughter Malia on his radio show last week. For about four minutes, Beck and co-host Pat Gray pretended to be the president and his daughter. Speaking in a little-girl voice, Beck played Malia while Gray was Obama.
They imagined President Obama's conversation with his daughter after he told reporters during a press conference that Malia had asked him if he had stopped the oil leak. (Transcript courtesy of Mediaite.)
GLENN BECK: (imitating Malia): Daddy? Daddy? Daddy, did you plug the hole yet? Daddy?
PAT GRAY: (co-host) (imitating Obama): No I didn't, honey.
BECK: (imitating Malia): Daddy, I know you're better than [unintelligible]
GRAY: (imitating Obama): Mm-hmm, big country.
BECK: (imitating Malia): And I was wondering if you've plugged that hole yet.
GRAY: (imitating Obama): Honey, not yet.
BECK: (imitating Malia): Why not, daddy? But daddy—
GRAY: (imitating Obama): Not time yet, honey. Hasn't done enough damage.
Beck has just suggested that the president can benefit politically by letting the oil continue to escape—or worse, may be holding back a solution for cynical purposes. That is quite an indictment, but there's more.
A few seconds later, Beck switches topics.
BECK: (imitating Malia) Why do you hate black people so much?
GRAY: (imitating Obama) I'm part white, honey.
BECK: (imitating Malia) What?
GRAY: (imitating Obama) What?
At one point, Beck breaks out of character to declare: "Is that their—that's the level of their education, that they're coming to—they're coming to daddy and saying 'Daddy, did you plug the hole yet?'" This was the part that some media pundits conceded had crossed the line, the implication that Malia was stupid or uneducated. And once the controversy exploded, Beck quickly admitted he had broken his own rule to keep families out of the political debate.
People will make up their own minds about the sincerity of the apology. But the incident gives us a valuable peek under Beck's ideological skirt. His occasional rages, or "mistakes," like his screams at a woman who challenged his views on health care, often ring more true than much of what he says on a daily basis—as if they escape from the gut and not from the calculating brain behind the lucrative commercial enterprise known as Glenn Beck. So rather than have to consider how angry a man must get to malign a child, we can more constructively analyze the rest of the dialogue to reconstruct Beck's mental roadmap.
In addition to race hate and criminal negligence, he also accuses the president of not being his own man. In the skit, "Malia" quotes the first lady as saying that the presidency was like a puppet show, "with somebody's hand up your back … Is it George Soros that is making you talk like that?" A few seconds later, Beck suggests that John Podesta, a former Clinton aide who runs the influential liberal think tank, the Center for American Progress, is putting words in the president's mouth.
The charge that the president is just a mouthpiece for powerful interests mirrors statements of some liberal commentators during Ronald Reagan's era, that Reagan was just a salesman for the right. Reagan, of course, was a notoriously hands-off manager, but he clearly had a core set of beliefs. At the same time, there were a number of incidents during his presidency that suggested his hold on reality was sometimes flimsy. On several occasions, he confused movie plots with reality. In one case, he told attendees at a Congressional Medal of Honor Society meeting about the commander of a B-17 bomber in World War II who chose to go down with his crewmen rather than bail out. Reagan apparently got the idea from a Hollywood production, Wing and a Prayer.
On the face of Barack Obama's intellectual achievements, it's difficult to explain how Beck can see him as an empty suit. Degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law School (magna cum laude and president of Harvard Law Review), and two well-written autobiographical books should dispel the notion that the president can't think for himself—even if you don't agree with what he thinks. In fact, some of his critics from the left have accused the president of being too coolly intellectual and not macho enough on issues that matter. But when someone like Glenn Beck comes to the conclusion that the president is simply a mouthpiece for the evil plans of others, it's quite a stretch toward irrationality.
Let's not call it racism, a much overused word. Better to imagine that Beck suffers from synaptic discontinuity, a misfiring of his brain cells, possibly the result of trying to cope with the enormity of having a black man in charge of the country—and, to a degree that it makes him uncomfortable and irrational—in charge of Glenn Beck's fate—and, by extension, the fate of his extended white tribe of listeners.
Obama doesn't get that benefit of the doubt from the right. By contrast, one persistent theme of right-wing attacks on Obama, illustrated in the Beck skit, is that he is up to something evil and "un-American." In the right-wing universe, there's always a cloud of evil intent or illegality lurking beneath the surface of the Obama administration—whether the topic is health care, immigration or the oil spill, they have a problem with him and his "Chicago thugs." Apparently, he does not want to solve the country's economic problems, guarantee its security or get the Gulf oil leak stopped.
This is where Beck's imagined Obama puppeteers come in. The problem for Beck is not that the president is black—not in the current "post-racial" world—but that he's possessed by demons from the left intent on harming America. Or worse, Obama is just an empty suit, controlled by the vast left-wing conspiracy that includes people like the billionaire Marxist Soros, the socialist Podesta and other abortion-supporting, soft-on-immigration, affirmative-action demons. Based on Beck's beliefs, the president either needs an exorcist or someone to cut his puppet strings.
Joel Dreyfuss is managing editor of The Root. Follow him on Twitter.