A healthier approach is to allow a wide array of screamers to soak up the angry energy of alienated citizens. Following the 2004 presidential election, a number of enraged lefties believed that George W. Bush’s presidential campaign had stolen the presidential election by manipulating the vote count in Ohio through the misuse of electronic voting machines. In years past, this might have been ignored as a fringe belief. But it so happens that MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann was willing to give the story considerable attention. Because Olbermann was willing to lend credence to the Ohio story, true believers treated him as an honest broker. And when Olbermann eventually moved on, they did too, for the most part.
Glenn Beck does something very similar. During a fascinating live chat with readers of The Washington Post, Beck addressed the question of extremist violence a number of times. One reader asked Beck point blank if he, like many of the commenters on his Web site, advocated a violent revolution. Beck condemned violence, and said that “we need to model ourselves after Martin Luther King and Gandhi.” Another reader thoughtfully asked how Beck avoids pushing fringe groups to violence, to which Beck responded that “the fringe groups hate my guts. The fringe groups think I’m a government stooge.” And in a sense the fringe groups were right. Rather than stoke the fears of his audience, Beck’s occasionally loopy warnings about socialist totalitarianism and the coming American civil war actually inoculate his viewers against truly extreme sentiments. You couldn’t invent a better government stooge than Beck.