New Yorker magazine assesses Glenn Beck. What could go wrong?

The persona that Beck has cobbled together over the past few years combines a determination to draw attention to himself, because what he has to say is so important, with an outsized, in-your-face show of modesty—he likes to refer to himself as a fatty (he’s barely overweight) and a clown, and, like many an egomaniac throughout history, he takes pains to present himself as a regular guy, shrugging his shoulders and saying, “But what do I know?” He declares himself no special friend to either Democrats or Republicans, and claims to be a libertarian, but his agenda is to throw tacks in front of the wheels of progress and, specifically, to make the Obama Administration crash and burn. Beck looks cherubic, with his boyish crewcut, his rubbery, expressive face, his wide eyes, and his seemingly innocent smile, but he has a wizened heart and a sulfurous outlook on American life and politics…

Beck’s negative, regressive take on politics is expressed with raw-throated outrage, smiley sarcasm, and, occasionally, a display of hurt, even tears. He’s very effective at putting himself over, but it’s unclear why he has been so effective at rallying people—and also unclear, for all his bluster, what it is, exactly, that he wants them to do, beyond keep on watching and listening to him and buying his books…

At the end of the Elia Kazan–Budd Schulberg movie “A Face in the Crowd,” the Arkansas opportunist and petty criminal who has been repackaged, by a radio broadcaster, as a guitar-playing professional hayseed called Lonesome Rhodes (played brilliantly by Andy Griffith), and who has been consumed and ruined by fame, shows his true colors when he bad-mouths his audience over an open mike. The nation abandons him, and, as the movie ends, he’s shouting, unheard, into the night. These days, because of the Internet, it’s not so easy to get rid of a demagogue. Long after Beck leaves radio and TV, his sound bites will still be with us.