Glenn Beck’s Social Security Problem

Fox News host Glenn Beck (4/13/10) came out against Social Security yesterday:

Have you ever wondered why we even have Social Security? It’s not an American idea. It’s first from Germany in the late 1800s. Hmmm, lets see, who else was prominent in Germany at that time…Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche. This is where the first progressive ideas came from, and when those ideas floated across the Atlantic, they took America off course…. The progressive wave of European social insurance infected America and this is the result of it. This is European thinking, not American.

Now, factchecking Glenn Beck is a bit like telling Jackson Pollack to color within the lines, but it’s worth pointing out, as Matthew Yglesias (4/8/10) noted, that Nietzsche was not only not a progressive, he actually comes across as someone who today might be a Glenn Beck fan:

Socialism is the fanciful younger brother of the almost expired despotism whose heir it wants to be; its endeavors are thus in the profoundest sense reactionary. For it desires an abundance of state power such as only despotism has ever had; indeed it outbids all the despotisms of the past inasmuch as it expressly aspires to the annihilation of the individual, who appears to it like an unauthorized luxury of nature destined to be improved into a useful organ of the community.

But more interesting than Beck’s forays into 19th century German philosophy are his attempts to whip up some resentment among his audience toward high-living grandmothers:

When FDR signed that Social Security bill, it wasn’t designed to subsidize a cushy retirement, so seniors could jet set all across the globe on vacations. Social Security was meant as insurance…. In1930 life expectancy was only 58 for men and 62 for women, and the retirement age was 65! You weren’t even expected to ever get the benefits. Today life expectancy is 75 years for men, 80 years for women, and too many people rely and count on Social Security funding their weekly shuffleboard tournaments. You should have saved!

The odd thing about this is that Beck’s audience, as with cable news in general, is pretty old–in a typical recent week, roughly 72 percent of his audience was 54 or older (assuming he doesn’t have a lot of under-18 fans). You have to wonder–how do they feel being painted as a bunch of freeloaders, currently or in the near future?

Beck may be falling into the trap of assuming that his followers have the same ideology that he does. He may oppose government social programs in general because he thinks such programs aren’t “American”–but there’s a large number of white Americans who oppose welfare programs because they are perceived as mainly benefiting black people, at the same time that they support social insurance programs like Social Security because they are seen as helping white people. One suspects that such people make up a significant percentage of Beck’s biggest fans.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.