Speaking on his syndicated radio program last week, conservative Tea Partier Glenn Beck accused U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) of being a "progressive."
"I looked up some stuff on Paul Ryan," said Beck, who then quoted from a speech Ryan recently gave in Oklahoma.
Beck, who also hosts a television show on Fox News, inadvertently revealed his lack of historical knowledge by mispronouncing the name of Wisconsin's Robert LaFollette, one of the pioneers of the American Progressive movement in the early part of the 20th century.
"At this point, I'm thinking, ‘Paul's probably not my candidate,'" Beck said, acknowledging that he does not know Ryan. "I'm sorry, Paul Ryan, but I believe you're wrong ... We don't need another John McCain."
This was another instance in which Beck took a little piece of information -- in this case a snippet from a Ryan speech -- and blew it all out of proportion and out of context for dramatic effect without regard to the truth.
I asked Ryan's press secretary, Kevin Seifert, if he would like to comment about Beck's rant. Initially, Seifert declined.
That was understandable. It would not seem to be in Ryan's immediate best interests to get into a public confrontation or debate with Beck, who has been given the megaphone to sway millions of Americans.
So, I decided to come to Ryan's defense here. It was ridiculous for Beck to accuse Ryan of being a Progressive. Ryan is one of the rising stars of the Republican Party, a man with considerable conservative credentials. Ryan is a policy wonk who is capable not only of saying "no" to ideas from the left, but offering his own solutions as alternatives.
The Beck/Ryan situation illustrated how profoundly correct David Frum is. Frum, who was a special assistant to President George W. Bush, recently wrote a column for CNN.com in which he said Republicans decided early on to refuse to negotiate with President Barack Obama on health care reform.
Frum wrote: "The vitriolic talking heads on conservative talk radio and shock TV have very different imperatives from people in government. Talk radio thrives on confrontation and recrimination. When Rush Limbaugh said that he wanted Obama to fail, he was intelligently explaining his own interests. What he omitted to say -- but what is equally true -- is that he also wants Republicans to fail. If Republicans succeed -- if they govern successfully in office and negotiate attractive compromises out of office -- Rush's listeners get less angry. And if they are less angry, they listen to the radio less and hear fewer ads for Sleep Number beds. So today's defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it's mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, however, the ‘Waterloo' threatened by GOP Sen. Jim DeMint last year regarding Obama and health care has finally arrived all right: Only it turns out to be our own."
One day after writing his column, Frum was fired from his position as a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
In subsequent interviews, Frum said the Fox News Network had been created as a public information service for the Republican Party. However, the tables have been turned, he said.
"Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox," Frum said.
Conservative politicians are perfectly willing to take on criticism from the left. Their worst nightmare, especially in primary season, is to have the likes of Beck, Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or their local talk radio surrogates targeting them from the right.
"It’s getting ridiculous. We can’t stand up to these guys, because they have the microphones, and we’d be drummed out of office," lamented one Republican elected official from Wisconsin who asked not to be identified for fear of being targeted by the very people we’re writing about today.
A few days later, Ryan's office called Beck to refute the talk show host's accusation that Ryan was a progressive. Beck eventually put Ryan on his show. They cleared the air, with Beck ultimately saying to Ryan, "I love you."
The tail is wagging the dog. Put that on your chalkboard.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.
Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at email@example.com.