Glenn Beck’s Next Target after Piven: Nixon?

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Tamar W. Carroll is a Visiting Assistant Professor of History at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.

Glenn Beck not only distorts history but his warped view of the past has made it almost impossible for us to discuss seriously the appropriate role of the government in providing for the general welfare as well as the rights and responsibilities of citizens.  For much of the twentieth century, Republicans and Democrats shared a belief in basic American fairness and the desirability of improving the lot of all Americans.  They also recognized the right of citizens to public expression of dissent and the duty to improve their communities.  In the midst of Beck’s histrionic denunciations, we cannot afford to forget this part of our nation’s history.

Recent news reports tell of sociologist Frances Fox Piven, 78, receiving death threats after being targeted, along with her late husband, Richard Cloward, by TV host Glenn Beck as an “enemy” of the U.S. Constitution.  Over the past year, Beck has repeatedly attacked what he terms the “Cloward-Piven Strategy,” based on the pair’s 1966 article in The Nation, “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty.”  At that time, many people eligible for welfare were denied payments in part or fully, often as a result of “Midnight Raids” intended to cut off benefits to unmarried women found to be cohabitating with a man.  Cloward and Piven had advised advocates for the poor to ensure that everyone entitled to welfare benefits actually received them.   They suggested that the resulting stress on the welfare system from increased payments might lead to more support for a “guaranteed annual income.”  This negative income tax, they hoped, would “wipe out poverty.”

Beck claims that Piven and Cloward’s “guaranteed income” is “Marxism.”  Really?  In 1969 President Richard Nixon proposed just that in his Family Assistance Plan (FAP).  The FAP provided a guaranteed minimum income to every American family, including the working poor, by replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children with direct cash payments to needy Americans.  Welfare advocates felt the amount—$1,600 for a family of four plus $800 in food stamps—was too low, the FAP did not receive sufficient support to be politically viable, and Nixon dropped it prior to his 1972 campaign.  Since the 1970s, Nixon’s been called a lot of things, but “Marxist” is not one of them.  Even conservative economist Milton Friedman supported a negative income tax.  Beck’s conflation of social welfare provision with “Marxism” and protest with “inciting violence” is inaccurate and unhelpful at best.  Since the FAP failed, no one in power has advocated implementing a guaranteed minimum income.  So why resurrect an attack on the 1966 “Cloward-Piven Strategy” today? 

Piven and Cloward are just two on Beck’s list of people he contends comprise “the roots of the tree of radicalism and revolution.”  Let’s bracket the downright odd inclusion of President Woodrow Wilson and the more understandable, if dated, selection of former Weather Underground members Bill Ayers and Jeff Jones.  Beck’s remaining targets are leading theorists and practitioners of community organizing.  Over the course of their careers, Cloward and Piven have provided leadership and inspiration to a number of grassroots groups, including the War on Poverty demonstration project Mobilization for Youth; the National Welfare Rights Organization; and Human SERVE, the nonprofit organization central to achieving the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, or the Motor Voter Bill, to increase voter registration.  Beck’s other targets—Saul Alinsky, ACORN founder Wade Rathke, and the leadership of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)—shared with Piven and Cloward a belief in participatory democracy, community organizing, and non-violent civil disobedience.  Beck has repeatedly and erroneously tarred as un-American the efforts of those who have sought to increase low-income voter registration, labor union membership, interracial cooperation, peaceful resolution of foreign conflict, and the meeting of poor people’s needs within and by their own communities. 

In his attacks on activists from the 1960s and 1970s, Beck also seeks to delegitimize President Barack Obama’s background as a community organizer as well as his signature health care reform.  Interestingly enough, in 1974 President Nixon proposed a Comprehensive Health Insurance Act which would have required employers to buy health insurance for their workers, and allowed Americans to buy into a federal health insurance plan with a sliding fee schedule based on income.  Who would have thought that four decades later the policies of the president most criticized by the Left would be recast by the Right as a radical Marxist takeover of the nation? 

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Arnold Shcherban - 2/12/2011

When folks like you loosing an argument,
in its essence, they seek refuge in cherry-picking on manners, style, minute details, etc.
The conclusion, however, is clear:
I proved that G. Beck lies, you proved that I used improper language while proving it.
Fine with me...

J R Willis - 2/8/2011

It is already impossible to debate with someone who is willfully careless of proper spelling, grammar, punctuation and even rudimentary citation protocol.

Arnold Shcherban - 2/8/2011

If this is not a lie to you, than there are no lies in this world at all and the debate is effectively impossible:
<who's on friendly foot with God himself, talking to the latter every time and then.> (see my initial posting), by his own words.

Mark Reitz - 2/8/2011

"An effective movement of the unemployed will have to look something like the strikes and riots that have spread across Greece in response to the austerity measures forced on the Greek government by the European Union, or like the student protests that recently spread with lightning speed across England in response to the prospect of greatly increased school fees."

So Piven IS calling for what happened in Greece to occur in the US. And what happened in Greece? "At the same time, tens of thousands of protesters marched through Athens in the largest and most violent protests since the country’s budget crisis began last fall. Angry youths rampaged through the center of Athens, torching several businesses and vehicles and smashing shop windows. Protesters and police clashed in front of parliament and fought running street battles around the city.

"Witnesses said hooded protesters smashed the front window of Marfin Bank in central Athens and hurled a Molotov cocktail inside. The three victims died from asphyxiation from smoke inhalation, the Athens coroner’s office said. Four others were seriously injured there, fire department officials said."

So to echo J R Willis' question, what were the lies?

J R Willis - 2/7/2011

And these lies are..?

George Shriver - 2/7/2011

Thanks for pointing out the irrationality of Beck. It is indeed depressing to see how many of the electorate believe his absolute lies.

Elizabeth Cregan - 2/7/2011

I agree. It terrifies me though, when I consider how much influence he seems to have over people. It infuriates me when I here a person quote him as a way to justify some warped thought process. He IS dangerous because he has been handed such a large outlet for his voice but take so little responsibiilty for his voice

Arnold Shcherban - 2/6/2011

By even commenting on that "political" clown's ravings, we involuntarily invest into his show (which in every other civilized and democratic nation would have been taken of the air right away, because of the absurdity and hatred its host spreads on general public) ratings.
Just ignore the self-serving lunatic, who's on friendly foot with God himself, talking to the latter every time and then.