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A Moister, Flakier Leader For Today's Angst-Ridden Conservative

There's chatter among the political media today about Fox News commentator Glenn Beck's having successfully nailed green-jobs czar Van Jones' scalp to his wall. Politico went so far as to note that the episode "confirmed Beck's stature as the administration's most potent foe."

Few would dispute that, in recent months, Beck has emerged as the shiniest star in the conservative firmament, garnering more buzz than O'Reilly or even The Great and Powerful Rush. And, once again, I am impressed by how neatly his rise captures the ongoing psychological devolution within the conservative movement.

Much of Rush's political success has long lay in his sneering humor. He traffics in nasty, beyond-the pale jokes about all those who don't share his views. He is snide, he is smirking, and he has carefully cultivated a swaggering, cigar-sucking persona aimed at delighting the no-nonsense, tough-guy self-image of so many in the Daddy Party.

Bill O'Reilly takes himself vastly more seriously, but he too fits into the macho, bullying, head-cracking tradition of the GOP. He's gruff. He's a barker. And there is no space for weak-kneed liberals or girly men in his world.

But Beck? Beck is an absolute hysteric, prone to fits of on-air weeping and end-of-the-world blathering more befitting a deranged televangelist than a political pundit. Like many professional bomb throwers, he spews plenty of hateful, divisive bullshit, but the man doesn't seem to have ideological convictions so much as a nervous condition. You get the sense that this whole Obama presidency has deeply disrupted his mental and emotional balance, rendering him as unstable as a case of aging dynamite.

In many ways, this makes Beck the ideal standard bearer for modern conservativism. Forget the tough-as-nails swagger and smirking self-regard of Dick Cheney or the naked Machiavellianism of Tom Delay: Today's Right is increasingly characterized by whiny paranoia, unfocused rage, and panic-striken hyperventilation stemming from a spiraling persecution complex. Ayee-eeee! The White House is trying to kill my grandmother and brainwash my childrennnnnnn!!

The whole movement is clearly in need of a good therapeutic cry. Thank God Beck is on hand to share his tissues.