I was watching a little bit of Beck the other day and it put me in mind of this typically smarmy Matthew Yglesias post from earlier this year. Yglesias writes that Barry Goldwater's opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has continuing relevance in understanding Amercan conservatism because "his sincere political ideology led to horribly wrongheaded conclusions [italics in original.] Okay, remember that.
The Beck show was built around the Japanese-American internment during WWII. The internment was a case where FDR (to use Yglesias' own words) "stood shoulder-to-shoulder with white supremacists" in order to strip members of an ethnic group of their basic rights. Now one difference is that Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act (again using Yglesias' own words) "out of principled constitutional reasoning" while FDR's racist and absurd policy (Japanese-Americans in Hawaii and elsewhere were not interned) was based on a combination of political opportunism and the ideological conviction that (to use liberal congressman Pete Stark's words) "The federal government, yes, can do almost anything in this country."
So what is Yglesias' point and what is Beck's? Yglesias' point is that American conservatism was and is inherently flawed for putting up a political champion who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Becks' point is that the liberal icon's support for the deployment of federal power to round up and arbitrarily intern and strip the rights from Japanese-Americans indicates a foundational and continuing flaw in American liberalism. Yglesias tried to soften the special pleading inherent in his argument by conceding that while "liberals have been wrong in the past", Goldwater's error is different because Goldwater's nomination was a "foundational moment" for conservatism - unlike say the peripheral role that the FDR administration played in the history of liberalism.
Yglesias and Beck deserve each other. They are both practicing the same kind of partisan and opportunistic essentialism. They both imply that a now repudiated policy once held by people who claimed a label in the past demonstrates a fundamental wrongness relevant to current disputes. Neither is quite willing to state the absurdity underlying their arguments (well, maybe Beck has - I haven't seen most episodes). For Yglesias it boils down to the insinuation that support for lower tax rates and less government spending is inherently in latent alliance with white supremacy, and for Beck it is that support for Obamacare is a step toward concentration camps.
Liberals have spent decades trying to understand and explain why FDR's internment of Japanese-Americans was wrong on the level of liberal principle. Conservatives have sought to explain why, as a matter of conservative principle, Goldwater was constitutionally and morally wrong to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Most liberals seem to understand that conservatives can assert the unconstitutionality of the federal health insurance purchase mandate without at the same time advancing the cause of Jim Crow. Most conservatives seem to understand that liberals can support the same federal mandate without putting us at increased risk that Japanese-Americans will again find themselves in concentration camps. This reasonableness in our politics exists despite the efforts of some ideological propagandists to divide us into warring tribes and make the tribesmen dumber and more self-satisfied.