New York — Here in his midtown office, high up in the Manhattan skyline, Glenn Beck sinks into a plush leather sofa and starts to gab about interior design. “I have art from progressive movements from around the world,” he says, glancing around. “This is from Russia,” he says, nodding toward a Soviet figurine. “That’s American art over there,” he adds, pointing toward a lithograph of factory workers.
Beck confides that he collects such pieces not out of love, but as a reminder of what he’s up against. To his eye, “progressive art always upholds the individual — it upholds that strong worker — but it devalues the actual individual.” The scattered iconography, he explains, helps to keep him focused on fighting what he calls the “radical cancer” of progressivism. “When you are facing the times that are coming our way, you must open the doors, you have to know what the truth is,” he says. “Most people don’t want to do that.”
I mention to Beck that his penchant for provocative office art is not unlike that of Arthur Gardner, the cufflinked public-relations executive and villain of his new thriller, The Overton Window, which recently rocketed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. In Overton, Gardner — picture George Soros with Gordon Gekko’s panache — keeps a strange, marble amalgamation of the Statue of Liberty and the Colossus of Rhodes in his Fifth Avenue suite. The stone’s blend of the two images is a symbol of the character’s belief that “at some point the law needs to be taken away and replaced with force [because] people ultimately want it that way; they’re like sheep, lost without a threat of force to guide them.”
Beck smiles at the comparison. Of course, he sees himself as the antithesis of Gardner, who is a “progressive nationalist” conspiring to bring about world government. For Beck, Gardner’s dream of a New World Order is more than just chilling fiction. Every day, Beck says, he feels that he is battling real-life Arthur Gardners — elite progressives who want to “transform America.” Smile gone, he tells me that these progressives have infiltrated countless institutions in American life. “So many people ask about why I didn’t set the book in Washington. This is not about Washington,” Beck sighs. “It’s about what’s happening in our country — in our education centers, our media centers. The least of our problems is Washington.”
By detailing the journey of his novel’s protagonist, Noah Gardner — Arthur’s tea-partying son, who attempts to sabotage his father’s conspiracy — Beck hopes to offer readers a fresh way of understanding the “progressive nightmare” that currently afflicts the United States. By the end of the book, he says, “I want you to know that it’s fiction, but to question yourself as to how closely it resembles what’s happening out there.” For good measure, Beck has devised a term for his literary genre: “faction,” or, a blend of fact and fiction.
“With Noah, here’s a guy who has seen what the progressives want to do — his father is one of the designers,” Beck continues. “He doesn’t want to look at what’s actually going on, because he knows it’s better not to know, that it is better to not believe. He wants the easy life. To me, he represents the average American.” The turning point for Noah, Beck says, comes when he “has access to everything” and discovers the “truth” about the progressive agenda. The narrative of Overton, he says — as well as his own work on television and radio – is about “learning . . . even if it means opening doors that may make us uncomfortable.”
Throughout the book, Beck weaves in his politics, shining a light on what has gone wrong with the country, from our lack of fiscal discipline to a culture of corruption in Washington. Beck also makes sure to note that the book celebrates individuals — Noah and his friends — who are fed up and fighting back against the progressive agenda.
“It’s not a glorified individual,” Beck says, but a distinctively American one. “My love for the individual comes from what I’ve been able to accomplish, from what my grandfather was able to accomplish with a fourth-grade education. Almost every individual who’s great in this country comes from a nobody background. Look at Abraham Lincoln. Look at Barack Obama. Look at his childhood and what he went through. And he’s the president of the United States. Don’t tell me that the individual can’t achieve amazing things. Only in this country.”
Beck believes that Americans now face the same crossroads as Noah. Americans need to educate themselves about the Obama administration and about progressivism in American history. “You have a choice,” he says. “You can bury your head in the sand, or you can stand up and say, wait a minute, if I’m not vigilant, then there is a problem.”
“The last two strong progressive presidents, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, rounded people up without a trial based on race or creed. What makes you think that it couldn’t happen in America?” Beck asks. “It has happened twice. If we don’t know our own history, and we’re not willing to think outside the box, it’s going to happen again.”
Or worse. Beck says that his first draft of Overton — a 321-page book — was 900 pages. “I didn’t want to be accused of being a bad Ayn Rand,” he laughs. Curious, I ask about what was left on the cutting-room floor. Beck says he chose to slice off a large chunk of the story that deals with what he thinks could happen in the United States if progressives get their way: “a future civil war.” Look, he says, deadpan: “I don’t know how this ends in real life. It doesn’t have to end that way, but it can end that way.”
Does he really think another civil war could happen? Beck points to the book’s title and says that President Obama, much like the progressive conspirators in his book, is shifting the window in American public policy. In other words, Obama is redefining what’s acceptable and mainstream. By pushing hard for universal health-care coverage and the stimulus, Beck says, Obama is changing the way we all will think about public policy for years to come. Backlash, Beck believes, could be on the way.
“If you drag that Overton window too far ahead, you get Overton’s revenge,” Beck says. “It could happen if you have a revolutionary administration.” Is Obama a revolutionary? Beck pauses. “I can count the number of revolutionaries we have around this president,” he says. “You tell me.”
With our time running short, and the mood suddenly dour, I gaze at Beck’s Soviet art and ask if there is hope. “I’m a big fan of George Whitefield,” Beck says. “In every great moment in this country, when real progress is made, there is a spiritual awakening. I believe strongly that this is God’s country and that we are only its temporary keepers. I believe this is a divine land for his purposes.”
Late for a meeting, Beck continues, on his way out the door. “I would ask people to ask themselves: Do you think this is a country of divine providence? A country of American exceptionalism? If you believe those two things to be true, that means God has a special purpose for this land and freedom. We must go back and return to our founding principles and return to God. He will set things right. We just have to stand where he asks us to stand and recognize his place.”
– Robert Costa is the William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.