When Did Glenn Beck Become a Megalomaniac?

How did we get from likable former disc jockey with a human touch to a full-blown personality cult?

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As the reactions to last weekend’s “Restoring Honor” rally pile up, pro and con, I’m reminded of the first time I was actually exposed to the guy--in this January 2007 Washington Post interview profile by David Segal.

This was before the presidential primary season had begun, before the Fox News Channel gig, and, most decidedly, before Obama.

Segal was struck by Beck’s apparent humility, personal and intellectual:

While most sermonizing conservatives wait for a public debacle to expose their failings--think of William Bennett and his slot-machine addiction, or Rush Limbaugh and his pill problem--Beck and his many inner demons are on a first-name basis, and he's constantly introducing them to viewers. His alcoholism is just part of it.

Plus, where O'Reilly traffics in absolute truths and certitudes, Beck is a hand-wringer, forever rummaging around the gray areas in any debate, pontificating even as he wonders aloud if his instincts are wrong, or at least worthy of reexamination. He's more culture worrier than culture warrior. ...

Beck has the disarming habit of candidly discussing his foibles, not to mention the agonies and mistakes of his past and his lengthy bout of self-loathing and depression. He is not just a recovering alcoholic ("two glasses a day--but tall glasses, and all Jack Daniel's") and not just a former pothead ("every day for 15 years"). He is a recovering jerk.

"Honestly, I was just a despicable human being," he says.

Where’d that guy disappear to?

[Poll: Did Beck's Rally Strike the Right Tone?]

How did we get from there—likable former “Morning Zoo” disc jockey brings human touch to conservative TV punditry—to here, a full-blown personality cult, with talk of spiritual revival and great awakenings and, conversely, heresy and idolatry?

Is this really—was it ever—about healthcare or deficits or taxes? Strictly speaking, is this about the math or the culture?

[Read more about the deficit and national debt.]

Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate, goes ahead and connects the dots, dubbing the Beck rally the “ Waterworld of white self-pity”:

This summer, then, has been the perfect register of the new anxiety, beginning with the fracas over Arizona's immigration law, gaining in intensity with the proposal by some Republicans to amend the 14th Amendment so as to de-naturalize "anchor babies," cresting with the continuing row over the so-called "Ground Zero" mosque, and culminating, at least symbolically, with a quasi-educated Mormon broadcaster calling for a Christian religious revival from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

I wonder what Glenn Beck, circa early 2007, would have made of all this.