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Glenn Beck has big plans

The conservative TV and radio host wants to hold conventions to move his followers to political action and 'change America's course.' Some say his activism could widen the split within the GOP.

November 24, 2009|By James Oliphant

Reporting from Washington — Glenn Beck wants to become . . . a community organizer.

The voluble Fox News television host says he hopes to transform his personal celebrity into political action and has begun to assemble a movement to "change America's course." Beck announced his intentions at a weekend rally at a retirement community outside Orlando, Fla., where he was promoting his new book, "Arguing With Idiots." He continued outlining his ideas during his radio and TV shows Monday.

"America, we cannot wait for a leader anymore," Beck said. "The people must lead, and the leader will follow."

Beck has employed a mix of doomsaying and muckraking on his TV and radio shows, emerging as a prominent conservative gadfly to President Obama. Now, he said, he intends to sponsor a series of conventions nationwide next year to educate attendees about self-reliance, the economy and community organizing as a step toward building an effective electoral force.

"I'm going to teach you how to be a community organizer next year, oh, because two can play at that game," Beck said Monday on the radio. "It's time to find our teeth and sharpen our teeth, and we're going to do it."

Republicans lampooned Obama's background as a community organizer during the presidential campaign, but Beck appears to be drawing a lesson from the president's victory last November.

Beck's announcement is the latest in a series of attempts by well-known, right-leaning figures to fill a leadership void in the Republican Party -- which has no clear standard-bearer and has seen a schism open between its moderates and conservatives. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is drawing large crowds on a national book tour. Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham is asking GOP candidates to sign a 10-point pledge on her website.

Should Beck make progress in his efforts, it could widen the split within the party. He has cast himself as an outsider, an enemy of the "bipartisan corruption" in Washington. Many of his viewers and listeners favor the tea-party movement that has developed in reaction to fears that Obama is enlarging government's reach into the economy. Many also view the GOP establishment with suspicion.

A special congressional election this month in New York was seen as an early test of whether such conservatives could coalesce around a candidate. To a certain extent, they succeeded; the moderate Republican withdrew from the race. Still, the factional dispute allowed a Democrat to be elected in a traditionally Republican district.

On Monday, conservative activists circulated a proposal that they want the Republican National Committee to adopt, which would lay out criteria for giving money to candidates. Citing Ronald Reagan as inspiration, it would mandate that a GOP candidate agree with conservative positions on at least eight of 10 selected issues pertaining to the economy, healthcare, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and gay marriage. Conservatives will push for the party to formally adopt the measure this winter.

Republican consultant John Brabender said that many of Beck's supporters had been drawn to political action for perhaps the first time because of what they see as rampant federal spending. "They feel helpless by themselves," Brabender said. "Anyone who has ability to unify and rally those people becomes very powerful in this process." The question, he said, becomes how is that power harnessed?

Though some argue that Beck is simply churning public anger to draw attention to his book, Bradley Smith, a conservative law professor at Capital University in Ohio and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said he had heard that criticism before.

"People always wonder -- we're a cynical society -- how much is he doing this to sell books?" Smith said. "I know people who believe that Barack Obama ran for president just to sell books. That kind of charge can be used against anyone."

Beck said he would hold his first convention in Florida in March. He called on his listeners to attend a protest on the National Mall in Washington in August.

Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said Beck was playing into the hands of Democrats.

"Beck has a very strong following among conservatives," West said. "I don't think he has sufficient credibility with the rest of the country.

"Democrats wanted Rush Limbaugh to be the voice of the Republican Party; now Beck is stepping up to fill that vacuum," he said. "I think the White House would be thrilled."

joliphant@latimes.com

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