If you've been following the Tea Party, you may have noticed that many different reporters have spoken to Partiers who say that they didn't realize how bad things were until they started listening to Glenn Beck, and their eyes were opened. And if you've listened to Beck, you've noticed that his show isn't just an hour's entertainment; it's a way of life -- once you enter his world and understand that Armageddon is around the corner, there's no going back.
Part of this message comes in the products Beck hawks to his viewers, which include things like "survival seeds" and "food insurance," which is a survival kit of freeze-dried food you and your family can subsist on while you're waiting for your seeds to germinate, after society collapses and the undead are clawing at your underground shelter.
But no product gets more attention from Beck than gold, particularly gold sold by a company called Goldline. As Beck tells it, one of the consequences of Barack Obama's nightmarish totalitarian vision could well be the collapse of the currency, in which case you want -- no, you need -- to have a supply of gold on hand. As Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones detailed, Beck's fans call Goldline because he tells them to, whereupon they are shunted away from the bullion they think they want, to gold coins that are actually worth much less than they think. Whether this scam is merely despicable or actually illegal is currently under investigation.
David Frum points out that like all bubbles, the current gold bubble (the price has tripled in the last few years) will eventually pop, and people who bought gold using the time-honored investment strategy known as, "What has gone up recently will continue to go up forever" will be extremely disappointed. "There is a financial question about the consequences of their disappointment," Frum says. "But there’s also an interesting cultural question: Will the credibility of the radio and TV hosts who tout gold survive a drop in the price of gold? How many Fox News viewers will lose how much if gold drops back to $1000? $800? $600? And when they discover that the extra premium you pay for buying gold coins shrivels when it comes time to sell?"
I can give Frum an answer: No, the credibility of Fox News hosts like Beck will not suffer, except among those with whom he has no credibility to begin with. Beck will provide an explanation for gold's fall to his fans -- just throwing out a crazy idea here, but I'm guessing it'll be Obama's fault -- and they will believe it. Because the alternatives -- that they got taken in by a charlatan, or made a plainly stupid investment decision -- will be unacceptable.
-- Paul Waldman