It’s A Teabagger Life: Glenn Beck’s Assault On a Liberal Holiday Classic

Nov 24 2010 Published by under Featured News

On his radio show today, Glenn Beck continued his assault on the liberalism of It’s A Wonderful Life by claiming that the Christmas classic has no liberal values. Beck said, “Progressive is about going past the Constitution, and having people at a government level babysit people because they’re all too stupid. That’s the opposite message of It’s A Wonderful Life.”

Here is the audio courtesy of Media Matters:

While attacking Lauri Lebo’s article Glenn Beck Hijack’s It’s A Wonderful Life, Beck and Pat Grey made the claim that It’s a Wonderful Life has no progressive themes. Beck first claimed that the movie is already a conservative film because it is a Christmas movie with God and Angels, “Well first of all, it’s a Christmas movie with Angel in it and God, so I am pretty sure that’s already got the religion theme in it.”

Beck went on to state that Frank Capra’s classic has no progressive themes, “I think the progressive themes are that, you know when Jimmy Stewart is talking about my father had dreams of helping people out. I happen to know that the bank turned down these loans. I think the progressive theme, what they would argue is, is that no there’s justice. It’s this big awful capitalist that is only into money, and we’ve got to progress past that.”

Beck and crew claimed that it was the people who really saved the building and loan in Bedford Falls. The government didn’t bail them out. Beck continued, “You remember, the bank was bailing everyone out along with remember because this was history the government closing down the banks, so they could reopen. The banks and the government were in collusion. I know that’s hard for Lori to understand that might be happening now. It’s the little guy. It’s the independent person that says look I have no problem with the bank. In fact, I celebrate it. Any local bank, they’re not the ones that were in trouble. They didn’t make these kinds of loans. Because just like George Bailey, they knew the people. You know what I know this guy. He’s good for it. He’s good for it. The local banks were the ones that didn’t have a problem. It’s the gigantic banks run by people like Potter that were just trying to get rich and didn’t care about people. The local banks are the George Bailey’s that’s not progressive.”

He concluded, “Progressive is about going past the Constitution, and having people at a government level babysit people because they’re all too stupid. That’s the opposite message of It’s A Wonderful Life.” Beck then offered a simple common sense solution to airport security. He wanted to get rid of all technology and keep it small and local, and let the screeners get to know people.

As usual with Beck, we first need to clear up a bit of history. FDR and the banks were not in collusion. The banks were not bailing people out. The banking system in the United States collapsed under the weight of the one-two punch of first the stock market crash and resulting Great Depression, and a national panic that caused a run on banks. In early 1933 statewide banking systems began to collapse as panic spread and the American people began pulling their money out banks and hoarding it under their mattresses. By March 1933, in 28 states banks all banks were closed, in 10 states banks were some or mostly closed, and in 11 other states deposits and withdraws were restricted to 5%. The American banking system had collapsed.

FDR’s bank holiday wasn’t an act of collusion with the banks. It was done in order to restore faith in the banking system, so that people would bring their money back. The bank holiday was the topic of Roosevelt’s first Fireside Chat where he said, “I can assure you that it is safer to keep your money in a reopened bank than under the mattress.” Once again, Beck completely and inaccurately distorted history.

The second false claim that Beck’s reworked theme of It’s A Wonderful Life depends on is that small banks were not the ones harmed by the most recent banking crisis. According to Standard and Poors, this is simply not true, “Over the past two years, bank failures have been concentrated among smaller, unrated banks that typically have less than $1 billion in assets. Although the loan composition of small banks that have failed over the past two years has varied, one commonality is their relatively large exposure to CRE loans and to both commercial and residential construction loans. In addition, a significant proportion of banks that have failed were located in overbuilt areas (such as Florida or Georgia) or other economically depressed areas (such as Illinois). We believe that problems in the banking sector will likely persist for some time. The FDIC has recently identified an additional 829 problem banks, most of which are smaller banks. This is up from 775 problem banks identified at the end of March 2010.” The small banks have been hit hard by the crisis, because they also made plenty of bad loans while pursing profits.

Contrary to the popular notion, Frank Capra was a Republican, but his films, including It’s A Wonderful Life, had a decidedly liberal populist slant to them. Capra’s films were a reflection of the time in America when liberalism dominated. The political tone of the United States during the Great Depression through the post-WWII period was decidedly liberal. This liberalism would continue until the 1980s and Ronald Reagan. Beck’s reworking of It’s A Wonderful Life tries to turn the film into something that it isn’t. The bank panic on the Building and Loan was `a not so fictionalized retelling of the bank panic during the Great Depression. Capra was capturing the feelings and mood of his country and that sentiment was entirely liberal.

I know this concept is certain to elude Glenn Beck and every other partisan zero sum game ideologue on both the left and right, but Frank Capra was a Republican who made liberal films. George Bailey’s beliefs in people and community come straight from FDR and the New Deal. These were the prevailing ideas of the day. Capra was making his films for a liberal audience during a liberal time, so it is ridiculous for Beck to suggest that It’s A Wonderful Life is conservative epic.

What is so conservative about George Bailey’s behavior? He made loans to people he trusted, even though they might not be able to pay him back. He turned down a job that paid more money. He completely ignored the profit motive. He selflessly put his dreams aside and stayed home to run the family business. He trusted and believed in his community. In fact, the entire film is tribute to communitarianism, which is the very concept that Beck and the Tea Party’s glorification of selfishness and greed attacks every day.

If George Bailey were to be in trouble today, Beck would tell his listeners not to give the Building and Loan any money because that would be not letting the free market work. Apparently, Glenn has forgotten that this is the same argument in support of the fire department that let a Tennessee family’s house burn to the ground because they did not pay the county’s subscription fee for the service.

It’s A Wonderful Life is a reflection of the challenges and struggles that many Americans faced during the Great Depression. It is a Christmas film, but not an overly religious one. It resonates with audiences today not because of its holiday backdrop, but because the story of George Bailey is one that almost every person can relate to. We all would like to believe that in a time of crisis, our family and neighbors will come together and support us. It’s A Wonderful Life lovingly pays tribute to the liberal value of community, and yes, the movie has socialist ideas running all through it, so no matter how much Glenn Beck cherry picks and strains, he can not diminish the unabashed liberalism/progressivism of It’s A Wonderful Life.

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