President Obama's second midterm year represented, arguably, the nadir of his presidency. Allies deserted him. Red state Democrats pretended not to know him and they lost anyway, buried under ads that reported how often they voted with Obama. Not one but two former Secretaries of Defense re-emerged from their studies with memoirs that made the president look feckless.
In the brazen wilderness of score-settling, Glenn Beck stood out. The former Fox News host had dogged the president in his first term, organizing Tea Party rallies and linking him to myriad left-wing conspiracies to bring down the American system. Yet in the third year of his successful subscription-based news site, The Blaze, Beck kept on apologizing for his past.
As far as TV goes, the mea culpa routine was compelling. As a branding exercise, it was masterful. Every time Beck apologized, he made national news. He multiplied the news value of his speeches—who knew what he might say in public, having renounced his old self? (The answer was usually "nothing surprising.") With almost every change of season, Beck burst out of a chrysalis to denounce the toxicity of American political culture. Instead of directly engaging in politics, Beck argued that Politics, and the outrage culture, were in themselves driving America toward the brink.
"I've never adjusted my belief that everything Beck does is at bottom a positional-marketing decision, informed by his fine sense of where his audience and competition is at and where they're headed," says Alexander Zaitchik, author of the definitive Beck biography. "His one big miscalculation might have been the defense of letting child migrants stay, but he seems to have weathered that."
Here's a look back at Beck's year in apologies.
January: Beck appears on his old network to take lumps for his role in dividing America. "I didn’t realize how really fragile the people were," Beck tells Fox's Megyn Kelly. "I thought we were kind of a little more in it together. And now I look back and I realize if we could have talked about the uniting principles a little bit more, instead of just the problems, I think I would look back on it a little more fondly." (He says this in the context of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo telling pro-gun groups to stay out of the state, which amounts in his Beck's mind to a "hostile takeover" by the left.)
June: More than a decade after he organized and led rallies in support of the Iraq War, Beck apologizes to the skeptics. "Liberals said we couldn't force freedom on people," Beck tells his radio audience. "You were right, liberals. You were right. We shouldn't have." (In his first memoir, The Real America, Beck surmised that "no matter what Michael Moore and John Kerry would have you believe, there is no way Bush would march into Iraq knowing that the WMDs were as invisible as the Milli Vanilli fan club.")
July: Beck responds to the summer crisis of Central American migrant children surging into immigration centers by asking conservatives to help him deliver supplies, toys, and hope.
“I’m getting violent emails from people who say I’ve ‘betrayed the Republic,’" Beck says. "Whatever. I’ve never taken a position more deadly to my career than this,” he says. “And I have never, ever taken a position that is more right than this."
August: Beck does an interview with CNN's Brian Stelter, alternating between a walk-and-talk and sit-down, and appears to show contrition for his bad old days as a Fox News host.
"Some people still remember just for you saying on Fox and Friends that President Obama is a racist," said Stelter.
"When you live your life five hours a day on live television or radio, you're going to say stupid things," said Beck. "You do it in your cubicle. You do it on the air, I'm sure."
November: Beck tells viewers of The Blaze's flagship show that some serious health problems, which had not previously disclosed, led to a sort of madness—coincidentally, during the years when he was most visible and controversial. They "quite honestly made me look crazy," he explains, adding that he "felt crazy because of them."
December: Beck appears on his show in old-age make-up, as a visitor from a dark future who remembers 2014 as the year civilization finally lost its moorings. "This new era of equality diversity and tolerance—I beg to differ with your history books!" says Future Beck. "Forget your books—I was there! I saw it!"
The apology for this video has not yet been scheduled, but could come as early as the second quarter of 2015.