Somebody needs to stage an intervention on Bob Beckel. The man needs to stop taking about being a drunk.
Beckel is a Democratic operative who now co-stars on The Five, the popular Fox television show. The Five has five stars -- Beckel, Greg Gutfeld, Dana Perino, Kimberly Guilfoyle, and Eric Bolling. The show has received good reviews -- even from the New York Times -- and it's not hard to see why. It has an easy flow, the hosts are telegenic, and spontaneous things often happen.
There's only one factor dragging things down -- Bob Beckel's relentless, unceasing, OCD-style references to being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
It's hard to get through a show without Beckel declaring his membership in the world's largest recovery group. It seems that whatever the topic, from Barack Obama to Robert Downey to farting house cats, Beckel manages to make it about his struggle with demon rum. There are several reason why this is off-putting and wrong.
But first, some full disclosure. I myself used to be a Beckel. I drank too much when I was younger, got in trouble for it, and had to get help to stop, which I did many many years (decades) ago. When you manage to pull through something like that, there's a sense of evangelical euphoria. You want people to know that you lived. That you've found joy. That you believe in God. And boy, did I. I publicly wrote and talked about being sober. Like Beckel, I told stories about myself from the bad old days. I had a big mouth, not unlike today -- although I like to think I've mellowed a bit.
But then something happened. The program I was in worked so well that I not only stopped thinking about drinking, I stopped wanting to talk about it. Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, the founders of AA, had emphasized in their writings that the point of recovery was to get back into the world. I had gotten back. And I didn't want to relive the past.
It was at that point that I realized the true value of anonymity. It's not as much about the shame of alcoholism, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but about living a spiritual and virtuous life that doesn't put our own interests and suffering above other people. One of the great things about being sober for a long time was the realization that I wan't any different from other people -- that everyone has problems and ways of overcoming suffering.
In 1946, A.A. co-founder Bill Wilson wrote: "The word 'anonymous' has for us an immense spiritual significance. Subtly but powerfully, it reminds us that we are always to place principles before personalities; that we have renounced personal glorification in public; that our movement not only preaches but actually practices a true humility."
In broadcasting my recovery in public and in print, I was not being humble. I was also, paradoxically, hurting my own health. I still remember the day years ago when I realized that I didn't want a drink, hadn't wanted a drink in months, and had no desire to talk about any of it.
Unlike Bob Beckel, I had gotten tired of hearing my own didactic voice talking about booze, booze, booze. I wanted real freedom, genuine freedom, and that could not be had if I was living in the past. Bob Beckel's relentless recovery talk could actually hurt the A.A. organization he loves; after all, the 12-Step group can only look bad if Beckel backslides. It would be like a priest getting caught in a sex scandal.
Furthermore, Beckel's incessant sharing is actually an undignified form of boasting. The writer Douglas Coupland once called this kind of thing "one-downsmanship" -- it's gaining validation by broadcasting the personal hell you've been through. And there is a phenomenon in AA where the world shrinks to you and your addiction, even when you are sober. It almost becomes a psychological tick to draw everything into the orbit of recovery. It can also make you a killjoy.
On the Fat Tuesday episode of The Five, Beckel started talking about the problem of binge drinking in New Orleans. Nobody thinks binge drinking is a good idea, but to bring it up at Mardis Gras shows a lack of prudential judgement about the necessity of celebration and even moderate drinking among those who can handle it, which is most people who drink.
Beckel's was not the voice of wisdom; it was -- is -- the voice of the schoolmarm. He needs to, pardon the expression, cork it.