Paul Greenberg

Or maybe they just come with hard times, bred by some desperate need to believe. In something. Anything. Even if it's only the latest conspiracy theory about evil powers out to get us. What else could explain our failures, our hard luck, why we're so unappreciated, how come we're so smart yet so broke, why everything conspires against us....

Not every Great Explainer needs an economic crisis to prosper. Some are shmoozers for all seasons, hardy perennials who bloom whatever the economic season, in good times and bad, boom or bust. We love 'em, especially in the middle of the night when sleep won't come.

Glenn Beck will continue to attract listeners. He'll do well in America, as my immigrant mother used to say whenever she encountered a particularly smooth talker.

Conspiracy theories will surely remain a fixture of American politics. Whole gimcrack philosophies are woven out of them, and, when the political season is upon us, like a fit, what in ordinary years might be dismissed as the lunatic fringe can become the whole warp and woof of American politics. What fun -- like Ross Perot's charts and graphs that proved ... something or other.

So step right up, or rather tune in, and you'll soon enough find your own favorite guru. He'll explain it all, whether your brand of populism is right-wing or left. Choose your own infallible prophet -- Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann, Rush Limbaugh or Noam Chomsky -- and then just sit back and listen. It's so much easier than thinking for yourself.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.