Glenn Beck is not known for his compassion. As host of the third highest rated radio talk show and a new program soon to debut on Fox News, Beck courts controversy regularly. His caustic and often conservative commentary has offended Mexicans, Jews and Muslims, which is why his New York Times best seller extolling the virtues of forgiveness and the Christmas spirit might surprise some. The Christmas Sweater is a short novel about a young boy who gets a sweater for Christmas instead of a bike, resents his mother for the gift and then plunges into darkness when she dies soon afterward. The book is semiautobiographical Beck's mother committed suicide when he was a teenager, and he was a longtime alcoholic. TIME spoke to Beck about his past addictions, why he despises politicians and how he's glad CNN's research department gave him a hard time.
You've been sober and on the right track personally for years. Why did you decide to write this book now?
In 1995, I didn't have anybody who trusted me. My doctor had given me six months to live. Eight months later, I was still drinking and my body was shutting down and I was in the fetal position after losing my family. So I went to AA and started to clean myself up, and I thought I had done a pretty good job. But there were things I really hadn't looked into. For instance, nobody in my family had ever talked about my mother's suicide. We had never discussed it as a family.
You have a stage show that goes along with the book. Are these two ways of telling this story cathartic for you?
No. Because I'm a recovering alcoholic, I kind of did my work on this already. Doing the stage performance is difficult because I'm very emotionally naked and exposed and vulnerable. To have people not only not hate me but be able to relate, it makes the truth of the story even more clear: stop hiding the things that you're afraid of. If you just deal with it and stop feeding it and giving it power, your weakest points will be your strengths.
How have your life struggles affected the development of your on-air personality?
There are a lot of rough edges on me that I sure would like to sand down. I'm trying to work on it every day. I hope I'm a better person than I was five or 10 years ago. I hope I'm a better person than I was last week. But I guess my personal story has made me much more of a libertarian. I don't think the answers are going to come from Washington; I don't think they're going to come from Republicans or Democrats. They're going to come from individuals that's the beauty of God. That's the beauty of America. The power is with the individual. You can create and change anything.
You gave up your show on CNN Headline News to launch a new talk show on Fox News in January. How will it be different?
I liked being over at CNN and being the odd man. You didn't expect me over there. I also think they made me a better broadcaster because, believe me, I was the most well-researched show on CNN. They never let me get away with anything. At the time, it was like, Come on guys, cut me some slack. But in retrospect, they made me better. I know what I know because they forced me to document it.
As for Fox, [Fox News president] Roger Ailes and I have spent many hours talking over the past couple of years about the direction of the country. I personally think that the media everywhere misses the bigger picture.
What do you mean?
Like right now we're arguing over CEO salaries. Why is this in my life now? Why do I have to care? It's because politicians have forced me to be a shareholder in an insurance company or a car company or a bank. I don't want to be a shareholder in that! Gosh!
What do you think of the people Obama has chosen to work in his Administration?
I think so far he's chosen wisely. I am not an Obama fan, but I am a fan of our country. The day after the election, I frankly pissed off a lot of my real die-hard Republicans when I said, "He is my President. He is your President." We must have him succeed. If he fails, we all fail.
I really think that these parties have done a very good job of dividing us. I don't know personally a single Democrat who is a dope-smoking hippie that wants to turn us into Soviet Russia. I don't know a single Republican who wants to steal your children's schoolbooks, take the food away and give all of it to Big Oil. Those are cartoon characters. We are Americans. We've got to pull together because we are facing dark, dark times. I don't trust a single weasel in Washington; I don't care what party they're from. But unless we trust each other, we're not going to make it.