I’m on record as not being a member of the Glenn Beck fan club. I don’t like his overly emotive mannerisms, his politics, or his theology. I’d rather the president of my alma mater was more circumspect in praising him, and I’ve written to the university to that effect. At the same time, I’m somewhat fascinated by the accounts of his rally in DC this past weekend. For instance, here is David Weigel (erstwhile Washington Post reporter and Journolist member) reporting on the event:
“It’s about as angry as a Teletubbies episode….The Democrats who pre-butted Beck’s rally by predicting an overtly political hateananny were played for suckers. They didn’t pay attention to Beck’s “Founder Fridays” episodes on Fox, his high-selling speaking tour, or his schmaltzy children’s book The Christmas Sweater. It’s not his blackboard that makes him popular. It’s the total package he sells: membership in a corny, righteous, Mormonism-approved-by-John Hagee cultural family. The anger is what the media focus on, he says, joking several times about what “the press” will do to twist his words.
Beck’s rally ends just as he said it would—without incident, political or otherwise. He’s just taken the world’s most derided TV audience, put them in the National Mall, and presided over the world’s largest megachurch. “Bring out the bagpipes,” he says. Bagpipe players then walk onto his stage, and the sound of “Amazing Grace” fills the mall.
And here’s Ross Douthat:
This was a tent revival crossed with a pep rally intertwined with a history lecture married to a U.S.O. telethon — and that was just in the first hour. There was piety — endless piety, as speaker after speaker demanded that Americans rededicate themselves to God. There was patriotism: fund- raising for children of slain Special Forces vets, paeans to military heroism (delivered by Sarah Palin, among others), encomiums to the founding fathers…..
…There was enough material, in other words, to justify almost any interpretation of the event. A Beck admirer could spin “Restoring Honor” as proof that left-wing fears about the Tea Partiers are overblown: free of rancor, racism or populist resentment, the atmosphere at the rally resembled that of a church picnic or a high school football game. But a suspicious liberal could retort that all the God-and-Christ talk and military tributes were proof enough that a sinister Christian nationalism lurked beneath the surface. (I’m sure The New York Review of Books has already commissioned an essay on that theme.) [Ed: Ha! I anticipate comments to this post along these lines.]…..
To this rally-goer, though, the most striking thing about “Restoring Honor” was the way the pageant effortlessly tapped into the same rich vein of identity politics that has given us figures as diverse as Palin and Howard Dean, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — but did so, somehow, without advancing any explicitly political agenda. Now more than ever, Americans love leaders who seem to validate their way of life….
….In a sense, Beck’s “Restoring Honor” was like an Obama rally through the looking glass. It was a long festival of affirmation for middle-class white Christians — square, earnest, patriotic and religious. If a speaker had suddenly burst out with an Obama-esque “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” the message would have fit right in.
Even the reliably hostile Michael Sean Winters was reduced to the following complaints:
Watching the Glenn Beck rally on the Mall, Mr. Beck has proven true to his word. The rally is not political if by political one means partisan. Every moment, every speech, every song has a feel good, I Love America, quality to it. A phrase, slightly modified from the original, fills my mind: The Banality of Goodness.
Who doesn’t honor our troops? Who doesn’t admire Albert Pujols and his work with Down Syndrome children? Who doesn’t think honor is better than dishonor? Who doesn’t think family is important? Who is opposed to charity? The only thing missing as far as I can tell is the tribute to apple pie….
…There is, of course, a sinister side to the rhetoric. The invocations to a golden age of Americanism implies that the current age is somehow un-American. If we have lost our sense of honor, is it not possible that someone has taken it? For all the inspiring rhetoric that “We are Americans,” to which the virtually all-white crowd applauds, there is the counter-picture that some people, those not present, are not Americans. There is nothing explicitly anti-Obama or anti-Democrat, but there doesn’t have to be…
…Finally, there is something creepy in the cult worship of Mr. Beck. I half expected him to give a five hour speech announcing a new five-year plan for the economy. His simplistic, self-contained understanding of history, and especially of the Founding of the American Republic, is but a hop, skip and jump from the simplistic, self-contained understanding a Marxist would espouse: The premises and the conclusions are different, but the style and the invitation to group-think are astonishingly, and frighteningly, similar.
Pretty thin gruel. We heard the same complaints ad nauseum about the Obama campaign (complete with Marxist allusions) from people on the right in 2008, although certainly not from Mr. Winters, who doubtless was part of the ‘we’ in the (dreadfully exclusionary, don’t you think?) “Yes We Can!” chants.
I am not quite sure what to make of this particular event, which I had assumed would be political, and instead seems to have been a sort of pan-Mormon-Evangelical-Catholic ecumenical prayer rally, with a large dose of patriotism thrown in for good measure. I am sure that the rally is a good sign for the Republican party (little though they deserve it), and I suspect it is a bad sign for Catholicism insofar as political and socio-economic identity may be trumping religious identity in significant portions of the electorate. Any thoughts?