For a person who once described himself as a “rodeo clown” and regularly provides the type of high drama on his nightly TV show that would make the unhinged Howard Beale proud, Glenn Beck's much-hyped “divinely inspired message” to the American people landed with a thud this past weekend.
Basically, it was a run-of-the-mill church revival meeting, just in a grander setting.
Amid a cheering throng of true believers, the paunchy Beck pranced to the podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to proclaim, “Something beyond imagination is happening. America today begins to turn back to God.”
God is displeased with the state of our union, you see, and has been sending the United States a series of “wakeup calls” including the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to Beck. He then exhorted the crowd to lead better, more moral lives so we can ensure a grander future for our nation.
“Let's be honest,” Beck said. “If you look at history, America has been both terribly good and terribly bad. It has been both. But we concentrate on the bad instead of learning from the bad and repairing the bad and then looking to the good that is still out in front of us within our reach.”
Oh, yeah, that old chestnut.
It's the same one Americans have heard periodically almost since the republic's founding, whether it be Charles Finney in 1821, Billy Sunday in 1896, Aimee Simple McPherson in 1923 or Billy Graham in 1957: “The United States is beset with problems because it has fallen out of favor with the Creator; its people aren't faithful enough or pure enough to warrant His (or Her or Its) blessings. Listen to me, and I will tell you how we can return to a much simpler, better time.”
Lather, rinse, repeat.
The most ironic segment in Beck's speech, though, surely was the portion that mentioned hatred.
“There is growing hatred in the country,” he said. “We must be better than what we've allowed ourselves to become. We must get the poison of hatred out of us. No matter what anyone may say or do, no matter what anyone smears or lies or throws our way or to any American's way, we must look to God and look to love.
This from the man who said President Obama is a racist with a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture,” and who also regularly demonizes his ideological enemies.
In retrospect, we shouldn't have expected anything too exciting from Beck's event because he seemed to have a slippery grasp on its purpose. When Beck first announced plans for the rally in November 2009, he clearly stated it was political and would be the springboard for his latest book, The Plan, in which he would unveil his century-long blueprint to “save the country.”
About a month later, however, Beck suddenly changed course.
Now the rally wouldn't be overtly political after he began soliciting funds to stage it through the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. The organization is a charity that enjoys tax-exempt status, and cannot use any of its funds for a political purpose. Instead, the rally would be about honoring the sacrifices of U.S. military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What offended many people was Beck's hubris in choosing the same date and location where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his seminal “I have a dream speech” 47 years earlier, at the end of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Numerous civil rights leaders were upset by the timing, noting many of Beck's beliefs and statements were contrary to those of the slain minister's. King's son, Martin Luther King III, reminded Beck that his father “advocated compassion for the poor” and “wholeheartedly embraced the social gospel” — the latter of which is one of Beck's frequent targets.
When confronted about the timing, Beck shamelessly claimed sheer coincidence at first.
But Beck's facade of ignorance was at odds with his own statements to his faithful TV and radio listeners, like this one he uttered last May.
“This is a moment, quite honestly, that I think we reclaim the civil rights movement,” Beck said back then. “It has been so distorted and so turned upside down because we must repair honor and integrity first, I tell you right now. We are on the right side of history. We are on the side of individual freedoms and liberties, and damn it, we will reclaim the civil rights moment. We will take that movement because we were the people that did it in the first place.”
What Beck means by that last part is a mystery. He and his followers are fervent believers in states' rights, so I have no doubt they would've supported efforts at keeping segregation in the 1950s and '60s, placing them squarely at odds with King.
In what's now become common with conservative events, organizers are alleging a much larger crowd attended than other, more reliable sources indicate.
Beck has said up to 650,000 people listened to his speech on the National Mall. But a Park Service official pegged the number closer to 250,000 or 300,000; a firm with crowd-counting expertise — AirPhotosLive.com — hired by CBS said the number actually was between 78,000 and 96,000.
In the end, it probably doesn't matter much. Those inclined to believe in this type of stuff will continue to do so, and those that don't certainly won't be swayed by the relatively uninspired stump speeches given by Beck and his new pal, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
But here's something for the God-fearing, Bible-thumping Beck supporters to consider. On his Fox News TV show two days after his speech, Beck talked about a “miracle” that occurred as the event began. Organizers had wanted a flyover by military jets to start the rally but Washington, D.C., airspace restrictions prohibited it. Then at 9:59 a.m., one minute before the rally's scheduled start time, a flock of geese flew directly over the mall.
“It was perfect coordination and perfect timing,” Beck told viewers. “Coincidence? Maybe. I think it was God's flyover. It was not supposed to happen. We couldn't get a flyover. We couldn't even get anybody dressed in a military uniform to present the flag. We tried for almost a year. We couldn't get it done. Thank God we had our flyover.”
This is the man, dear conservatives, that you've anointed to save our nation. Good luck and may God have mercy on us all.