Thoughts on Glenn Beck and “Restoring Honor”

Just got back to the house in DC from several hours on the Mall at the Glenn Beck camp revival known as “Restoring Honor.” It was a bizarre experience. Quite aside from all else that’s been said about it, the one thing that struck me was how amateurish and random the whole production was.

Like Glenn Beck himself, the event was a real hodgepodge of conflicting ideas and images that didn’t really mesh naturally together. The main two elements were celebrations of religion and homages to the military. Mixed into this stew was an overlay of praise for MLK Jr. and calls for honoring our iconic national heroes — Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln et al. Several of the speakers had some real difficulty staying coherent.

The audience’s attention often lagged. The crowd showed the most enthusiasm for Palin and Beck, as should probably have been expected. It was an overtly political group — Tea Party t-shirts, GOP buttons and stickers, various pieces of anti-Obama apparel — and I think that many of them were looking for some more red meat from the speakers.
Editor emerita Emily Esfahani Smith and I roamed around for quite some time beforehand, taking pictures and talking to attendees. Many came from quite far away — a ton of Alabamans, lots of Texas flags, lots of people from Missouri, Kansas, even further west. Quite a number of families, lots of vets, and a big share of retirees. People were tame and good-natured. They were also overwhelmingly white.
Beck was a total self-parody. Taking on the mien of an evangelist minister, he whipped himself into a self-righteous frenzy, often seeming like he was on the verge of tears. His rhetoric wonderfully mirrored that other paragon of ego, Barack Obama. Several times, Beck uttered direct paraphrases of “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” It was fatuous, but doubtless completely sincere. He suggested throughout the event that God had instructed him and his PR team what they needed to do in order to pull off the “Restoring Honor” rally. He also credited “divine intervention” with supplying $600,000 in needed funding to save the event at the last minute. I’m sure.
The speaker who most managed to add a touch of class to the rally was baseball star Albert Pujols, who distinguished himself with a speech that was mercifully quick and (rare for the day) not exceedingly self-referential. Pujols offered his thanks for the opportunities he’s had in his life, and then discussed his philanthropic work for Down’s Syndrome children in his home country of the Dominican Republic. He told the crowd that “we should never forget where we come from.”
Excepting Pujols, however, it was almost uniformly an exercise in demagoguery and outright silliness. Beck made hallowed national symbols — the monuments, the Gettysburg Address — feel like cheap devices for Beckophilia. His pleas for national unity and for lowering the political temperature in America rang hollow. This is the same man who has called President Obama a racist, and who has helped stir the pot of international controversy over what should be a neighborhood issue: Park51, aka the Ground Zero Mosque.
He’s hardly the successor to MLK that he fancies himself as. Matter of fact, Beck is little more than a two-bit charlatan with an unfortunately large following. I wish there could have been a very different event today at the site of King’s epic “I Have a Dream” speech. Instead, we got the self-infatuated celebration of a very small man.