by Joe Shea
August 28, 2010
BECK & CALL
BRADENTON, Fla., Aug. 28, 2010 -- Like many Americans, I was startled and transfixed by the enormity of the response to Glenn Back's call to "restore honor" in America.
More people apparently watched the Beck event than watched Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" address at the same site on the same day 47 years ago. Beck's rhetoric was far less disciplined, even rambling, but in general was pretty good.
One speech, of course, was a rare and historic occasion when the nation's future was changed by the eloquence and inspiration of a stirring address. But Glenn Beck's rally and speech, which had no concrete national ill to challenge and overcome as Dr. King had in the long-lived evils of racism and segregation, nonetheless addressed the entire broad panoply of ills real and imagined suffered by America in this decade.
It was a stirring event, especially to a Christian or Catholic, as God, Jesus Christ and all but the angels were invoked to the cause of "faith, hope and charity" for the benefit of America and its future generations. A mostly white crowd frequently applauded King's memory and the long fight for racial equality - and both were mentioned often - and cheered Dr. King's niece when she spoke. If Beck was guilty of misappropriation of the anniversary, black leaders are more guilty for having neglected to reserve the site to acknowledge it themselves.
The event also served a worthy purpose, raising more than $5.1 million on the spot by asking the audience to text $10 to the Special Operations Wounded Warriors Foundation. Political strategists better take note; that kind of money can galvanize any campaign. This appeal, thankfully, was for the 800 children of dead and wounded Special Forces soldiers the foundation now serves.
Although the event served to anoint former Alaska Gov. and failed Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin as the political leader of Beck's millions of fans, it did rise above their politics on a lot of occasions as Beck and others invoked the great documents of American history not so much in their political causes as much as for a battered nation daily struggling to right its course, improve its economic health and restore promise to future generations.
Many are the times I've cursed aloud in the privacy of my home as I listened to Beck and Limbaugh and Hannity and Levin and the rest of the conservative pantheon denounce our President and many of our American patriots as traitors to an imagined set of values that never existed - at least in the past two decades. As Hurricane Katrina, the most historic of today's anniversaries, proved five years ago, the Republican Party and its leaders are as deaf to the cries of the drowning, real and metaphorical, and thus as inimical to Judeo-Christian values as any follower of Osama bin Laden.
They want to undo financial reform, for instance, even though lax regulations sent many millions of homes into foreclosure, cost countless Americans their jobs and life saving. They oppose the consumer agency that will hopefully protect Americans from exorbitant interest rates and bank fees, or from credit card predation and sophisticated investment gambling schemes banks continue to play.
They want to undo health reform, too, even as the giant pharmaceutical companies and hospital chains and folks like Johnson & Johnson (which yesterday recalled 93,000 already-implanted hip systems) bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid, destroy lives and leave Americans vulnerable to wave after wave of deadly illnesses.
So Beck very pointedly did not embrace the Bush Administration, praise the names of Boehner and McConnell, McCain and Bush, but he did mention the Tea Party once, with great enthusiasm, and appealed rhetorically to the very heart of patriotic conservatives. There are other kinds of conservatives - greedy, small-minded racists, bigots and blowhards - but they were not on Saturday's agenda.
Instead, Beck did try to evoke what is best about America: its tradition of self-reliance, its profound acknowledgment of God's place in our lives and in our national life, its generosity toward the rest of the world, its valiant fighting men in wars past and present, and its high-principled Founders - men like Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams and George Washington, as well as the men who were their religious inspirations, and most keenly, perhaps the greatest American who ever lived, Abraham Lincoln.
Although Beck introduced a politically conservative rabbi, David Lapin, few of the preachers avoided the invocation on their affairs of Jesus Christ. Beck spoke often of Moses and the burning bush, but didn't mention Moses' name, or those of Abraham, Buddha, Lord Vishnu, the Prophet Muhammad or any other figure outside Christianity, and never used the words Protestant, Catholic or Pope.
But those omissions seemed less in the spirit of evangelism than in the praise of things familiar and friendly to the American experience. Even the Native American preacher made no mention of his people's animist faith. But make no mistake: this was Protestant evangelism of a uniquely American kind, aimed at those both inside and outside the preacher's tent.
Many of the word portraits Beck drew were tearful ones, and much of the pain he described was very, very real. The final preacher, he said, was burned as he tried to throw a phosphorus grenade in Vietnam, and left much of his face on the pillow when he buried it there and cried. Without mentioning gays at all, Beck repeatedly spoke of the need for a spouse to stand by us, and for fathers to lead their children. He almost broke into tears again, as he often does, when he told of his search for the young person in the audience who would be tomorrow's Lincoln-like "giant" and leader of the next generation.
What was not present was the meanness he and fellow commentators so often demonstrate when they speak of the President, liberals and Democrats - i.e., those whom I think truly do believe in unity and public charity, and who through a desperate series of economic and military setbacks have kept their faith and their patriotic hope for America's future. The absence of the hateful and divisive and frequently false allegations we hear from neocons against the President and his fellow liberal Democrats was refreshing, and gave the event something more than transient significance.
But what significance? Distilled, perhaps it was as Beck described, an invitation to all Americans to restore God's presence in our lives, to call on Him for help, to ask him for forgiveness of our excesses, and to ask Him to restore America's greatness and prosperity. That is a call I can respond to, as a Catholic, liberal and a Democrat.
Update: On Monday morning The Washington Post reports that Beck unleashed a scathing attack Sunday on President Obama's religious beliefs. His new tone didn't last long.