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Tilting at Windmills

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August 29, 2010

A SHIFT FROM THE SECULAR?.... Almost immediately after Tea Party groups started organizing events last year, there's been an underlying tension between two main contingents. A secular libertarian-minded faction emerged, which focuses almost exclusively on fiscal issues and the size of government. The other is a more religious-right-style bloc, with an emphasis on more socially conservative issues.

There have been simmering tensions between the two for quite a while, but if yesterday was any indication, one side seems to be edging ahead. I still have no idea what, exactly, the far-right zealots actually want, but it now seems to have something to do with religion.

An enormous and impassioned crowd rallied at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, summoned by Glenn Beck, a conservative broadcaster who called for a religious rebirth in America at the site where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech 47 years ago to the day.

"Something that is beyond man is happening," Mr. Beck said in opening the event as the crowd thronged near the memorial grounds. "America today begins to turn back to God." [...]

[T]he program was distinctly different from most Tea Party rallies. While Tea Party groups have said they want to focus on fiscal conservatism and not risk alienating people by talking about religion or social issues, the rally on Saturday was overtly religious, filled with gospel music and speeches that were more like sermons.

Mr. Beck imbued his remarks on Saturday and at events the night before with references to God and a need for a religious revival.

This wasn't a conservative message with religious appeals sprinkled in for effect; it was the other way around. Indeed, Beck and his cohorts laid it on thick. (That Beck is a Mormon -- a faith many Christian evangelicals find theologically problematic -- may not have been widely known.)

But what I think bears watching is whether this shift in emphasis is what activists actually want. A few days ago, when former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman announced that he's gay, the NYT reported that the response was muted because the right is focused on the economy, not the culture war. If that's true, does the right want to be told that the new goal is to turn America "back to God"?

The Tea Partiers' agenda has always been rather fluid, but at a minimum, their priorities have tended to emphasize secular issues like taxes, debt, entitlements, and health care reform. These activists not only showed less of an interest in religious issues, in many instances, they deliberately ignored them. Indeed, for over a year, the theocratic elements of the conservative movement were openly disgusted by the shift in focus.

"There's a libertarian streak in the tea party movement that concerns me as a cultural conservative," the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer said in March. "The tea party movement needs to insist that candidates believe in the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage."

Yesterday didn't tell us much in the way of substance, but the rally certainly wasn't about taxes and the deficit. The question then becomes whether far-right activists are comfortable with being footsoldiers in Glenn Beck's army, bringing America to Glenn Beck's vision of God.

Steve Benen 8:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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Thank you, Steve! The sixth comment under your first morning post is now answered.

Posted by: withay on August 29, 2010 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

Yesterday's rally was only religious because Beck got cornered into not making his scheme on the anniversary of King's speech be political, lest it appear as though he was hijacking the day even more than it already did. The only reason he has not been exposed as a charlatan is because his followers are incapable of critical thought and introspection.

Posted by: Steve on August 29, 2010 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

It looks like Beck is preparing to dip into the lucrative pool of TV evangelism.

Posted by: gelfling545 on August 29, 2010 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

When I look at the Tea Party crowds, what I think I see is a load of people who have lost money through foolish investments and are now looking for someone to blame apart from themselves.

Posted by: davidp on August 29, 2010 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

I'm curious how this squares with the fact that Beck has come out in favor of same-sex marriage. Is he ducking that contradiction or is this a "big tent" version of social conservatism where it's OK to disagree about SSM? I'm thinking the former -- the latter seems improbable.

Posted by: rickterp on August 29, 2010 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

My guess: after running a multi-platform marketing operation for well over a year now, Beck's people have encyclopedic knowledge of his listener/viewer demographics, and he's going religious because that's what his audience wants.

Posted by: penalcolony on August 29, 2010 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

It's telling that the tea-partiers feel compelled to disguise and hide their motivations. I saw a guy with a tee-shirt in Lexington, VA, that said "this country was created by white men with guns". I thought, "now there's an honest teapartier". I think religion plays an especially important role, because it serves as the primary test of cultural allegiance. You are not a true member of the culture until you profess your belief in the system of myths that have been passed down from antiquity.

Posted by: DelCapslock on August 29, 2010 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

"Yesterday's rally was only religious because Beck got cornered into not making his scheme on the anniversary of King's speech be political, lest it appear as though he was hijacking the day even more than it already did."

No, he got cornered into not making his scheme a political one, because if he had, his charity organization would not have been able to participate. This was all about Glenn Beck until he realized that if he didn't change the theme, he wouldn't reap the millions he expected to come in -- and his charity wouldn't, either. So, he changed the tone to religious. Hey, why not? Gotta please the base.

Posted by: pol on August 29, 2010 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

"We've got trouble
right here in River City
with a capital "T"
and that rhymes with "P"
and that stands for pool!"

I'll never figure out how someone who is such an obvious fraud, he doesn't even try to hide it, can be taken so seriously. I have a feeling it has something to do with his schtick playing right into the agenda of the corporations who pull the strings of the news media. The attention lavished on Beck's loony circus yesterday (including the weeks long lead up) as well as his every move in general by news outlets competing with his employer is astounding. How much time does Countdown spend every evening rehashing Beck's show? Free advertisng. Its like Beck's show aired on a competing network. I don't get it...unless its in the interest of the corporate owners of the news outlets to leverage Beck's audience for their own purpose.

I'm not surprised yesterday took a more religious tone. That's much easier to control. Look at the tea party rallies last summer over healthcare. They made no sense at all. They were , frankly, ridiculous. The religious message is crystal clear, it isn't scattered. The fools who buy into that crap? They don't care, tea party or Jesus, they just want to be told what to do.

When David Bowie wrote his Diamond Dogs album he took Orwell's 1984 and imagined a world so bad the people begged for Big Brother. This is it, "the year of the Diamond Dogs."

Posted by: SaintZak on August 29, 2010 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

Beck is reminding more and more of Jerry Falwell. It will be interesting to see how the parallell plays out. Falwell was originally believed in withdrawing from politics, until integration started interfering with God's great order. Then he discovered politics and religion are a great money maker and kicked off the Religious Right as we know it today.

Maybe the tea partiers will turn back to God and withdraw from politics. Worse things could happen;>

Posted by: martin on August 29, 2010 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

Politicians, especially conservatives, have known that religion is a powerful method of manipulating the population, especially when used to encourage greater turnout during election time (Office of Faith-based Initiatives).

People are far more likely to follow someone who appeals to a belief system that demands you promote it to and protect it from others, e.g. Christianity.

Posted by: Kiweagle on August 29, 2010 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

Beck's behavior certainly seems to be trending towards revival/evangelical. One may wonder why he's still on Fox News. Wouldn't surprise me if he sets out on his own in the not-so-distant future.

Posted by: MattF on August 29, 2010 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

New York Times earlier yesterday:

“Something that is beyond man is happening,” Mr. Beck said in opening the event as the overwhelmingly white crowd thronged near the memorial grounds.

New York Times later yesterday:

“Something that is beyond man is happening,” Mr. Beck said in opening the event as the crowd thronged near the memorial grounds.

Thank God we have liberal media to scrub embarrassing facts from coverage of wingnuts.

Posted by: Jerome Clark on August 29, 2010 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

"America today begins to turn back to God."

Beck thinks so highly of himself. Does he know how many religious rallies there have been led by people claiming that "This is the day we take back our country for God"? Billy Graham did them all the time. Billy James Hargis, Jerry Falwell, etc for decades and decades. Beck's arrogance is really astounding.

Posted by: Speed on August 29, 2010 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Since the Christian god wasn’t available today for comment (it is his day of rest, after all), I guess we have to rely on the self-appointed, self-anointed Glenn Beck to be god’s spokesperson to relay the message. But, I am still confused as to what that message is. Some days Beck has his hate spigot gushing forth; yesterday he had his love and tolerance message prevailing.

Somehow I get the impression that Beck is nothing more than a con-man, lacking any conscience whatsoever, whose sole purpose is to game the system in order to fill his coffers with money from gullible people.

Posted by: Sheridan on August 29, 2010 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Two thoughts. First, that parsing out the sense of loyalty and love of one's country from the loyalty and love of one's God is a very sophisticated achievement. It's a whole lot easier to not think about such a deep subject, to let the 'America is a Christian Nation' theme roar through one's thoughts and drown out all questions and doubts.

Second, FWIW, Beck has irritated the professional Christians no end by being open to marriage equality. Maybe he's reclaiming his 'cred' as a leader of that movement?

Posted by: JohnMcC on August 29, 2010 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

Remember, religion has often been the last refuge for the unsavory, untoward, ne'er-do-wells we've witnessed over the years!

Beck is merely living out the current shape-shifting weasily form of such a scoundrel!

I see yesterday's event as a strong indicator that for the attendees, education just may not have worked.

To ambivalently hold up a mishmash of thought and idea regarding our "founding fathers" and The Constitution, while not fully understanding the beneficial role our government plays in today's society is to affirm a clear lack of understanding of what we've been, what we are, and what we could become in this free and liberty-minded nation!

I pity the fool that goes by the name Tea-partier! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on August 29, 2010 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

I happened to take Metro from the city to the Virginia suburbs during the runup. I wound up waiting for some other people at a suburban Metro stop that was being used as a dropoff point for teabagger buses. My guess is that it was much less than 300K people. The Foggy Bottom Metro stop (the one nearest the site) was packed and some trains were packed en route, but this was no where near the turnout for a lot of other big rallies. The crowd seemed to have two groups---busloads of people from places half a day away like Pittsburgh, and another contingent that seemed like typical middle/upper middle income tourists staying in the usual DC and inner suburban locations. Except for their t-shirts that parodied the Obama ones, they fit into woodwwork pretty well. The bus people were more blue collar and seemed dazed and confused (they probably got up at 4am) as they tried to negotiate the Metro (and got in the way of locals).

The last few weekends of the summer are a time when the city, in particular, really empties out. Some school districts start before Labor Day, but otherwise, people with the means often try to be gone. This made the lingering teabaggers in the evening more conspicuous than regular tourists (the same dumb t-shirts), but still they didn't leave a big footprint.

Posted by: Rich on August 29, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

I'd love to see Rachel or Keith put up a split screen with Dr. King giving his speech on one side and Beck talking on the other. I'm sure they'd be interchangeable.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on August 29, 2010 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

"I'd love to see Rachel or Keith put up a split screen with Dr. King giving his speech on one side and Beck talking on the other. I'm sure they'd be interchangeable."

Personally, I would love to see Rachel and Keith as well as CNN, the networks, etc., just ignore this clown instead of giving him what he sustains himself on: attention.

Posted by: SaintZak on August 29, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

I believe that Glenn truly did not realize the import of the 8-28 date when he first chose it, just as he says. Then, we he found out it was the "I have a Dream" speech day, he decided that God was trying to tell him something. So then, he ponders and ponders and finally realizes that he, Glenn Beck, has been chosen to........lead a new civil rights movement, one that will Restore Honor to America and turn this country back to God.

I think he lost a lot of followers yesterday. They want to hear someone demonized, like that impostor in the White House. I don't think the many, many libertarian leaning Tea Partiers want to hear another preacher.

Posted by: sceptic on August 29, 2010 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Beck has been wrapped in the American flag for some time and now he is firmly clutching a cross, completing Sinclair Lewis' prophecy. Although there have been others, Beck has Murdoch and other powerful interests at his back to give him unlimited amplification.

When will we reach the breaking point? I don't think we can afford to see that happen.

Posted by: bdop4 on August 29, 2010 at 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

When I look at the Tea Party crowds, what I think I see is a load of people who have lost money through foolish investments and are now looking for someone to blame apart from themselves.

When I look at the Tea Party crowds, what I see are a bunch of right-wing Republicans being duped by a grifter par excellence into believing there is even an iota of difference between the Tea Party and the Republican Party. I don't know what the GOP is worried about. These folks will vote for Republicans in November, because there's no alternative for them. They won't stay home, and they'd sooner die than vote for an evil librul!

Posted by: Screamin' Demon on August 29, 2010 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

In middle America, capitalism and old-time religion are not separated. Protestant work-ethic and all that.

Posted by: Jim on August 29, 2010 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

I was in D.C. yesterday and what I saw in the Becksters was a bunch of folks who are smugly out of touch with rest of their nation. And man oh man, were they white and old.

Posted by: Stacy on August 29, 2010 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

[...] the rally on Saturday was overtly religious, filled with gospel music and speeches that were more like sermons.

Opium for the peoples :)

Posted by: exlibra on August 29, 2010 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

Something tells me that someone walking through the Beck throngs with a T-shirt that simply read, "Glenn Beck is a Mormon" would have been beaten and stripped of said shirt.

Posted by: bassface127 on August 29, 2010 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

Certainly the Koch brothers will not care for this turn on Beck's part.

They created the movement to lower their taxes and increase their bottom line. Religious hoo-ha does nothing for them.

Whoopee!

Posted by: Nancy Irving on August 30, 2010 at 8:05 AM | PERMALINK

In the World According to Beck, the progressive income tax is a stink in God's nostrils because it was instituted by atheist-Marxist-progressives who sought to substitute government for God. This is really a constant motif. So when Beck talks about having the country "return to God," he isn't at all separating himself from the "libertarian right." Privatizing Social Security, cutting taxes for billionaires, etc., etc., would be precisely the way we would demonstrate our willingness as a nation to return to God by renouncing atheistic socialism.

These people really worship Supply-Side Jesus.

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