THE BLOG
08/30/2010 12:59 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Myth of Beck's 'Apolitical' Event

I have no idea what Ross Douthat is doing. Now that he appears to have gotten all the baddies out constructing weird arguments against gay marriage, he's moved on to defending Glenn Beck and his totally "apolitical" geriatric love-in.

This, among other reasons, is why I have appointed Ross my new David Brooks for his awe-inspiringly hapless work. David Brooks has been promoted to my new Maureen Dowd, and Maureen is my new drunk aunt. Congratulations, everyone!

In today's mistake, Ross states the following:

The Fox News host had promised that the rally, billed as a celebration of American values, would be an explicitly apolitical event. And so it came to pass: save for an occasional "Don't Tread On Me," banner, the crowded Mall was nearly free of political signs and T-shirt slogans, and there was barely a whisper of the crusade against liberalism that consumes most of Beck's on-air hours.

Here, Ross neglects to mention that signs and banners were banned from Beck's gathering. You see, teabaggers have had a little problem with certain members carrying incredibly racist and provocative signs in the past, so instead of letting their racism shine through -- unfiltered for all the world to see -- Beck and his handlers preemptively censored his base. Furthermore, what appeared on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was a watered-down, "safe" version of Beck's philosophy.

Though I frequently disagree with Ross's articles, he's nowhere near as batty as his compatriots within the regressive Republican Party. He does recognize that the Restoring Honor rally was "strange" and offered enough material to "justify almost any interpretation of the event."

It really did appear as though Beck understands he's led a frenzied, frothing-at-the-mouth mob to a precipice, and short of calling for full-out Civil War, there's really not much he can do with his follower's constructed anti-Obama, anti-Muslim, anti-liberal sentiments. Basically, he said a lot of nice stuff about God and country, and then something about how we're all George Washington before he scrambled back to his world of elite media aristocracy.

But just because Beck didn't bring his campaign of hysterical fear-mongering to its logical conclusion doesn't make the event apolitical. Ross claims Beck successfully tapped into "identity politics" but "somehow" did it "without advancing any explicitly political agenda." If you understand that statement, you could probably work as a columnist for the New York Times.

Of course the event was political. Sarah Palin, the sweetheart of the political Tea Party movement, was a speaker. Congressmen such as Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) helped with fundraising, and the astroturf experts at FreedomWorks (originally set up by David Koch, and chaired by former House Majority Leader, Dick Armey, and also the group behind efforts to derail healthcare reform,) along with Tea Party Patriots, offered volunteers as well as logistical advice.

Ross's mistake appears to be that he examined only the explicit message offered by Beck in that single day. Restoring Honor was really the neutered version of Beck's typical tirade, something an infrequent viewer of his horrible show wouldn't necessarily pick up on.

On MLK's "I Have a Dream" anniversary, there was no talk of cancer -- aka progressivism -- ACORN, Black Panthers, black people in general (save MLK), socialism, etc. This was very much the safe version of the Beckian message. To truly understand the spirit of his real "behind closed doors" movement, one needs to look at the language he has used in the past, and to his followers who are definitely political animals.

Attendees wore anti-Obama buttons. ABC's website features an article titled, "Glenn Beck's Non Political Rally Turns Political" for the simple reason that the rally's participants sure as hell think theirs is a political cause.

Nancy and Tom Mistele came from Wisconsin to attend Beck's rally and events surrounding it. The two say they came because they haven't earned a paycheck since 2006 and are afraid that Americans are losing their freedom and their country.

"I believe slowly, our rights are being taken away little by little," Tom Mistele said. "A lot of it's already been lost, but it's not lost permanently. We can get it back."

Cody Smith, an 18-year-old high school student from Indiana, believes passionately that the U.S. government should be stopped from moving toward socialism.

"We're here because we think our nation needs to get back to the principles of liberty that our founders gave us," he said. The rally is "going to be just historic. It's going to be us standing up and showing people that we're not the racist bigots that the media portrays us to be but that we love freedom, we love people and we want to show people that freedom is really the best way to go."

I really feel badly for these people. They've devoted a lot of time watching their messiah rail against the racist, Socialist President Obama all these months. Then, they turned up with their visors and lawn chairs for an afternoon of liberal-bashing, and all they got was a lukewarm amalgam -- not quite a sermon, not quite a history lesson, and definitely not a call to arms. The conman Beck got paid, they wasted a beautiful day, and no one gained anything from the mess.

Ross gushes at the end that Beck offered "the thrill of a culture war without the costs of combat" for a single weekend. Except, the culture war isn't always so cute and fluffy, and I wouldn't necessarily describe Beck calling Progressives cancer, and accusing the president of being racist toward white people as a "thrill." Ross emphasized he was only talking about this weekend, but limiting the scope of understanding in that way seriously undermines the power of Beck's propaganda. It's possible that for elites like Ross, Beck's theatrical mania is entertaining, and does give him a thrill. However, the performance is also irresponsible and incredibly dangerous.

The good people over at Media Matters provide an example: For months, Beck waged his culture war against the Tides Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides fiscal sponsorship for progressive groups. Then, on July 18, Byron Williams, an ex-felon with a history of violent criminal behavior, was pulled over by California Highway Police. Williams opened fire at the officers as one approached his truck (he was reportedly heavily armed with a handgun, shotgun, rifle and body armor,) and he later told investigators that his intentions were "to start a revolution by traveling to San Francisco and killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU." The ACLU is a typical right-wing target, but the inclusion of the Tides Foundation baffled many observers. Why would this man choose to target such an innocuous group that possessed no influence over his life?

According to his mother, Williams "watched the news on television and was upset by 'the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items.'" MM stresses that no one knows for sure if Williams was watching Glenn Beck, but we do know that Beck railed against the Tides Foundation many, many times.

On July 14, Beck said:

You believe that America is the last best hope for the free world. Boy, was I a moron for believing that. Nope, there are a lot of people that believe that we are the oppressor. This man states it. He states in this book "The purpose is to create mass organizations to seize power." Wow! That almost sounds like the Tides Foundation.

On July 13, Beck said:

Well, they have the education system. They have the media. They have the capitalist system. What do you think the Tides Foundation was? They infiltrate and they saw under Ronald Reagan that capitalists were not for all of this nonsense, so they infiltrated. Now, they are using failing capitalism to destroy it.

And the list goes on...

Ah, the thrill of the culture war. And no costs of combat! Well, unless you're a California highway police officer. But that's like 2,413 miles away from New York, and shoot-outs are so totally cool when they're that far away.

Cross-posted from allisonkilkenny.com