THE BLOG
09/02/2010 03:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Glenn Beck v. Keith Olbermann & Rachel Maddow

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. ~ William Butler Yeats

Glenn Beck, the famous talk show host on Fox News, was in our nation's capital last Saturday to appear at a meeting of his own creation. He and his followers gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to stage a rally where 47-years earlier Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers culminated their march on Washington.

On that momentous occasion, August 28, 1963, King gave his unforgettable "I Have a Dream" speech, a speech that transformed a movement and touched America's soul -- and conscience.

But Glenn Beck's speech, quasi-revivalist in tone, warned of America's drift into "darkness." He did so because he's alarmed about our country, about its direction. Without dismissing Beck's sincerity it's doubtful whether his speech or King's could have been more dissimilar.

Beck claims 500,000 people attended his event. CBS News commissioned AirPhotosLive to provide an aerial view of the rally. AirPhotosLive placed the crowd at 78,000 (plus or minus 9,000.)

You can slice and dice away, but no matter which side of the count you come down on, whether pro or anti-Beck, a whole lot of people showed up at the Lincoln Memorial to cheer their hero.

Quarrels over crowd count are common -- and often the quarrel becomes the story. There's the "official" count and the rally organizer's count, and that's the way it is. But as it relates to Washington last Saturday does it matter? You can go with CBS' 78,000 or Beck's 500,000, but whatever the final number, it was big. So give Beck that.

I couldn't help but wonder, however, what might happen if Beck's polar opposites politically, Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow of MSNBC staged a similar rally?

Would 78,000 come, 250,000, 500,000? Would an Olbermann/Maddow crowd be as committed as Beck's? Would they give up a summer's weekend to travel to Washington to cheer their heroes, as did Beck's?

Could Olbermann or Maddow summon from the depths of their followers similar intensity and dedication to cause? Would they, the MSNBC faithful, like the Fox faithful, arise from their Lazy Susans, walk away from the putting green, cancel plans to go to Disney World, forgo sailing off Cape Cod, to show the flag?

Olbermann and Maddow are smart and talented performers, no less committed in their beliefs and values than Beck, but Olbermann/Maddow's ability to attract a similar size crowd to Beck's, doubtful.

Here's why:

Since the beginning of the Obama presidency liberals and progressives have demonstrated little political passion compared to those on the right. Once the election was over, once a black man was elected president, once the Democrats controlled Congress, liberals and progressives declared victory - and left the game.

Yes, it was a historic win for the Democratic Party and people on the left, but the game wasn't over; it was just beginning.

Surely, that could be seen in last summer's rage over health care, where in public forums across the country the right showed up in huge numbers -- irate, strident, and full of wrath. If you supported health-care they shouted you down, accused you of favoring socialized medicine (never mind that many of the accusers were on Medicare), said you were Marxists or communists -- or worse.

Their mantra was unrelenting, "We want our country back!" they yelled.

In the midst of this, when civil discourse was losing, when men and women in elected office were silenced by fear, liberals and progressives became invisible.

Having walked precincts for Obama, having organized political fundraiser, and having prayed for deliverance from George W. Bush and what many believed were the ill-fated consequences of his presidency, liberals and progressives were content. Having achieved what they so desperately wanted, they opted out. Mission accomplished.

In their absence a new political movement was born. The Tea Party became the rage.

Sarah Palin may or may not be its leader, it may or may not have a coherent political philosophy, but those who joined or followed or identified with the Tea Party, emerged a force. It was said they lacked "sophistication", but passion and intensity can be a wonderful thing in politics.

There is precedence for what happened in the wake of Obama's victory. It happened before but the lesson was forgotten, and, in consequence, its history ignored.

In the 60s and 70s, having finally achieved their principal objectives, civil rights as the rule of law, the end of the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon out of office and disgraced, liberals were spent, emotions drained, energy gone. There were no more rivers to cross or mountains to climb. Everest, K-2, and Annapurna were conquered. Liberalism was victorious. Those who believed in its cause, which they believed to be moral and just, turned to other pursuits.

A large political vacuum was created, but it didn't last. Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority arose -- and American politics were forever changed.

What was Falwell's inspiration?

He said he watched William Sloane Coffin Jr., the Berrigan brothers, and other Christian clergy march against the war in Vietnam and decided if they could march against a war he could march for the rights of the unborn. Coffin, the Berrigans and others left the parade. Falwell and Robertson and Dobson took their place.

We do not know the Tea Party's dénouement, what the political effect will be in November. But what we do know is this: Unless liberals can find their hearts, their souls, and reclaim their energy and sense of mission, Obama's 2008 victory will have ended before it began.

And the "darkness" Glenn Beck believes America is drifting into, will come to pass -- but the darkness will be different than he foresees.