What are we to make of Glenn Beck's repeated assertions that his "Restoring Honor" weekend had "nothing to do with politics and everything to do with God?" They are simply additional evidence that Beck is a shrewd marketer with an increasingly messianic view of his political role. The Right-wing Obama-and-Pelosi-hating base is already energized; Beck's soft-focus rally was a public relations effort to expand his reach to the middle. Join us, he's saying, we're the ones who love our country and what it stands for.
Beck's weekend events, and the Tea Party festivities that surrounded them, were really designed to advance the primary political project of far-right leaders in America: marrying anti-tax, anti-government economics with socially conservative religion, and wrapping the whole destructive package in a feel-good Christian-nation Americanism -- and all of that in the service of putting Republicans back in power in 2010 and 2012.
While Beck pretended that he was interested only in God and goodness, the weekend was a smorgasbord of right-wing delights. Americans for Prosperity rallied supporters to sign up for its "November is Coming" campaign, which is targeting 40-50 "big-spending" members of the House of Representatives with attacks on health care reform, energy regulation, and stimulus spending. Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and its political action committee held a "Take America Back!" convention on Friday night featuring Tea Party favorites like Michele Bachmann and promoting a raft of right-wing Senate candidates including Marco Rubio (FL), Mike Lee (UT), Rand Paul (KY), and Dino Rossi (WA). Freedom Works and the Tea Party Patriots both helped build the Saturday crowd for Beck's event, while urging people to attend Sunday's Tea Party Rally against health care reform.
Meanwhile, speakers at the supposedly nonpolitical rally made their agendas clear. Sarah Palin, who was invited by Beck as a military mom, not a politician (wink, wink) said, "we must not fundamentally transform America as some would want. We must restore America and restore her honor." She did not say Obama's name but who didn't understand that he was her target? Alveda King pushed the Religious Right's greatest hits: abortion, same-sex marriage, prayer in schools. Beck's newly formed clergy group, the "Black Robe Regiment," joins other Religious Right efforts to push preachers to become more aggressive in promoting "fundamental principles" in the public arena.
They weren't on the stage, but loud and clear were the messages of the anti-government billionaires whose money continues to fuel the political organizations behind the Tea Party movement. Beck described America as the idea that "man can rule himself" and warned against those who say, "the experiment cannot work, man must be ruled by someone." Beck also promoted the idea that poverty and suffering should be taken on by individuals and churches, not government. Beck urged people to give ten percent of their income to their churches, saying tithing is important because "our nation can only do great works through our churches if they have the means to do it."
Beck's extravaganza and the attendant organizing by Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works were a huge collective investment in appropriating the moral authority of Dr. Martin Luther King by a movement whose goals are utterly counter to Dr. King's progressive vision. Beck showed pictures of the 1963 March on Washington, but did not note that one of the major purposes of the rally was to demand action from the federal government to create jobs. A socialist stimulus? It's stunning to think that King would have anything to do with the anti-government, anti-tax economics being pushed by Beck and his billionaire buddies. If Beck were on air during the 1960s, is it more likely that he would have been promoting King's movement or echoing J. Edgar Hoover's efforts to denigrate King as a communist?
It's a testament to Beck's power as an entertainer that he can keep a straight face while preaching a "we're all Americans" unity standing before the Lincoln Memorial after making millions with daily venomous attacks on Americans who don't share his political beliefs. How can he bemoan the rise of hatred in America after doing so much to inflame it? And it is hypocritical in the extreme for Beck to tell people to respect each other in spite of their differences when he has denigrated the faith of millions of Americans who believe, as Martin Luther King did, that their faith leads them to advocate for social justice.
Ultimately, Beck's urgent plea that we "restore America's honor" is nothing more than a softer, ersatz version of the Tea Party demands to "take back our country."
A few thoughts for those of us who don't particularly want to "go back" to the kind of country Beck and the Tea Party's backers have in mind. We must focus on and expose their radical political goals.
When Tea Party-backed candidates like Sharon Angle suggest that welfare and government regulations violate the Ten Commandments as well as the Constitution, they are pushing hard to put a religious gloss on the goals of anti-government radicals like the billionaire Koch brothers, who have funded the Tea Party movement and are fueling unprecedented Republican obstructionism in the Senate.
We should recognize, not dismiss, the fiscal concerns motivating many people who may be drawn to the Tea Party. But progressive organizations and political leaders must make the case that the greater threat to Americans' well-being is the unbridled power of corporations and their political allies who are throwing sand in the gears of government to disrupt its ability to protect our food, air, water, and the common good. The ultimate goal of those who are funding the Tea Party movement is a country in which corporate power is unchallenged, corporate profits are untaxed, and corporate behavior is unhindered by regulations that protect workers, consumers, the environment, and everyone who breathes air or drinks water.
The Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United gives us an opportunity to reach people who may be as concerned about big business as they are about big government. Polls show there are millions of Americans out there who distrust the level of power corporations have over our lives and our country, and who strongly object to the conservative Court giving corporations the ability to spend unlimited sums to buy politicians and judges to their liking.
We are up against a toxic mix: promoters of a political ideology that denies the legitimate role of the government in promoting the general welfare and protecting the well-being of individual Americans, a movement to give that anti-government extremism religious and moral authority, and vast funding for all these efforts. We all need to help Americans unpack this unholy alliance and call it for what it is. As George W. Bush once said, "fool me once..." Well, never mind. You know what I mean.