Special Report

The Success of the Beck Rally

But did principle trump personality?

By 8.31.10

Send to Kindle

I love watching Glenn Beck on TV.

Day winding down, he makes so many good points. As someone who has spent a lifetime studying history, been there in government and politics, I find it great to watch Beck's particular insistence on educating Americans about real history that has gone missing. Having long ago learned first hand the progressive-race connection, for example, by having lived for a couple years in Woodrow Wilson's hometown, I am stunned to see someone have the wit and the chops to detail this particularly disturbing history of America's "progressive" president on popular television.

Bravo.

So I watched the rally on C-SPAN. 

And you know what? (He says gently…)

I was elated -- and concerned.

Elated because putting together something like this is no day at the beach. Beck clearly worked his heart out on it and so too the Tea Party folks and all manner of others. It was a triumph. A huge success and Beck deserves congratulations for it.

If I may raise one concern.

Believe it or not, I found this event to be a bit of an intellectual muddle.

After considerable amounts of time doing a superb job on his television show analyzing American history -- from early American religion to the Founders to the Progressives -- and managing to draw a television audience of amazing size with all this, it was almost as if there was a bit of indecision as to what to say at this rally. Was this politics? Or religion? Or something else?

In truth, I wasn't sure. There's a difference between spot-on political assessments of "social justice" and being Billy Graham. Of urging people to political action -- and religious action. Oddly, this is one of the reasons (in reverse) why Beck opponents in the world of liberal religion have lost members: they have presented themselves as religious leaders yet behave as if they were secular politicians. Beck seems to be struggling with being a secular talk radio commentator -- or the Reverend Glenn.

There's nothing wrong with either. But the latter, per se, seems not what he was about all of this time up until now.

FOR REASONS THAT HAVE nothing to do with Glenn Beck -- television, the celebrification of America, the eternally human tendency to be attracted to powerful personalities -- it is critical to remember that events of this nature are not about the speakers but the participants. Martin Luther King's famous speech will be remembered forever -- but it will be remembered because the American people understood how to bring about racial equality for all Americans using the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Principles King spent a career discussing.

In other words, while the headlines go to a King or a Beck -- it is in fact the principles and the millions working to make those principles a reality that are always the real story.

But if the leader is well-intentioned yet unclear, well, muddle ensues.

The 2010 election is not about personality X,Y or Z. With the greatest of respect to Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, both of whom I like, neither this election -- nor any other -- can afford to be about Glenn or Sarah or Newt or Rush or Sean or Mark or the Tea Party or Rand Paul or Sharron Angle or Alaska's Joe Miller or anyone else.

Is God part of this election? Yes, as always in American history. Beck is fond of quoting what originally came from Lincoln, saying that it's not important whether God is on our side but whether we are on God's side. But having well and powerfully established himself as a man of politics, Beck seems to be going elsewhere. True? Untrue? No idea.

Conservatives would do well to remember that this election is simultaneously about none of the above -- and all of the above. It is about millions across America who are totally un-famous beyond their church, their village, town or city, their service club, their school, their military unit if serving. 

The 2010 election -- and every day we all draw a breath -- was correctly summarized centuries ago by Edmund Burke when he spoke of the principles at stake in a "partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born."

The Beck rally, says Beck, was about prayer. About God. And God generally supplies the help. As John Fund reported over at the Wall Street Journal, the grass roots nature of this event was evident as hundreds of Tea Party members buckled down to do the hard work of making the event and other events associated with it actually happen and run smoothly. But the Tea Party as it has emerged has presented itself as a political movement concerned about economics and politics. Not a religious faith.

The conservative movement's success comes from, among other things, the very fact of its messiness. Burke never said it wouldn't be messy. It is totally uncoordinated, filled with vibrant personalities who are busy blossoming in their own way that is not someone else's way. To which one can only say: Amen! This is a central strength, never a weakness. Beck says the rally to him was about God and, with his brigade of 240 ministers and awards for Faith, Hope and Charity, he added a distinctly unique flavor that is his. Some watched and saw a direct connection to politics. To each his own.

Ronald Reagan never ever saw himself as anything other than what he was his entire, mature adult life -- an advocate for timeless conservative principles. The reason conservatives celebrate the life and presidency of this mortal human being was his thorough, in-the-bones understanding of the fact that the principles are timeless -- even if individual humans are not. To be a Reaganite is to take Reagan's lesson to heart.

Liberals are out there just going crazy waiting for Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or any other prominent conservative to take a fall -- so they can turn around and say to the country: "See? It doesn't work. It's all about them." Turning himself from talk radio and TV commentator Glenn to Reverend Glenn will surely be seen by some -- if in fact that's what happening -- as just such an opening.

If Glenn Beck hasn't yet figured out where he's going with all of this, all the more reason for conservatives to stay focused on principles.

Beck has to know this. He comes across as so remarkably open, educating himself and his audience as he goes along. This is what surely accounts for part of the enthusiastic response from his audience. So too does Sarah Palin get it.

But whether Americans see the Beck rally as a rally about God or a rally about American politics, without doubt what is also at play here is the absolute rebellion that is taking place across America. A rebellion of which Beck and Palin and Newt and the call for God are symptoms but not causes. The American people in 2010, not at all unlike the American people in 1776, have had it. As Angelo Codevilla has so devastatingly captured in his forthcoming book on America's Ruling Class, beyond any one issue they are simply done with the arrogance that is the "dismissal of the American people's intellectual, spiritual, and moral substance." They are done, more than done, with the self-selected class of their fellow citizens whose "principal article of faith, its claim to the right to decide for others, is precisely that it knows and operates by standards beyond others' comprehension."

THIS REBELLION HAS BEEN COMING for a very long time. Surely the 40-plus years of yanking God out of every public school and square plays a role in this upheaval. Take a good look around.

One of the most successful books in the last year has been Mark Levin's Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto.

What's particularly interesting about Levin's book is that it was written before the election of Barack Obama. Which is to say, that Levin understood exactly the continuing conservative revolution -- and that it was not, as its critics of the moment wishfully insisted, dead. A prediction made with some regularity since at least the day after Barry Goldwater's 1964 defeat.

On the contrary, the success of conservatism can be measured in multiples of ways, Levin's book sales but one.  

Let's take Levin's own talk radio field. Rush Limbaugh is in a class all by himself. The story of his success is both personal and a tale of conservatism's genuine popularity. His influence as he patiently and entertainingly explains principle in terms of daily events is simply unmatched. There are others behind Rush, from Sean Hannity to Levin to Beck and so on. Each with his own unique style. America knows these people well.

Which means something in the real world of 2010 politics.

Has anyone paid attention to the success of Sean Hannity's Freedom Concerts? Here's a guy who spent his vacation-less August trekking from city to city putting on star-studded musical extravaganzas at the rate of two a weekend from Atlanta to Las Vegas to San Diego and Dallas to Cincinnati to name just a few locations. Sold out crowds. Tens and tens of thousands of people. Millions of dollars raised for a charity, the Freedom Alliance, which in turn has used its funds for, among other things, the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund. A program to help educate the kids of those who were disabled or lost their lives in the military. Hannity pays for chunks of this personally. And the concerts are always presented with the help of Alliance co-founder retired Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and a cast of hundreds.

Does no one think this means anything politically? That there's no message from all those people who show up to cheer on Hannity as he sings (sort of!) "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" with Charlie Daniels fiddling away? Of course there's a message, and that message is about principles. Conservative principles.

Does no one really get the Sharron Angle story? Here is a conservative struggling in her Nevada primary race against more establishment, better-known and financed Republicans. Suddenly she is lifted from obscurity because Levin has taken up her cause -- and now she is the designated terror that Harry Reid is trying to use to scare Nevadans into giving him yet another endless term? Even as Reid's son tries to claim the state's governorship? Of course there's a message here -- a message about conservative principles.

Does no one understand the role of talk radio -- alongside Sarah Palin -- in Joe Miller's apparent lead over the establishment incumbent GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski? Yes, indeed, once again it was Levin at work. Levin plunged into Arizona, and took up the cause of McCain opponent J.D. Hayworth -- losing. But the loss is beside the point. The real point is Levin's understanding that these races for conservatism are won state by state, district by district, one vote at a time, doing the nitty-gritty of hard work all across America.

IT HAS BEEN BEYOND BREATHTAKINGLY foolish for liberals to take a look at the Tea Party movement and shut it out, dismissing the participants as just a bunch of racist, ignorant Nazi-loving nuts. Aside from being insultingly and deliberately bogus, it was mind-bogglingly stupid. A year ago I spent some time in the small town of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, while Senator Arlen Specter was conducting one of those now-famous raucous town hall meetings on health care. The astonished police told me there were at least 1,000 people outside on the streets. I spent time talking with those in the crowd. They were from all across the state. They had taken time off of work to drive to Lebanon. They came on their own. They did not, they made it clear, come because of anyone on the radio or television. They were mad. Furious about what they saw as, in the President's words, an attempt to "fundamentally transform" their country from a set of constitutional principles to some sort of statist utopia.

All of this hot success -- the conservative books, the talk radio shows, the summertime Beck rally and the Hannity concerts, the ratings of Fox News and the prominence of publications like the one you are reading -- combined with the Internet -- are in the process of bringing forth the next chapter in a serious philosophical movement that features a veritable universe of stars past and present discussing in Burkean fashion a timeless set of principles.

 From the Edmund Burkes, John Lockes, Adam Smiths and Abraham Lincolns to a Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and on and on right down to, as was said in the famous Longfellow poem of Paul Revere's ride, "every Middlesex village and farm" -- the conservative revolution flowers. And yes, Beck is correct to include early American religious leaders in this long chain.

Make absolutely no mistake.

Glenn Beck is doing his thing, which only he can do and do well. This is no slam at Beck. It is just an expression of, well, not understanding where he's going with this. Those half million on the mall with him are now part of this chapter of the Conservative Revolution. Whether they were showing up for God or America or tax cuts or to support the troops, whatever it is or was is having an impact. And so too the thousands who showed up at Sean Hannity's Freedom Concerts are part of all of this. Yes, don't forget the people who bought -- and continue to buy --- Mark Levin's book. Or Laura Ingraham's or Ann Coulter's or Michelle Malkin's or -- yes again -- Glenn Beck's. Not to mention who those who voted for Sharron Angle or Joe Miller or conservative candidate X. Or those who tune in faithfully to Rush.

But never forget that the real hero here is, well, you. Or, as Beck might have it, the children of God.

The average American who gets out of bed every single day and raises a family, goes to work, pays the taxes, serves in the military or in some fashion is the driving force in their community.

And the average American is now in open rebellion from coast to coast. Against a ruling class bent on social engineering when they're not busy erasing American history.

The message is timeless. The principles sound. They are colorblind and reject attempts to divide by race, class or religion. And yes, they do have a core that comes from a Judeo-Christian heritage.

America, as Ronald Reagan use to say, is an idea. You can move to England yet you will never be an Englishman. You can move to France but you will never be French. But anyone can become an American (legally!). And once here, a realization takes hold, as Levin quotes Reagan in his book. 

"Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free." 

Conservatives, Levin noted in his book, need to get busy.

If the Beck rally, the Hannity concerts, the talk radio and Fox ratings, the book sales and the intensity factors of every poll out there are correct -- conservatives are busy.

Millions of you. All at the same time. All in your own way. God's children one and all.

To borrow from James Carville: It's the principles, stupid.

Can you say Amen!

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.