Is Beck’s appeal about personal identification (i.e., “he’s a real person like me”)?
last half of his column
in today’s New York Times
, Ross Douthat gives his interpretation of the Glenn Beck event:
… the pageant effortlessly tapped into the same rich vein of identity politics that has given us figures as diverse as Palin and Howard Dean, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—but did so, somehow, without advancing any explicitly political agenda.
Now more than ever, Americans love leaders who seem to validate their way of life…. In a sense, Beck’s “Restoring Honor” was like an Obama rally through the looking glass. It was a long festival of affirmation for middle-class white Christians—square, earnest, patriotic and religious…. Beck proved that he can conjure the thrill of a culture war without the costs of combat, and the solidarity of identity politics without any actual politics.
If Douthat is right, and Beck is a figure in whom people merely see and affirm themselves
, then he is no more significant than Sarah Palin.
August 29, 2010
- end of initial entry -
Mr. Beck Goes to Washington
By ROSS DOUTHAT
Entering this weekend, I was convinced that Glenn Beck’s star was about to go into eclipse.
Just as Michael Moore, amid Democratic disarray, became the unlikely face of liberal opposition to George W. Bush, the mercurial, weepy, demagogic Beck has spent the last 18 months filling the void left by the institutional collapse of the Republican Party. And just as Moore’s influence diminished as the Democrats came roaring back, it seemed plausible that Beck would matter less and less as the midterms and then the 2012 election re-empowered actual Republican politicians.
But after spending my Saturday at Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally on the Washington Mall, I’m beginning to think that I underestimated the man.
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.
Instead, Beck served up something considerably stranger. This was a tent revival crossed with a pep rally intertwined with a history lecture married to a U.S.O. telethon—and that was just in the first hour.
There was piety—endless piety, as speaker after speaker demanded that Americans rededicate themselves to God. There was patriotism: fund- raising for children of slain Special Forces vets, paeans to military heroism (delivered by Sarah Palin, among others), encomiums to the founding fathers. There was an awards ceremony on the theme of “Faith, Hope and Charity,” in which community-service prizes were handed out to a black minister, a Mormon businessman and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Albert Pujols. And since this was (as you may have heard) the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, there was a long tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.
There was enough material, in other words, to justify almost any interpretation of the event. A Beck admirer could spin “Restoring Honor” as proof that left-wing fears about the Tea Partiers are overblown: free of rancor, racism or populist resentment, the atmosphere at the rally resembled that of a church picnic or a high school football game. But a suspicious liberal could retort that all the God-and-Christ talk and military tributes were proof enough that a sinister Christian nationalism lurked beneath the surface. (I’m sure The New York Review of Books has already commissioned an essay on that theme.)
Similarly, one could call the rally a gross affront to the memory of King, who presumably wouldn’t have cared much for Beck’s right-wing politics. But one could also call the day a strange, unlooked-for fulfillment of King’s prophecies: 47 years after the “I Have a Dream” speech, here were tens of thousands of white conservatives roaring their approval of its author.
To this rally-goer, though, the most striking thing about “Restoring Honor” was the way the pageant effortlessly tapped into the same rich vein of identity politics that has given us figures as diverse as Palin and Howard Dean, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—but did so, somehow, without advancing any explicitly political agenda.
Now more than ever, Americans love leaders who seem to validate their way of life. This spirit of self-affirmation was at work in evangelicals’ enduring support for Bush, in the enthusiasm for the Dean campaign among the young, secular and tech-savvy, and now in the devotion that Palin inspires among socially conservative women. The Obama campaign raised it to an art form, convincing voters that by merely supporting his candidacy, they were proving themselves cosmopolitan and young-at-heart, multicultural and hip.
In a sense, Beck’s “Restoring Honor” was like an Obama rally through the looking glass. It was a long festival of affirmation for middle-class white Christians—square, earnest, patriotic and religious. If a speaker had suddenly burst out with an Obama-esque “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” the message would have fit right in.
But whereas Obama wouldn’t have been Obama if he weren’t running for president, Beck’s packed, three-hour jamboree was floated entirely on patriotism and piety, with no “get thee to a voting booth” message. It blessed a particular way of life without burdening that blessing with the compromises of a campaign, or the disillusioning work of governance.
For a weekend, at least, Beck proved that he can conjure the thrill of a culture war without the costs of combat, and the solidarity of identity politics without any actual politics. If his influence outlasts the current election cycle, this will be the secret of his success.
[end of Douthat op-ed]
Tim W. writes:
Glenn Beck may have done some good with his rally on Saturday. An inspirational rally can indeed inspire, and this one may motivate people to oppose the Obama agenda. But I don’t see him as a leader for any kind of conservative movement. A cheerleader, maybe. But an intellectual and strategic leader, no.
Note that he dropped a planned political rally for the spiritual one he ended up staging. Or think about his belief that Divine Providence is good, while Manifest Destiny is evil. He apparently believes that God desired for us to become a great nation, but it was evil for us to take the territory necessary for that to happen. How does he reconcile this? He never explains it. The best I can deduce is that he thinks America should have grown and expanded westward only by mutual consent of all the parties. Maybe a few spiritual rallies to convince the Indians and Mexicans that America was blessed by Divine Providence, so they would voluntarily join up with us. Of course, that would mean multi-racial governance from the very beginning. Throw in the freed slaves as office holders and this would be a very different nation, not to mention smaller because the idea that we could have taken the lower forty-eight by mutual consent is absurd.
I don’t see Beck fighting much of a culture war. He’s thrown in the towel on racial issues and homosexuality. He opposes speech codes and homosexual attacks on religion, I suppose, but how does one stop those things once same-sex “marriage” and “tolerance” of homosexuality become enshrined? Like Sarah Palin, I suppose he’s pro-life, but he rarely mentions the issue.
Beck does a fine job of exposing radicals and socialists in the Democratic Party, particularly in the Obama regime. He knows something has gone badly wrong, but he’s very unclear about where he thinks we ran off the rails. Maybe it was Andrew Jackson or Woodrow Wilson or FDR. But the cultural revolution of the Sixties, the thing that really sent us down the tubes, is off-limits to him. In fact, his rally was an affirmation of the very law that imposed the modern liberal era of egalitarianism, obsessive non-discrimination policies, and multiculturalism upon us. The Obama administration, which Beck rightly rejects, isn’t a result of Jackson’s populism or Wilson’s progressivism. It’s a result of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the deification of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Chris H. writes:
Regarding Douthat’s discussion about Beck, what is so significant about stating “Americans love leaders who seem to validate their way of life?” Is this not just another way to say people mostly prefer to listen to leaders (or other people) with whom they agree? I know I prefer that. This is the only reason I have generally given Beck a pass in the past. However, I realize now that Beck’s emotional maundering reactions to liberal mainstream thought pretty much make him as useful for our side as TOBH (tits on a boar hog).
The significance to me of Douthat’s observation was that it reminded me of the way Sarah Palin supporters speak: that they love her because she’s someone like them. Her entire appeal is that they identify with her as someone who they feel is just like themselves. I’ve frequently criticized this attitude as an unsound and flimsy basis basis for politics.
Chris H. replies:
I don’t know, it seems so patently obvious that it is not worth commenting on. Hell, we all identify with people like ourselves—birds of a feather flock together.
Yes, it’s normal that birds of a feather flock together. It’s not normal that people say, “Because Sarah Palin is a real person just like me, she is the salvation of America.”
James P. writes:
“For a weekend, at least, Beck proved that he can conjure the thrill of a culture war without the costs of combat, and the solidarity of identity politics without any actual politics. If his influence outlasts the current election cycle, this will be the secret of his success.”
What this means is that Beck can give the middle class white Americans, whom the NYT liberals scorn, an outlet for their complaints without any hope of changing any liberal policies or endangering the liberal political establishment. Making actual change, or retarding liberal “progress,” would constitute “combat,” and only such combat would create potential “costs” for Beck (as usual, the NYT considers that only opposition to liberalism has political costs, never the advance of liberalism). For the NYT, a conservative can only be “successful” if he or she grumbles ineffectually; if they try to do anything other than grumble—i.e., if they engage in “actual politics”—then such efforts are automatically costly, divisive, and doomed to failure.
I heard some talking heads on MSNBC this morning expressing bafflement about the Beck rally—who are these people, what do they want, what is their motivation, it’s all so hard to understand …
Subject: Beck and Palin make people feel better? So does Prozac …
Looking over the discussion of Beck’s Washington rally around the web, I see several people at NRO’s Corner basically saying that the rally surely made ordinary, middle class Americans feel better. Couple this with your observation that many of Palin’s supporters are out there for her because “she’s like me/us,” and one possible interpretation is that we have “politics as therapy” at work.
Well, Prozac makes people feel better, too, in many cases. The problem is, it doesn’t address the underlying problems. Seems to me there is a clear parallel between the drug and Beck as well as Palin.
Andrea M. writes:
One big difference between Ross Douthat and Glenn Beck (in diagnosis, prognosis and praxis of America’s ills) is detachment.
Beck puts his (self-professed) desire to save America into the content of his program and in the organization of his rally. He has put himself into this work. Ross Douthat does not describe whether what Beck is doing is successful or not and why. But rather looks at it, as if under a microscope, to describe how it all happened. I think he’s wrong about the why.
Who is like Glenn Beck? He’s ADD, quick-minded, hilarious, recovering alcoholic, Mormon, etc. He’s really an odd man. But those who like him, and I am one, like what he does, like what he says, like what he cares about, like his show and radio show.
The same is true of Palin. When people say that they are like her, I don’t think that is what they are really saying; they are not trying to say “Palin is just like me.” Who is like Palin? She’s brave, exceptionally beautiful, huge family, hunter, Alaskan, outdoorsy, ex-governor, low-key, candid, completely at ease with herself, etc. She is an unusual person and I don’t think a lot of people are claiming to be like her when they try to articulate what they like about her. We like her because we like what she does, what she says, what she cares about in her work.
Don’t just look at Beck as “Leader of a Movement” (in which role he is unfit), look at the movement he’s standing in front of. That is where the action is. I think it’s interesting, it’s loaded with possibilities. Is Beck capable of leading the movement we want? No. Nor is Palin. Is anyone? Not that I see, but the situation is ripe for the re-emergence of a cunning fox, of Newt Gingrich. It all smells of 1994.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 30, 2010 08:15 AM | Send
It may sound like I am haunted by Newt Gingrich, but the man is alive and kicking and positioning himself yet again. He will outfox Beck and Palin. No one knows how to jump in front of a parade like Newt. Gingrich will derail the whole thing in 2012.