It's been called a lot of things... Beckapalooza. Glenn Beck's "I Have a Scheme" rally. The Fear and Loathing March on Washington. And, of course, Restoring Honor. FOX News dressed it up with a nice logo (left) and graphic treatment as part of their fair and balanced reporting.
As they always do, crowd estimates were spit-balled. They ranged from 87,000 (CBS News' independent consultant) to 300,000 (NBC News, unsourced) to 5 million (my friend Rikk on a Facebook post where we were trying to trump one another). Videos were shot, Beck squeezed out some tears (presumably he's learned to do that without the Vics VaPoRub under his eyes by now... 'cause people can smell that stuff a mile away you know).
But a funny thing happened on the way to the rally: Glenn found God (again). This time he found her in words procured from speeches given by Martin Luther King Jr. and President Obama, among others. And he found three of his major rhetorical points in my old Sunday school reader (and also, though I am not sure, the Boy Scout handbook): Faith, hope and charity. I have to hand it to Mr. Beck. He picked three virtues that pretty much everyone finds decent and acceptable, at least in a general sense. Sure, "faith" has a religious definition... as in "Christian faith." which Mr. Beck was leaning upon firmly as he worked himself into full-tilt revival mode. Hope, oddly, was ridiculed extensively by one of his special guest stars, Sarah Palin. (I can still hear her sing-songy "How's that hopey-changy stuff working out for ya?" meme.) Now, for Sarah, hope's back in style... perhaps as in "I hope I can continue to charge really high appearance fees because all the hope in the world is not going to get me into the presidency.) And charity. In Republican-speak, isn't that something you do for a write-off? That's if you're giving charity, of course. If you are taking charity, it's welfare or handouts, and it goes to lazy crack heads and it's evil.
In a bunch of back and forth comments on a few Facebook threads, this became a discussion topic. My friend Troy described the Beck virtues as follows:
As long as it's Christian faith, hope for corporate profits, and charity for people who don't really need it.
My cousin, the good ol' boy, weighed in from the Deep South
Faith - Black Liberation 'Theology' and the Government
Hope - Someone else pays my mortgage, car payment, utilities
Charity - Steal from those who work and give who [sic] those who won't
And my independent nee Libertarian high school friend Craig from Idaho called the question:
Dave, this deal got snagged in your craw alright [sic]. By the way I'd like to see your rebuttal to each of the points your cousin made.
Take Faith, Hope and Charity from your perspective. Looking forward to reading that post.
I started to answer him, but it grew far too long for Facebook and became the Daily Kos and/or Kerfuffle post I was looking to write since it's been a while since I've really ranted.
So, Craig, since you asked...
When mentioned as glittering generalities, a la Mr. Beck yesterday, it's hard to simplify these three important virtues to brief definitions. You can be sort of cynical, and Troy may have taken that route. You can be crass, and I submit my cousin's version for that. I'll choose to be optimistic...
Faith: That I can count on my fellow man to treat me with the same amount of respect and dignity that I try to treat my fellow man. Essentially, as I am agnostic and therefore do not subscribe to a specific version of a "god" but rather consider myself to be a spiritual being and that while I cannot explain it, there is some natural force greater than man. But man is the one force in our world that is rational, and therefore is capable of working with/living with his/her fellow man/woman and together making the world a better place. In short, my faith is in humanity itself... not some competing deity.
Hope: I have great hope that my fellow man will rise to the occasion, whatever it may be, with what it takes to move mankind forward. This may be with creativity, with discovery, with sacrifice, with love, with effort, with labor, or other man-driven forces, be they intellectual, spiritual or physical. To "hope" that "god's will" might make a difference or impact on one's life is, to me, a cop out. Hope is something that comes from within.
Charity: That's pretty simple. Man helping man, addressing the needs of the less fortunate, less intelligent, less gifted, less educated, less physically able, less advantaged. It might be giving your used clothes to Goodwill, even if mostly for the write-off. But it is a lot more than that. It's an attitude of shared responsibility for the collective welfare of mankind. Sure, there will always be people who take "charity" of some kind and may be less-deserving than others. Just because one lady at the Beck rally rants on and on for the camera how the Obama administration is planning death camps (really!) for people who don’t embrace socialism is not reason to think all Tea Partiers are batshit crazy (though one must wonder at times).
I find interesting the turn Mr. Beck took with his booklet of virtues, veering away from politics and toward revival. I'm speculating this redirection came at the behest of his corporate masters, funders, and the Republican powers that be, lest he trash the party. He borrowed from MLK's and Obama's speeches, he made it all about Christian love and benevolence, and he had people eating out of his hand. Even though many, many people in the tea party movement have demonstrated, repeatedly, that they are not grounded in reality, it is a stroke of genius -- self-promoting egotistic genius but genius nonetheless -- to make this rally appear as a big apolitical Christian gathering. He essentially bailed on his politics and fell back on the Lord... always crowd pleaser. It was not without it's hiccups, of course. Seeing Beck's disciples chant at Reverend Al Sharpton's people "Go to church!" was oddly amusing, let alone ironic, though also rather bigoted in terms of religion versus religion.
Beck's performance was brilliant in terms of a well-crafted message strategy. He may well have done a huge favor to the more mainstream Republicans, who truly feared what this loose cannon might let fly, because he fell in line with the God and Christianity = Republicans meme. That's both powerful and valuable to a party with no real plans or policy other than to go back to what drove the economy in the ditch in the first place. So, sure, give more tax breaks to the top 2% (because we know they are suffering), take health care back away from people who otherwise can't afford it, make Muslims hate us even more, extend the age for Social Security while reducing benefits... the same old GOP hit parade of failed policy. Unfortunately, people who blindly buy into the God Gays and Guns style of crap -- and it is crap in my not-so-humble opinion -- will buy it lock, stock and barrel.
Sometimes it's simply not possible to save people from their own ignorance, prejudice and fear. Some who read that might feel that's a rather "elitist intellectual" thing to say. I can't help that. But for better or for worse, I learned early on in my advertising career that with the right message, offer and pitchman, you can sell a lot of ice to an Inuit. People can be manipulated to behave in a way that is counter to their best interests. You can get people to buy fast food and high-fat snacks that are terrible for them. You can get people to make bad investments (antique gold coins anyone?). And you can get people to vote for a candidate or party that will actually make their life worse off. It's a lousy thing to do... to take advantage of people who don't realize they are being played. But Shame is rarely invited to the party in politics (or marketing), especially when Money and Power are making the guest list.
Are the Democrats geniuses? Hardly. Are there a lot of corrupt liberals? Probably as many as conservatives. But do liberals and progressives actually care more about their fellow man? Yes, I truly think so. That's what makes them liberals and progressives. They think in terms of the future and of "we" while conservatives tend to think of the status quo and of "me."
All too often, none of that matters when most people are low information voters, and are easily manipulated. Capitalism and politics both count on that to a large degree. Mr. Barnum, who gleefully welcomed the suckers that were born every minute, knew the value of good old-fashioned gullibility when you have something to sell that can't be sold on merit alone.
[cross-posted at Daily Kos]