Sunday, August 29, 2010

Beck’s harmless, thank God!

Glen Beck has had his say on the National Mall, and common-sense Americans -- or at least with a passable knowledge of the nation’s history -- can breathe easier. Beck, we all thought, had wanted to appropriate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., to sell out America to the hate of the right. Nothing, it seems, could have been further from the truth.

In fact, we now know that Beck is nothing more than another televangelist who dreams of a theocracy that can never be. While we liberals worked ourselves into a frenzy over the apocalyptic vision of millions of teabaggers carpeting the Mall determined to throttle federal government and reduce the nation to a Darwinian wasteland., what happened was an open air tent meeting that was less Elmer Gantry than Tony Robbins. Beck, it seems, has seen the light and abandoned the idea of changing America through political activism. As reported on, Beck told a group of DAR faithful the night before the Mall rally, “I kind of felt like God dropped a giant sandbag on my head.” Ah, we can only wish.

Slate writer David Weigel characterizes Beck’s rally as a sucker punch that was largely pulled:

The Democrats who pre-butted Beck's rally by predicting an overtly political hateananny were played for suckers. They didn't pay attention to Beck's "Founder Fridays" episodes on Fox, his high-selling speaking tour, or his schmaltzy children's book The Christmas Sweater. It's not his blackboard that makes him popular. It's the total package he sells: membership in a corny, righteous, Mormonism-approved-by-John Hagee cultural family.
Weigel’s description could be of the beginning of the end for Beck or a frivolous distraction that will soon pass and give us back the Beck we liberals love to hate.

If Beck is serious about his Godly turn, he has just relinquished any power he may have held over the vast majority of self-described conservative Americans. The expanse of American population that calls itself conservative occupies a spectrum that runs from only slightly to the right of CBS News all the way to the John Birch Society. While most have eschewed the most frightening tenets of the extreme right, that right wing has tended to guide the whole of conservatism away from the center in recent years. The danger is not that most conservatives, and even the Republican Party itself, will flock to the right en masse, but rather that the movement to the right will be sufficient to cause most conservatives to let loose the tenuous hold they now have on “liberal” concepts. That includes such concepts as civil rights for those unlike ourselves and a sense of communal empowerment that reserves for governments the duty to do that which we cannot or will not do ourselves, and to pay for those things with tax revenue. Most conservatives see taxation as a necessary imposition that is anything but evil, but needs to be closely monitored and restricted to those things that truly benefit society. That’s not too far from the view held by most of us liberals, the difference largely being in our respective definitions of “things that truly benefit society.”

Most of those conservatives care little or nothing about prayer in schools or whether the U.S. President is a Christian. Most live comfortably in a secular world while allowing their personal lives to be guided to a greater or lesser degree by their religious beliefs. Intellectual conservatives -- and they are legion -- recognize, respect, and fully support the high, wide, long barrier between church and state. They tend to take the position that the First Amendment’s most important duty isn’t to keep religion out of government, but to keep government out of religion.

So if Glen Beck has become just another quasi-religious huckster selling the Church of the American Fantasy, he is considerably less of a threat to fundamental American civil liberties than he was before this past weekend. If he confines himself to getting a bunch of God all over himself and, ultimately, turns his Fox blackboard talks into a ministry, we can safely consign him to the compost heap of uninformed theocrats who have tried to drive America back to the bible from which it never came.

On the other hand, if Glen Beck is just screwing around with God -- and I wouldn’t put that past a man who once went on the air to make fun of a competitor who’d lost a child to miscarriage -- he remains just as dangerous as ever. Fanatical Christians will probably be highly pissed off at him for clowning around in the name of the Father, but Beck has never cared who hated him or why. And those Christians can be amazingly forgiving. Let Beck talk repeatedly about how what’s wrong with America is everyone’s fault but yours, and they’ll be back in no time.

Beck on the Mall was a fun diversion, but I don’t think he’s serious about being God-smacked. I think he’s still one of the most dangerous men in America.