Glenn Beck's 300,000 meet-up in D.C. means something significant, but what is it?

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As far as determining the "message" behind Saturday's event in D.C., journalist Mark Benjamin went looking to find out why people went to the event, and basically heard from some of those he interviewed that they dig Beck, and came because he called for them to gather.

Gerald Chester, a truck driver from Elkhart, Ind., said he came because of Beck. “What he is about is a good thing, restoring honor,” Chester said. “Bringing God back into Americans’ lives is important.” When asked what attendees should do to accomplish this, Chester replied, “That’s a good question.” Kristine Sullivan said she was “here to take back America. I want it back. I want our country back.” She said the purpose of the rally was to encourage people to vote for “whoever is up there to support the American people."

The New York Times' Ross Douthat writes today that before the rally, he somehow believed that Beck's "star was about to go into eclipse," but now he doesn't feel that way anymore. Like others, he says it's hard to figure out what Saturday was about, but writes that because Beck took politics essentially out of the event, it will give him longer staying power with the American public, and compares the crowd to those who went to see Howard Dean in 2003, or Obama in 2008, or George W. Bush in 2004:

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.

Douthat is correct in writing that because he made the event somehow "nonpolitical," it puts less pressure on Beck to "deliver," in a way that elected officials have to do ultimately.  But if you follow Beck's career you know that he was always into being a communicator since he was a little kid, and didn't really ever cover politics in any depth until after 9/11.  What's astounding is how his "common man" persona has evolved into him becoming such a force against "progressives," and liberals, and yet, when he pushes too hard, he evolves into, well, what did he tell Wallace Sunday when challenged on how much he knew about the Civil Rights era?

// I  wasn't even born — you know, I lived in the Pacific Northwest. I can't even begin to relate. But I can understand it intellectually. And I can also begin to understand it in the heart when you see justice not done. We're seeing justice perverted on both sides for a very long time.

Glenn Beck is a conservative talk show host who has seen his heady career ascend to a plateau few media figures ever achieve in the 17 months since he began his daily Fox News show, which coincided  with Barack Obama being inaugurated as the nation's 44th president.

The  fact that he was able to generate an estimated 300,000 to his much hyped rally in Washington D.C. on Saturday surely says something about him and this country.

But  two days later, just what exactly that is, to borrow a phrase, is not exactly clear.

For those of us who pay attention to these things, Beck announced nine months ago in the Villages about his "100- year plan," which, as CL contributor Tom Bortnyk reported at the time, was going to be the culmination of his becoming, in essence, a community organizer, à la Barack Obama:

Beck’s plan revolves around a series of educational training courses, where average Americans can become conservative activists, and even politicians. Beck has assembled a team of experts to serve as advisers, which he plans to use to educate the conservative base on all the prominent arguments. They will then be ready for battle as they organize and gather support in their communities.

There are seven of these seminars, the first of which will be held in Orlando. The rest of the country can go to and vote for where the other six should be held. All these training and recruitment efforts are a prelude to Beck’s main event this coming August – a march on Washington, D.C., where he will deliver a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

But a funny thing happened between the soaring goals of last November and what happened this weekend.  Beck essentially dropped the community-organizing idea. Instead as most people know by now, the event, already under hyper-criticism for being held on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech," became mostly an event celebrating God.  Huh?

Not much we can add to that.  But we did find Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace interview with Beck, taped after Saturday's event at the Washington mall, instructive at times, leading Beck to hem and haw on a couple of key questions, as he played the self-deprecating "I'm just a rodeo clown" card more than ever.

Beck repeated to Wallace what he recently told talk show host Joe Madison — that he apologizes for calling President Obama racist toward white people, and instead says he was castigating him for his belief in liberation theology.  In other words, that whole Jeremiah Wright stuff.

WALLACE: Do you —I know you've said it, but I mean, do you — and in this context, in this forum, do you regret having called him a racist and saying...

BECK: Of course.

WALLACE: ... he had a deep-seated hatred for white people?

BECK: Of course I do. I don't — I don't want to retract the — I want to amend that I think it is much more of a theological question, that he is a guy who understands the world through liberation theology, which is oppressor and victim.

Racist was — first of all, it shouldn't have been said. It was poorly said. It was — I have a big fat mouth sometimes and I say things, and that's just not the way people should behave. And it was not accurate.  It is liberation theology that...

WALLACE: Let — let me ask...

BECK: ... has shaped his world view.

Beck had infuriated blacks and most others with a conscience with some of his comments leading up to the rally when he arrogantly said he was going to "reclaim the Civil Rights Movement."  FNS' Wallace asked him what he really knew of what he talked so boldly about:

BECK: Reclaim the civil rights, meaning people of faith that look at equal justice and look at every man the same. That's who needs to reclaim it, not the politicians, not the parties, not white people or black people.

WALLACE: But, Glenn...

BECK: People of faith.

WALLACE: But, Glenn, the civil rights movement always had an agenda beyond just equality, beyond just, quote, "justice." The full name of the march 47 years ago was the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." One of the...

BECK: Right.

WALLACE: ... speakers at the event was a labor leader, A. Philip Randolph, who talked about the injustice of people who live in poverty.

John Lewis, then a student, now a congressman, said this at the event, "We need a bill that will ensure the equality of a maid who earns $5 a week in the home of family whose total income is $100,000 a year."

The civil rights movement was always about an economic agenda.

BECK: Well, you know what, Chris? I think that is part of it, but that's a part of it that I don't agree with. I think the bigger part, the thing that we fail to recognize, is that is the racial politics.

The real agenda should be equal justice, an equal shot. The dream was judge a man by the content of his character, not the color of his skin.  That's something that everybody can take part in. And I don't know if we've actually done that.

We're certainly not doing that now with the Justice Department. When you look at somebody in the Black Panthers and they are standing at the doorway, African Americans who experience that themselves should be equally outraged.

And when you see that happening in a community and somebody is intimidating black voters, you should be equally outraged. Those are the main principles. Now, how we...

WALLACE: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Wait, wait, wait.

BECK: ... govern, that's...

WALLACE: Wait. Wait, let me — let me ask you about that, though, because Martin Luther King was assassinated when he was leading the poor people's campaign. He advocated what he called an economic bill of rights, guaranteeing everyone a job.

I mean, you may say well, that's not your civil rights movement, but it was Martin Luther King's.

BECK: Well, I — I'm not Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King would have to stand for Martin Luther King. Let his words stand where they are.

What I'm talking about is — and look, Chris, I didn't intentionally put it on 8-28. The message is about God and faith. The message that I gave on the — on the steps today was that you need to stand for those things that are right and empower the individual. Believe in the power of one person. Don't believe that you can't do it.

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