Monday, August 30, 2010

We'd All Love To See The Plan

Rally Funnels Anger Toward Washington (WSJ-sub req):

Attendees on Saturday packed nearly a mile of the Mall at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, in an event that carried the tone of a religious revival. Many at the event said in interviews that they were drawn by a sense of deep disenchantment over the country's direction, alarm over government spending and a sense that the country's political system was broken.

The program, which was organized by Mr. Beck, the conservative Fox News commentator, featured three hours of religious and patriotic speeches but offered few details on how to fix the country's problems.

No matter what your view of Glenn Beck is, you have to admit that the man has been able to tap into the zeitgeist of America's political and cultural landscape. The list of media personalities who could draw a couple of hundred thousand people together for a rally is a very short one: Rush Limbaugh, Oprah Winfrey, Brian "Saint Paul" Ward. Beck's ability to bring such a throng together and the popularity of his shows and books demonstrates conclusively that he is on to something with his message that the country is on the wrong track and that we must return to our core principles and values.

But as much as I sympathize with the sentiments of discontent that Beck and his fans share, I regard this rally and the whole "movement" which Beck appears to be trying to lead with the same skeptical ambivalence that I have toward the Tea Parties. Yes, we're all mad as hell and we're not gonna take it anymore. We want the country to return to its roots with the Constitution as our guidepost for the proper role of government and as the safeguard of our individual liberties. We share a vision of where we want America to go. But what seems to be missing in the Tea Parties and the Beck rally on Saturday is any clear call to how we get there.

History-changing movements are based on common beliefs being translated into concrete action. The Tea Parties and Beck appear to have formed a very broad and loose consensus on what's wrong and what needs to change. However, there's been precious little agreement of how best to achieve this change. There are political, cultural, and, with Beck, religious components to this burgeoning movement. Clear paths forward have not developed in any of these areas.

Politically, the Tea Parties are definitely having an impact. But what that impact will be remains unclear. Should the Tea Parties seek to turn the Republican Party more toward their views? What does that mean from a policy and position standpoint? Should they become a third party? Being against President Obama's policies and the expansion of government is fine, but at some point you need to decide and define what you are for. I don't see much of that with Beck or the Tea Parties.

When it comes to cultural, it's easier to see what Beck's end game is. By "educating" Americans on the country's history, he hopes to change the mindset that people have on what America is and what it means to be an American. Considering the damage that has been done here in the last fifty years, it's an admirable--if extremely uphill--effort. His work and that of the Tea Parties in bringing the Founders and their works (the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, Federalist Papers) back into the conversation and explaining their relevance today is where I find the most common cause.

The most noteworthy aspect of Saturday's "Restoring Honor" rally was the heavy religious content. Beck billed the event as "non-partisan" and from the reports I've read, it seems to have been a pretty accurate description. Far from calling the crowd to political action, Beck and other speakers were urging a return and recommitment to God and faith. While this is certainly a message the country needs to hear, I question why Beck is delivering it. This gets back to the question of what he's trying to accomplish. Does he want to change the political situation? Does he want to change the cultural perception and understanding of American history? Or does have want to lead some sort of modern Great Awakening to revive religious fervor in America? Does he even know?

THE ELDER ADDS: One further thought on why I'm lukewarm to the Tea Parties and the Beck rally on Saturday. There seems to be a strong emotional element to these events that involves group affirmation of invidual views. There's nothing inherently wrong with this per se, except that it's usually something that you see far more on the left than the right. There are good reasons why conservatives have shied away from these activities in the past and criticizied the left's zeal for them.