Not too bad actually. A week out from his "Restoring Honor" rally Beck—and by extension, Tea Partyers everywhere—have given themselves a good whitewashing, a God-washing really, that should keep ‘em smelling clean at least until the November 2 midterm elections.
No less than Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Branch wrote in Sunday’s Times that at Beck’s rally, as at Martin Luther King Jr.’s forty-seven years earlier, "sweet piety floated above tribal antagonisms." David Brooks chimed in that "the spirit was really warm, generous and uplifting," adding, "The only bit of unpleasantness I found emanated from some liberal gatecrashers behaving offensively…"
Oh sure, in the days since "8/28," as Beck calls the event, elevating it to his 9/11-9/12 pantheon, he’s received his knocks, mostly from lefty bloggers and MSNBC’s nighttime lineup. They’ve called him out for disappearing MLK’s focus on social justice, twisting the history of the Washington monument and lying about handling the original of George Washington’s first inaugural address. But Beck has flicked all that off as so much factual dandruff.
For now, the consensus, in the mass media and in our heads, is that the rally was "not political." And so, because it fell short of the torch-carrying mob that many of us expected, the floodgates of goodness have almost washed the Beck brand clean of partisan taint. He seems suddenly scrubbed of, say, Andrew Breitbart’s smear of Shirley Sherrod, which Beck at first supported. (Nevermind that Beck’s new website, The Blaze, will be run by a Breitbart alum.) Maybe the rally won’t end up restoring advertising to Beck’s show on Fox, but it was a start.
Beck and his people, goes this emerging new image, are positive, tolerant and as harmless as Beck’s big cheeks are soft. The rally, Beck said later on TV, was one of the greatest displays of "cleanliness and politeness" ever (and to prove it he compared an aerial long-shot of an all green Washington Mall after his rally with close-ups of the litter left after Obama’s inaugural gathering, which, as you may have noticed, was a bit more, um, diverse than Beck’s). Yes, Beck’s folks were clean, not contentious; polite, not political. Did you see the zero number of signs?! Beck banned signs, and, as further evidence of his power over their psyches, his flock lay down their swords.
But then, Beck and his guest star, Sarah Palin, were the signs. Had they done nothing but stand before the Lincoln Memorial and smile… well, less is more, and we could measure their virtue by how well they resisted saying "Pelosi." Anyway, the only signs you really need are from God, like that wedge of geese that flew overhead, prompting Glenn to gush that their presence was a "miracle"—only an unbeliever would point out that flying fowl formations were a popular form of divination among the pagan Romans, too.
The more obvious politics could, and did, come later. In fact, the very next day, when Chris Wallace asked Beck if he regretted calling Obama a "racist," Beck unloaded. The word racist, Beck admitted in the passive tense, "shouldn’t have been said." But he didn’t apologize, and he showed no charity, much less faith in the truth, when he "amended" his judgment that Obama, instead, "is a guy who understands the world through liberation theology.… It’s all about victims and victimhood; oppressors and the oppressed; reparations, not repentance; collectivism, not individual salvation.…"
Reparations! (to take just one outrageous charge in his harangue): why, that’s the essence of the political lie that Beck, and Limbaugh, have been hurling at Obama, and the NAACP and Acorn, for years now. The "reparations" charge, in fact, betrays the bigotry lying in wait in so much of the anti–Big Government free-market capitalism: "Those people" want our money! Starve the beast so they can’t have it!
But such negative thoughts were on the down low at 8/28. And so the mass media mind, which never saw an either/or it didn’t like, couldn’t help but juxtapose Beck’s nice beige gathering against that other rally, the one with the Others, and find it, tsk tsk, political. There was Al Sharpton, going on about how Beck’s people "want to disgrace this day" by hijacking MLK’s legacy. Glenn gave Al every reason to believe he’d do just that, but when he didn’t, at least not overtly—well, that made Al look like… an angry black man—and a stand-in for the secretly angry, secretly Muslim reverse-racist black president.
And all week long, Beck has been speaking in his 8/28 voice, trying to gaslight the libs, hoping they’ll get crazy angrier as he gets eerily calmer.
We can debate which is the real Beck: the above-the-fray messianic Beck or the political demagogue Beck? It doesn’t really matter. His rally allows him to play roles both more successfully. He created what he set out to: a sacred day, a talisman of apparent goodness that he could forever glory in, and replay and replay, with selected images, especially of supportive black people, no matter how much he might partake in the sin of politics later.