United They Did Stand at Mall
Predictably, the "Restoring Honor" rally on the National Mall last Saturday has evoked a lot of consternation.
Because the rally explicitly and studiously avoided trumpeting a political agenda, it freed up a lot of people to fill in the blanks themselves. For instance, Greg Sargent of The Washington Post insists it was all a con: "As high-minded as that may sound, the real point of stressing the rally's apolitical goals was political." By leaving the listener to infer an anti-Obama agenda from all of this talk of lost honor, host Glenn Beck was practicing "classic political demagoguery."
So let me get this straight: If Beck had done the opposite, and invited hundreds of thousands of anti-Obama signs, and carved up Obama like a turkey dinner, folks like Sargent would think the rally was less demagogic? Hmmm.
Obviously, Sargent's not entirely wrong about the rally's political resonance. Of course it was a conservative-and-libertarian-tinged event. Of course it would have been impossible without the right-leaning Tea Party movement. Of course the fact that Beck and Sarah Palin managed to attract so many people to the Mall is not a ringing endorsement of the Democrats.
But the partisan implications of the rally aren't that interesting. Nor, really, is the argument that this rally did some grave injury to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.
One striking feature of Saturday's rally was how deeply religious and ecumenical it was. It seems like just yesterday that everyone was talking about how Christian evangelicals were too bigoted to vote for upright and uptight Mormon Mitt Romney. Yet Christian activists saw no problem cheering for - and praying with - the equally Mormon but far less uptight Beck, who asked citizens to go to "your churches, synagogues and mosques!"
The inclusiveness transcended mere religion. While the crowd was preponderantly white, the message was racially universalistic. That was evident not just on the stage, but in the crowd as well. When Reason TV's Nick Gillespie asked a couple whether as "African-Americans" they felt comfortable in such a white audience, the woman responded emphatically but good-naturedly: "First of all, I'm not African, I am an American . . . a black American." She went on to explain how "these people" - i.e., the white folks cheering her on - "are my family."
I confess, if Beck wasn't a libertarian, I would find his populism worrisome. But his message, flaws and excesses notwithstanding, is that our constitutional heritage defines us as a people, regardless of race, religion or creed. Is that so insulting to Martin Luther King Jr.'s memory?