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Mellow Beck? I Don't Think So.

The returns are pretty much in from the mainstream media: Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally this past weekend on the National Mall was a largely a noncontroversial event focused on religion, not politics, and it may have augured a kinder, gentler Beck whose egomania is now devoted to less fractious causes than overthrowing the “liberal” establishment. That’s pretty much the conclusion reached by Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, whose review of MSM coverage of the rally emphasized the outrages Beck did not commit. Chris Good of The Atlantic also summed up the prevailing impression:

The rally was more of a religious, motivational event than anything else. It was political in that a lot of people with the same political leanings, many of them active in the Tea Party movement, convened on the mall to hear about things other than politics. What they heard was extremely basic statements about how the nation must restore its honor through a rediscovery of faith.

I have to wonder if these visibly relieved observers of Beck’s rally heard the same speech I did.  It’s true that a lot of media types, God bless ‘em, are pretty clueless about religion and probably viewed Beck’s get-right-with-God rhetoric as an effort to opiate the restless conservative masses and drive them to the pews rather than the political barricades. But, in the later stages of his address, Beck was clearly calling for a religion-based kulturkampf with theocratic overtones. His litany about the “black-robed regiments” of clergy who allegedly won the American Revolution against the godless Brits, and his announcement that they had returned with the presence of the ministers who shared his stage, was a political, not a theological, statement.

Beck’s political aim was also made plain during a warm-up event for the Mall rally, a Friday night Kennedy Center show called “America’s Divine Destiny,” where Beck joined with a formidable array of theocrats ranging from “Christian America” historian David Barton to Christian Zionist JohnHagee to celebrity Chuck Norris. The whole idea, speaker after speaker suggested, was that religious folk needed to take back America from godless elites and reshape the country, forcibly, along biblical lines.

Beck’s Saturday speech was then a rehashing of the age-old Christian Right tactic of claiming every conventional virtue, from piety to patriotism, for conservatives, with the implication that their cultural and political enemies share none of them. And it was not surprising that Beck went on Fox News the day after the rally and denounced the president’s religious views as a “perversion” of Christianity.

It should be reasonably clear that the real meaning of Beck’s rally was to marry the emotional causes of the Tea Party Movement and the Christian Right (not much of a stretch considering the heavy overlap between the two right-wing constituencies), perhaps under Beck’s own weepy leadership. What’s not clear is whether this effort to marry these two sensibilities is going to work for Beck. He is, after all, a Mormon, which is an issue for evangelicals.

But the idea that Beck is retreating from politics by talking religion is just wrong. The religion displayed at “Restoring Honor” was very political and, God help us, remains viable even after countless MSM articles celebrating the eclipse of the Christian Right by the Tea Party Movement and dominant right-wing media figures like Glenn Beck.