By Bill Boyarsky
It’s easy to laugh off the weekend’s Glenn Beck-Sarah Palin show at the Lincoln Memorial. Palin was her usual squeaky self. Beck was bombastic and self-important, explaining how God had assisted him in this enterprise, just as the almighty helped Moses lead the Jews out of Egypt.
But don’t laugh just yet. The rally was a major event in the right wing’s effort to take over Congress and the presidency.
It marked the end of a big conservative weekend in Washington. The other event was the two-day “Defending the American Dream Summit” of the Americans for Prosperity, an organization founded by the energy conglomerate billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch. As reported in Jane Mayer’s New Yorker profile, they have put many millions into ultraconservative organizations whose goal is to drive President Barack Obama and the other Democrats from office.
Saturday, participants in the American Dream Summit went to Beck and Palin’s Lincoln Memorial rally, making it a conservative mixer on a sunny Washington afternoon. Estimates of the crowd vary, but watching it on C-SPAN, I could see it was big, and also that most of its members represented the main demographics of the Republican conservative base—white and older.
With the Kochs’ billions in the background and Palin and Fox News star Beck up front, it added up to trouble for the Democrats and the country.
Although most of the accounts of the Beck-Palin show concentrated on its heavy dose of religiosity, the most important element was its undertone of politics.
Shadowy powers such as the Koch brothers need a public face, someone to articulate their views in a way that resonates with the voters. Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican presidential nominee, was such a person for the right, although he couldn’t extend his appeal beyond the conservative Republican base. Ronald Reagan was a perfect public face, able to cross over to independents and Democrats. Consider last weekend an audition for someone to play the Reagan role.
Beck, the producer and director, made himself the star. He sought to portray himself as being above politics. He did this by appropriating both God and Martin Luther King Jr. His rally coincided with the anniversary of Dr. King’s great speech—“I have a dream”—at the Lincoln Memorial. Beck tried to move beyond his far-right moorings by invoking King’s name frequently, a ploy negated by his 2009 characterization on “Fox and Friends” of Obama as “a racist … a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, the white culture, I don’t know what it is.” Sunday, after his rally, he backed away from that statement, saying on Fox, “It shouldn’t have been said; it was poorly said; I have a big fat mouth sometimes, and I say things. ...”
But Beck’s softening of his position won’t move him into the mainstream. Nor will his ploy of claiming a special relationship with someone who has strong nonpartisan credentials: God.
Beck compared his relationship with the deity to that of Moses, who was told by the Lord that he was being sent to Egypt on a divine mission to take the Jews to freedom.
Beck’s moments with God came on two occasions, he told the crowd. One was when one of his staff asked what would happen if nobody showed up at the rally. Beck said, “My response was we’ll stand where the Lord wants us to stand, and he’ll provide the people if it’s what is supposed to happen.” His second moment was when he ran short of money to pay for mounting costs of the rally. “For the first time I challenged him a little bit,” Beck said. “I was on a plane with my wife and I looked up at the top of that airplane and I said ‘Lord, we don’t have anything else left. It’s up to you now.” Beck said more than enough money suddenly flowed in.
Whereas Beck wrapped himself in God, Palin portrayed herself conventionally as a soldier’s mom, with only one dip into politics. “We must not fundamentally transform America as some would want; we must restore America and restore her honor,” she said.
Beck was too erratic, too bombastic, too full of himself to fill the role of fronting for the Republican right. On the other hand, Palin showed much more potential. Her delivery, still too high-pitched and flighty, is nowhere near Reagan’s. But she has improved, particularly in a situation like the Beck-Palin rally, where facts and details would have been out of place.
Moreover, she is in sync with what Jane Mayer, in her New Yorker article, described as the Koch brothers’ agenda—“drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation.”
Their money and that of other secretive Republican financiers is now flowing into Senate and House races. From there, the GOP funders will move to the presidential election. Sarah Palin could be their front person, with them pulling the strings while she reigns as America’s first woman president. So please don’t laugh. It could happen.