Fox News commentator Glenn Beck hosted his “Restoring Honor” rally Saturday in the powerful settings of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Mall, speaking — along with fellow Fox News commentator Sarah Palin — to as many as 100,000 people. The turnout is further evidence that many Americans are unhappy with the direction President Barack Obama has taken the nation, a direction many believe is inextricably linked to the deep economic recession.
The rally speaks of a strange but growing impulse in the American body politic. It is an impulse not to restore honor, as Mr. Beck claimed was the aim of his rally, but rather an angry assertion that the nation must return to a time when there was a consensus view of who we are and what we believe.
The problem with such an assertion is that such a consensus never existed. It may have existed among those who sat at the top of the economic and political heap, but not for the many who were on the outside of the American dream, looking in.
The day of the Beck event coincided with the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the civil rights movement’s March on Washington, a fact Mr. Beck has said he was unaware of until late in the planning. Rather than set that coincidence aside, he invited the outrage of African-American leaders by saying the rally would reclaim the civil rights movement.
Or course, those familiar with Dr. King’s activism are left shaking their heads at the irony. The civil rights leader campaigned vigorously for economic justice. He called repeatedly for government to act to help the poor. Yet Mr. Beck charges that President Obama is “addicting this country to heroin — the heroin that is government slavery” with economic aid programs.
Mr. King promised to “place the problems of the poor at the seat of government of the wealthiest nation in the history of mankind.” He also called for an economic bill of rights that would “guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work.”
Shortly before he was assassinated, Dr. King began to expand his activism into worker rights — including advocating for poor whites. He also denounced the Vietnam War, and called for a worldwide “human rights revolution.” Had Dr. King launched his activism today, he would be the target of Mr. Beck’s influence from his radio and TV pulpit and be smeared as a socialist, Marxist and maybe even a terrorist.
By citing what he characterizes as lost honor and common values, including matters of faith, Mr. Beck has tapped into a potent vein. But the country has never been as unified as he suggests.