Posted by: Ali Davis | September 2, 2010

A few last thoughts on Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally: My Two Cents on His Eight Cents

In my month-plus of watching Glenn Beck, I did a lot of wavering on whether there’s any sincerity at all or whether he’s just one of the most cynical showmen I’ve ever seen.

I decided on “cynical showman” – not to mention “complete sleazebag” – after I saw an episode of Beck’s show when he talked about donations he’d received for his rally.

Beck’s rally served as a fundraiser for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a very worthy outfit. Or, rather, it started raising funds for SOFW as soon as the cost of holding a massive rally at the Lincoln Memorial, complete with giant TV screens, was covered by the donations. Beck’s rally raised $5million for SOWF – after the event itself took $1 million off the top.

$5 million in scholarships is a great thing, but $6 million in scholarships is even better. I’d bitch less if Forbes hadn’t ballparked Beck’s income at $32 million last year. You’d think a guy who talks so much about how great it is to tithe could have coughed up a check for his own self-congratulatory event.

But that’s not what got me, nor was it the part where Beck showed off a $25,000 check that someone sent him.

What got me was the next envelope Beck brought out. He read a letter from someone who wanted to come to the rally, but couldn’t. But Beck explained that his noble correspondent wanted to help. And then he shook eight pennies out of the envelope.

And then he did some fake crying about how moved he was and said he’d replaced the pennies in the fund and would be carrying the originals in his pocket as a reminder.

Please, if you see Glenn Beck, stop him and ask to see those pennies. Because they must still be in his pocket, right? If they’re that important to him?

It drives me up the walls that he thinks his audience would actually believe that someone over the age of five would put eight pennies in an envelope and mail them.

Really? His correspondent couldn’t round up to a far more easy to mail – but less pathetic and telegenic – dime?

Or an unused stamp, for chrissakes? Wouldn’t it make more sense to drop a stamp into the envelope? Surely the Foundation could have used it.

If Beck really does have a fan who slid his or her last eight pennies into an envelope, I hope the multimillionaire at least had the decency to feel bad about it for a second.

So I’d decided he was just a complete, monster charlatan, doing whatever he had to do to keep propelling himself upwards and using all the debate skills of the biggest asshole at your high school lunch table.

But if he’s such a good showman and there’s no sincerity behind it at all, how did he make such a monstrous miscalculation with his rally?

Beck spent weeks – months, for all I know – overpromising his rally. He told attendees that they would be crying, that their lives would change. He told them that this would be the event of their generation. He told them to expect miracles.

People bused in from states away because Glenn Beck told them to expect miracles.

Wouldn’t you have done more than give out a few medals and wing it through a bullet-pointed speech?

A true showman would have built to a crescendo. Maybe had some special effects up his sleeve.

A true showman would have had a point.

By his own admission, Beck spent six months flacking his Restoring Honor rally.

Why didn’t he seem to give any thought to the rally itself?

The rally was weird and rambling and oddly pointless. Yes, Beck had the masturbatory pleasure of setting himself up as a man who gave awards for Faith, Hope, and Charity, and of having a lot of people there to look at him him him, but I don’t think the crowd got much beyond a niceish day on the Mall. Did he not think about it from their point of view?

A part of me believes Beck is so caught up in his religious fervor (or just plain hubris?) that he actually thought he could call down miracles. I think he bullet-pointed his speech because he really did think he’d be inspired and deliver something moving and amazing.

Or it’s possible, of course, that he just miscalculated his abilities as a speaker.

Beck has built up his radio and TV audiences with his mouth. He may have thought speaking wasn’t something he had to work at.

I don’t think he understood that stretching to fill three hours of radio is a very different skill than giving an inspirational speech. He needed to do a tight 10 minutes that told a story, that caught people’s emotions, and that built to a point.

Instead he picked up some random nice things to say, turned them over like sparkly rocks, and put them back down. And then he picked up some more things. A top-40 DJ to the end, Beck tried to give a speech with the broadest possible appeal and thus used top-40 phrasing: nothing too challenging, and nothing you haven’t heard a dozen times before.

Beck’s speech was boring. One of his rally attendees got so bored that in the middle of his speech she came over to chat with me – me, the enemy, the press.

When it was over, his fans slowly filtered out, back to their buses. They were quiet. I’ve seen a crowd that’s been energized, and these weren’t it. They shuffled out in an orderly fashion, feeling the vague echo of disappointing Christmas mornings and bad first dates.

These people came in from states away expecting the miracles they’d been promised.

Beck is counting a flyover by a flock of geese.

So while I feel like I understand Beck’s fans a little better, I’m back to where I started in my failure to understand Glenn Beck himself. If he’s only a showman, he’s not very good at it.

Random bits from the notes I took:

• After I got downtown, I made a precautionary pre-rally restroom stop. Exiting the stall ahead of me was a Restoring Honor attendee, beaming and covered in American flags. She had left behind her an unflushed toilet that turned out to be in perfect working order. DC plumbing: Too scary to operate!

• While I do feel like I connect a little better with Beck’s fans, I haven’t lost the feeling that they’re not quite comfortable in this world. As James and I walked from the Metro station to the Memorial, one of the ralliers fell and hit his head hard on a curb right outside the State Department and briefly knocked himself out.

“Medic!” One of his fellow ralliers yelled, “We need a medic!”

I really don’t know what they thought would happen. Did they think the Restoring Honor organizers had medics stationed along the walking route from the Metro? Or that medics just appear in general?

When I heard someone yell for a medic the third time, I called 911 on my cell. I thought I’d be overloading the system, but as I moved in to see if the injured man was unconscious or bleeding to tell the operator, I noticed that I was the only one in the little cluster around him who’d thought to call emergency services for an emergency.

It’s like some of them have one foot in another dimension.

On a side note, the security guards at the State Department are very well trained and ran in with a first aid kit. They also gave me a look of steaming hot death when I relayed basic instructions (don’t move him, don’t give him anything to eat or drink) from the 911 operator to the crowd. I guess they don’t get to take charge of these things very often.

• Beck’s prerecorded announcements presaged the vagueness of his later speech: “Charity is love.”

• The Tea Partiers are right on the verge of fetishizing American iconography. Maybe a step or two over it.

• This is a crowd that loves to wear eagles on their T-shirts, but don’t want to be inconvenienced in any way to save them.

• On the way in, some police stopped a couple from crossing barrier tape to take a shortcut onto the grounds. The wife in particular was furious. As she stalked away, she yelled “This is about America!” Her husband let himself get a little farther away before he yelled “Protect and serve!” over his shoulder.

The policemen weren’t fazed. “There’s one at every rally,” one shrugged.

• There is a flat – almost disdainful – rejection of the idea that one can be moral without being part of an organized religion. Nor do we have any basis for our rights as citizens without God to back them. This makes me anxious.

• Actual quote from a woman I spoke with regarding God having a plan for everything: “Without the disabled, there would be no one to sacrifice for.”

• I wasn’t aware of this: Some Evangelical pastors tell their flocks not to listen to Beck because he’s a Mormon. I’m sure he’s internalized a lot of lessons from being a part of the fringe. No, wait – the other thing.

• During his speech, Beck said he’s not a fearmonger. He’s just the guy on the Titanic who can see there’s an iceberg ahead. I also have an incredulous note that I think he compared himself to the Resurrection. Did that really happen?

• Tricorn hats are huge. One doofus is trying to pass off a Captain Morgan hat.

• A sudden leap in my handwriting’s font size: “Glenn Beck is BORING!”

• Once again, on the way home, there’s a certain otherworldliness, almost a helplessness. Even though James and I have waited out the crowds, the middle cars on the Metro are jammed to capacity. And then I realize that there are plenty of seats left in the last two cars – it has occurred to almost no one to walk down the platform.

At a later stop, the doors open and close, open and close. The driver makes multiple announcements that you can’t have something (or someone) sticking into the doorway, and to please check and readjust and get the backpack or whatever it is out of the doors. Minutes go by while the driver keeps making announcements and the doors open and close, open and close.

• I didn’t dislike the people I met at the rally. The ones who were willing to talk to me – and, true, many were not – were more receptive to friendly debate than I thought they’d be. They’re a little afraid of the world, and a little black-and-white in their thinking, but I didn’t see a lot of hostility or ill intent.

I just hope they find a more inspirational guy to inspire them.

Or at least one who makes better speeches.



  1. My mom went; she seemed let down by it. This explains why for sure. I don’t think she’s as clueless as some of the people you encountered, but my aunts and uncle (who also went) sure can be.

    The observation about eagle T-shirts had me chuckling ruefully.

    I don’t get Glenn Beck’s appeal, either. It’s pretty obvious to anyone who’s listened to Top 40 radio that he’s a morning zoo jockey who learned how to make money by exploiting peoples’ fears. But some of these folks think Top 40 radio’s a cesspool of iniquity…maybe that’s it?

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