Observers of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington, D.C., over the weekend are reacting to it in the same way one would respond to seeing a UFO or the world's ugliest dog: What was that thing? Despite the presence of Beck and Sarah Palin, it certainly wasn't a political rally, at least in the familiar sense there was scant if any mention of President Obama, Democrats, or the election. To the surprise of many, there was a complete absence of the angry, partisan rhetoric (at least overtly) to which we've become accustomed. What was ubiquitous was the message of "returning to God" and other religious themes, but it was all so vague that even those in attendance didn't really have any idea what the point of it all was, or why they came.
Stephanie Mencimer, Mother Jones:
[I]f grassroots conservative activists came looking for marching orders, they might have left a little disappointed. Beck did deliver his signature rants about how the country is going to hell in a hand basket, but his prescription consisted of little more than maddeningly vague allegories about "a man with a stick" (that would be Moses) and such platitudes as, "God is the answer and he always has been." With this heavy focus on God as political savior, the rally seemed to mark Beck's official transformation from Fox News talker to Mormon televangelist. All he really needed for the revival was a tent.
Clive Crook, Atlantic:
I find Beck a tragi-comic figure. And as an atheist (I didn't deny being godless) I do not thrill when a speaker says, "America today begins to turn back to God". Quite a claim, that: Beck's signature modesty again. At the same time, though, this gathering -- as it turned out, far more of a religious revival than a political rally -- was completely unsinister. No anger, so far as one could see; no racism....The truth is, it was an enormously friendly, good-natured event. There were families with children everywhere, all smiles.
Ross Douthat, New York Times:
In a sense, Beck’s “Restoring Honor” was like an Obama rally through the looking glass. It was a long festival of affirmation for middle-class white Christians — square, earnest, patriotic and religious. If a speaker had suddenly burst out with an Obama-esque “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” the message would have fit right in. But whereas Obama wouldn’t have been Obama if he weren’t running for president, Beck’s packed, three-hour jamboree was floated entirely on patriotism and piety, with no “get thee to a voting booth” message. It blessed a particular way of life without burdening that blessing with the compromises of a campaign, or the disillusioning work of governance.
Dave Weigel, Slate:
The Democrats who pre-butted Beck's rally by predicting an overtly political hateananny were played for suckers. They didn't pay attention to Beck's "Founder Fridays" episodes on Fox, his high-selling speaking tour, or his schmaltzy children's book The Christmas Sweater. It's not his blackboard that makes him popular. It's the total package he sells: membership in a corny, righteous, Mormonism-approved-by-John Hagee cultural family. The anger is what the media focus on, he says, joking several times about what "the press" will do to twist his words.
Steve Benen, Political Animal/Washington Monthly:
Movements -- real movements that make a difference and stand the test of time -- are about more than buzz words, television personalities, and self-aggrandizement. Change -- transformational change that sets nations on new courses -- is more than vague, shallow promises about "freedom." .... The folks who gathered in D.C. today were awfully excited about something. The fact that it's not altogether obvious what that might be probably isn't a good sign.
Mark Benjamin, Salon:
Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally on Saturday was big and white and agitated. But in an informal survey of attendees, it was difficult to pin down what exactly motivated them to come to Washington, many from far away ... Members of the crowd seemed genuinely enthusiastic, but when I talked to them, they uniformly resorted to clichés to explain what the rally was about.
Greg Sargent, Plum Line/Washington Post:
Beck repeatedly claimed that his rally wasn't meant to be "political." As high-minded as that may sound, the real point of stressing the rally's apolitical goals was political in nature. The idea was to relieve himself of the responsibility to pinpoint who, precisely, he wants his followers to blame for leading us away from God and for tarnishing our honor. Beck wants this all to be drawn by inference -- classic political demagoguery.
Alexander Zaitchik, New Republic:
Almost no one who attended Saturday’s “Restoring Honor” rally on the National Mall seems able to cogently explain what, exactly, took place. Was it a thinly disguised political rally? A triumph of Made in America inspirational treacle? A modern-day religious revival? When probed by reporters, happy participants and skeptical observers alike struggled to make sense of the prayerful parade that saw Tony LaRussa, Sarah Palin, and Eveda King take turns at a podium between prerecorded voiceovers about crossroads, awakenings, and miracles. Yet there was one message that the afternoon’s emotional emcee managed to get across with unmistakable clarity: Glenn Beck is still a major force to be reckoned with, and has every intention of staying one.