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God’s Tea Party

Glenn Beck is better than most nationally syndicated talk hosts. While right-wing radio mainstays Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity offer little more than Republican talking points, Beck regularly eschews such hackery, instead warning of the “progressivism” that exists in both parties or even the perils of blind partisanship. It’s hard even to fathom Limbaugh or Hannity saying what Beck did at CPAC this year, “I have not heard the people in the Republican Party yet admit they have a problem… I don’t know what they stand for anymore.” But after last weekend, I’m not quite sure what Beck thinks the Tea Party should stand for anymore either.

Beck called his event a “Restoring Honor” rally. Estimates say around 100,000 Tea Party types gathered in Washington, D.C. on Saturday to accomplish, well, no one really knows. Conservative darling Sarah Palin said a whole lot of nothing, as did Beck and a slew of other hosts who seemed genuinely excited that so many people could come together, even if none of them really seemed to know why. Much like Obama’s promises of “hope” and “change,” the platitudes offered at Beck’s event were empty, making the event like a right-wing Woodstock. The New York Times Ross Douthat aptly described why those who attended found it so groovy: “Americans love leaders who seem to validate their way of life… The Obama campaign raised it to an art form, convincing voters that by merely supporting his candidacy, they were proving themselves cosmopolitan and young-at-heart, multicultural and hip. 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.”

Douthat is correct — Beck’s rally was essentially a self-affirming Tea Party love-in. Contrived and confused, even the title of the event raised the question — what, exactly, does “Restoring Honor” mean anyway? What truly needs restoring is some direction.

As with the Obama phenomenon in the last election, identity politics has been an obvious aspect of the Tea Party, something the Left perceives as racist and many on the Right, refreshing. The idea of so many middle-class whites, many Christian — the traditional Republican base — coming together en masse to question their party and reexamine first principles is a liberating concept, not to mention long overdue. After decades of politicians’ empty promises and cyclical talk-radio bitching, the Tea Party seemed like a grassroots Right finally ticked off enough to demand results, roll some heads, and “take their country back,” with a hard focus on impending economic doom.

As is always the case with populism, any real movement is naturally going to be made up of real people, some of whom might hold wacky signs or become obsessed with conspiracies. The extent to which Beck himself behaved wacky or was prone to conspiracy theories — “politically schizophrenic” is probably the best description — was always less important than his willingness to encourage and aid the Tea Party in general, corralling the masses in the right direction, demanding that they keep an eye on the big-government wings of both parties. So long as anti-government sentiment was the overriding Tea Party narrative, it remained healthy — and so long as the trivial remained such it was tolerable, becoming not much more than irrelevant fodder for the Left.

So what in God’s name — quite literally — was the purpose of the Promise Keepers-lite event Beck held last weekend? It would be one thing if it were simply another trivial distraction — but the overt religiosity on display could spell doom for a movement with the potential to unite more Americans against government spending than even the Tea Party’s harshest critics are willing to admit. Independents and disaffected Democrats, atheists and agnostics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Eskimos, virtually every political, religious, or cultural category imaginable could feasibly unite under a fiscal-restraint-minded Tea Party banner. But some new Moral Majority? That there is a religious or even Christian subtext to “who” the Tea Party is is a necessary, unavoidable, and perhaps even attractive aspect of the movement. But the moment religion becomes an explicit part of the program — and Beck’s rally was certainly heading in that direction — it negates and severely limits the movement’s primary goal of eliminating government and debt.

A movement born of identity politics (at least in part) must mature philosophically if it wishes to become serious in its limited-government desires. Beck’s rally actually caused me to question the Tea Party’s seriousness. The further embrace of identity politics — which is exactly what Beck’s rally was — is a step in the wrong direction precisely because it’s a throwback to the same old partisanship that has historically comforted conservatives while government continues to grow. This writer has never had a problem with an influential pundit like Beck being all over the place politically so long as he always generally ended up in the right place — but unfortunately, with his “Restoring Honor” rally, Glenn Beck was closer to taking the Tea Party back to the George W. Bush years than any constitutional revival.

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19 Comments To "God’s Tea Party"

#1 Comment By Tristan Band On September 2, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

Awesome article, Jack Hunter. However, I have been thinking this since the Tea Party began. Right around when LRC, you, and Reason were cheering it on. When C4L was laboring under the delusion that it was still the same movement as it was during the Ron Paul days.

In brief, I was dismissive of the start. And I find myself asking my peers; what took you so long? The left, as hysterical as it could be sometimes, was generally sounding a proper alarm on the Tea Party; it was bad news.

#2 Comment By SteveM On September 2, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

Great points. And the likes of Sarah Palin as a Tea Party face extend identity politics beyond religion. Her whole “reload” and “Mama Grizzly” shtick implicitly tells urban citizens to get lost. She delightfully delegitimizes the people in Seattle, Chicago and Boston simply because of where they live. Even though they too pay taxes, vote and are subject to the same governmental dysfunction.

But Palin’s in it for the money. Pumping the wallets of 20% of the electorate using shtick platitudes is still a ton of cash, Tea Party principles be damned.

The Tea Party voters are indeed getting neo-conned. But they are old enough to know better.

#3 Pingback By Obama, Beck: Who is Christian? Who decides? – Washington Post « Contacto Latino News On September 2, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

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#4 Comment By Tristan Band On September 2, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

Know better, SteveM? I think they are too old to change; people in their age bracket were holding this view for a long time. They weren’t neo-conned; they’re neo-cons. They have an image of America impressed on them from WWII, to the Great Society, to Operation Enduring Freedom. They have always been devotees to the cult of Americanism. The younger folks should know better, especially those in the Gen X bracket. As for Gen Y, mine, they are probably the most gullible fools ever born-sheltering from the real world does that.

American conservatism has always had the seeds of it’s own destruction-even from the Old Right. Which also brings me to wonder; revive the Old Right? What is there to revive? America has changed irrevocably since the 30’s. Hell, by the end of WWII, the Old Right was already dying. America had changed too much then. That battle has been lost. Let dead causes lie.

#5 Comment By LarryS On September 2, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

Is Glenn Beck Mitt Romney’s ‘John the Baptist’?
Stay tuned.

#6 Comment By Larry Linn On September 2, 2010 @ 4:03 pm

My grandparents were Christians in Northern Ireland. She was Protestant, and he was Catholic. They had to flee after death threats. Religion became a focus for me.
I volunteered and joined the Army, and I served as an 11B Infantryman. Most of my time in the field was in squad or platoon size operations. We would have discussions about what we were fighting for. It always came back to the “Bill of Rights”. To me the most important was “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
What did our Founding Fathers have to say about religion:
“Question with boldness even the existence of a god.” – Thomas Jefferson (letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787):
“All natural institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.” Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason;
“Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”, John Madison;
“Lighthouses are more helpful than Churches”, Benjamin Franklin

#7 Comment By Royden Lippincott On September 2, 2010 @ 5:32 pm

I watched Beck’s program on 9/2 and he offered an explanation of his rally. Even though I’m not a religious person, I find his ideas compelling. I actually don’t think his gathering had much direct connection with the Tea Party as such. I think the relationship is sort of tangential.

Beck is merely trying to point to the religious (not necessarily sectarian) basis of the founding principals of the US. ” All men …. are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” These rights derive from a divine source, not from man or government. It’s the task of government through law to protect each citizen’s rights from being abridged not only by government but also by the tyranny of the majority. Even an Objectivist, deriving this position through logic, would be hard pressed to find fault with this argument.

Beck is also trying to point out that “God” has set in place certain natural laws that govern the operation of the world. Interference with the natural order is the hallmark of progessive and big government types on both the right and the left. We court trouble when we try to interfere with the natural operation of things.

Observe Austrian (free market) economic principals. The free market operates by certain natural laws. Disruptions of the natural functions of the market result in economic disaster. Just look at our current financial position.

In short, Beck is trying to point us to a fundamental principal: in order to fix the country, we have to get back to the basic truths used to establish the US. I think that with all the squabbling over the particulars, we miss this point. The restoration of our liberty depends on us not forgetting our origins.

#8 Comment By Davey Jones On September 2, 2010 @ 8:23 pm

Brilliant, that is, I agree with every word.

#9 Comment By John C. Médaille On September 3, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

I don’t think religion was at the base of the rally; religiosity was. There’s a difference. It is, at highest rating, what one commentator calls “moralistic, therapeutic, deism.” It makes no demands on the “believer,” but allows the believer to demand much of others. For just a not so trivial example, there are the protesters with signs that say, “No Socialized Medicine–Hands Off Medicare.” That’s the “give me mine, and the children be damned” politics.

The truth is, Americans have enjoyed 60 years of economic prosperity and relatively low taxes, which are now lower than ever. They want wars they are not willing to pay for, and services that can be charged to others. The problem with “conservatism” is that it no longer knows what it wants to conserve. The emptiness of Beck’s rally was a perfect symbol for the movement.

#10 Comment By John C. Médaille On September 3, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

I don’t think religion was at the base of the rally; religiosity was. There’s a difference. It is, at highest rating, what one commentator calls “moralistic, therapeutic, deism.” It makes no demands on the “believer,” but allows the believe…r to demand much of others. For just a not so trivial example, there are the protesters with signs that say, “No Socialized Medicine–Hands Off Medicare.” That’s the “give me mine, and the children be damned” politics.

The truth is, Americans have enjoyed 60 years of economic prosperity and relatively low taxes, which are now lower than ever. They want wars they are not willing to pay for, and services that can be charged to others. The problem with “conservatism” is that it no longer knows what it wants to conserve. The emptiness of Beck’s rally was a perfect symbol for the movement.

#11 Comment By Dennis On September 4, 2010 @ 11:31 am

Americans need to wake up the fact that Beck is simply another opinion pushing charlatan who is a product of mormon cult theology and he mixes this with his personal make up as a dry alcoholic. On his radio show and Fox Network program he consistent demonstrates all the unstable behaviors of a dry alcoholic which include grandiosity, judgmentalism, intolerance, impulsivity, ADD and indecisiveness. Alongside that reality, Glenn Beck does not possess a single ounce of journalistic integrity, has no college degree, has no qualifications and he is definitely not a true conservative. But then, what can anyone expect from someone who can’t find anything filthier than their own personal reflection. Since people like Beck cannot survive on the basis of any personal merits, they survive by putting others down with lies and half truths in order to feel good about themselves. The truth about Beck is that he a dry mormon alcoholic who never got the counseling required for alcoholics. To further complicate things and confuse people, Beck flippantly throws around Christian terms like “God”, “Jesus”,”Holy Spirit” as well as voices of other so called “Spirit Powers” on his radio talk show. Beck is a mormon in active standing with the mormon church and is not a Christian. Mormonism teaches many gods, that the god of the earth was once a man who attained godhood status, there is no trinity, the cross of Christ means nothing and that Jesus Christ and Satan were brothers. Because Beck does not possess a single ounce of journalistic integrity, he is the perfect abortion poster child for Fox Network. The people who love what Beck says are no different than the impressionable sheep who loved every speech made by Adolph Hitler in his early years when he brought Germany into an era of economic prosperity These same sheep also blindly followed Hitler into one of the darkest chapters of world history. Beck and the Fox Network both cater to the same lowest common denominator of demagoguery. Beck would not know the first thing about God as he is a mormon. Someone should ask him which of the many mormon gods he kept talking about during his argument with himself on Saturday on the square in DC. Like a typical dry alcoholic, Beck even lied on national television when he spoke about holding a document signed by George Washington. That event never took Place. Unfortunately, people who love being led around by the nose do not realize that Beck is talking about a different god than that of Christianity, Judaism or Islam and that he has been a product of mormonism cultism from the day he started doing a radio talk show as an opinion pusher. You don’t have to have a degree in psychology to see that he exhibits all the signs of a dry alcoholic. The only reason this unstable impressionable idiot fell into mormonism was because the woman he wanted to have sex with would not do so unless they got first got married and from that point, they joined the mormon cult. Glenn Beck is as big a charlatan as Josephs Smith or that 5th grade graduate (Charles T Russell) who started the Jehovah’s Witness cult. This is Glenn Beck in a very accurate & concise nutshell. Considering the fact that Becks personal views are extreme Marxist Libertarian, his form of patriotism is false and he is a person who has no real substance or depth. It will not surprise many of use when Beck’s next big thing is to come out of the closet and announce his homosexuality to the nation. Simply put…he is just another political neocon.

#12 Comment By larry wade On September 4, 2010 @ 7:16 pm

Commentators who imagine Beck simply wants a return to inarguable natural law assertions might wish to explain how Aristotle and Cicero, for example, could subscribe to “natural law” even while supporting human slavery. Apparently natural law changes over time, as we become more intelligent than Aristotle.

#13 Comment By Royden Lippincott On September 5, 2010 @ 6:26 am

Larry,

It’s not natural law that changes over time, it’s our understanding of it of how it functions. The founders of the US also supported human slavery but eventually the practice was eliminated. An idea shouldn’t be rejected because imperfect knowledge existed in the past. We need to modify our practices as the natural laws become better understood.

As to Dennis, I guess he doesn’t like Mormons.

#14 Comment By C. Cazedessus On September 5, 2010 @ 6:43 am

As soon as you read a line like “While right-wing radio mainstays Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity offer little more than Republican talking points,…” you know the BS will start piling up. And that’s what this is; a huge pile of BS.
Another indicator of BS bias: “Sarah Palin said a whole lot of nothing…” That’s what Obama does, not Sarah.
The author repeatedly says he’s “not quite sure what Beck thinks”…”well, no one really knows”…but the rally was “contrived and confused” and the “cylical talk-radio bitching the Tea Party seemed…” etc. But he is determined to weld God to the Tea Party.

Typical confused Liberal, TEA means Taxed Enough Already. That ain’t go nuttin’ to do with “God.” Nor did the rally deal with “too much taxation”. It expressly was NOT a political event. But the Liberals are DETERMINED that it be viewed that way. They can’t separate church from state.

#15 Comment By Gil T On September 5, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

An excellent incisive examination of Beck’s rally, Jack. I have not heard or read Glenn Beck’s rally message. The only single point I would take from the overall message, as I understand he stated, is a call for America to turn back to God. Beyond that I am neither interested nor swayed by any peddling or oil-massaging of a political party’s agenda.
If God spoke to Balaam through the mouth of a donkey clearly he is able to use Glenn Beck in a similar manner. I’ve heard some say it is disconcerting that a Mormon on the steps of the Lincoln memorial should peddle a Mormon gospel. Christians reject it as another gospel and thereby keep unity with the apostle Paul. I see something not so much disconcerting as it is an indictment on the church.
Glenn Beck, without any pretense of being a man of God, calls America to turn back to God. Terry Jones, in Gainesville Florida, a man with every pretense of being a man of God calls the people of God to a book burning.

#16 Comment By Bill On September 6, 2010 @ 12:08 am

Talk about an agenda, Dennis, on September 4th, 2010 at 11:31 obviously has his agenda about anything that doesn’t conform to his beliefs.
Many of the above comments, including Mr. Hunter’s article all reflect the author’s biases. That is the privilege of our great free nation.
You reflect the type of person you really are by what you say and write. What a great diversity our nation holds.
God help America!

#17 Comment By Don C. On September 6, 2010 @ 11:45 am

Some thoughts – and even a slight correction if I may Mr. Hunter.

Your criticism of Mr. Becks rally as Promise Keepers-lite, was truly chuckle worthy.

If only ‘Restoring Honor’ were as galvanizing and challenging as PK is at it’s best. Instead, it came off as neither hot nor cold. Attempting to invoke our great religious institutions and thereby tap into some great well of commonly shared faith, ‘Restoring Honor’ failed for precisely that same reason – the blithe assumption that these diverse faith traditions all worship the same God and share the same values. This assumption tends to dilute the essence of both Judaism and Christianity, not to mention the effectiveness of the rally itself. It was, to put it bluntly, a bland display of civil religion at it’s worst. If I had to sum it up in a word, it would have to be ‘boring’. All rhetoric and no substance. “What truly needs restoring is some direction.” Amen brother.

However, your apocalyptic assertion that Beck’s rally could spell doom for The Tea Party Movement ignores some salient points.

1. It is a movement – and as such no one really speaks for a movement. A movement is by it’s very nature dynamic and growing. It has no headquarters and no president – no fund raisers and no spokespersons. Hence, whatever his intentions, Beck does not define the movement. He’s certainly trying to tap into it. But I’m not even sure he fully understands it.

2. The Tea Party is more about what it’s against at this stage than what it is for. And it will take something stronger than what we saw at Beckstock to give it any clear definition.

Me? I’m just fascinated that the grassroots Republicans are finally adopting ideas which we paleoconservatives and libertarians have embraced all along. I just hope they see through such shallow politics-as-usual neocons as Sarah Palin.

#18 Comment By Lavrenti Beria On September 6, 2010 @ 2:09 pm

Billed incredibly as “populist”, any authentically valid “peoples'” advocacy the Tea Parties have managed to evince over the last couple of years has come about in spite of themselves. Duped by the wealthy into thinking that they share mutual interests with the economic elite who view them with disdain and completely willing to place themselves in the hands of transparent self-seekers like Beck, Palin, and the long-on-talk, short-on-leadership, Ron Paul, all that these accidents-waiting-to-happen have seemed to manage is a kind of inarticulate confusion. One trembles at the implications of a Tea Party inspired future. Just don’t lose your job..

#19 Comment By Dave G On September 9, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

Tristan said: “I think they are too old to change; people in their age bracket were holding this view for a long time. They weren’t neo-conned; they’re neo-cons.”

Right on brother! You hit the nail on the head. For a long time I’ve called the so-called “Greatest Generation” the “Statist Generation” for exactly the reasons that you enumerate.

-Dave G