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Shake the Foundations | Political Waves

The nation is wandering in darkness, said Glenn Beck at his 'Restoring Honor' rally at the Lincoln Memorial last weekend. Beck's shtick is 'standing up for truth.' His rally, on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, included a Moses-like address commanding wrong-thinking Americans to return to the honesty and integrity of our forefathers. Beck's laundry list of right-wing, Christianist speakers, including Sarah Palin, called upon God to return us to the absolute faith in Christ Jesus displayed by the founders. Beck wished upon each of us the surge of prayerful patriotism he'd experienced at holding George Washington's inaugural address in his hands.

Predictably, neither of these things is true. The founders deplored the influence of religion on government and vehemently insisted on the separation of church and state. Nor did Beck ever hold any of the founding documents, which are too fragile to be handled by any but trained staff at the National Archives. Mr. Beck's revisionism is completely untrustworthy, but his faithful followers believe him to be both well educated and genuine. He is neither.

The left looks upon Glenn Beck as a confused and confusing huckster, a showman more ego-involved than political, willing to say or do anything to attract more attention and money. But to the older, predominately white conservatives who consider Beck's every utterance heartfelt and trustworthy, he hawks a familiar theme: return to the old ways before it's too late. Beck is the newest prophet warning of gloom, doom and apocalypse. It's surprising how popular that message is.

Glenn's followers watch his convoluted blackboard lectures on FOX News and absorb revisionist lessons from "Glenn Beck University." Now they can also log on to his news site The Blaze, debuting this week as "an honest source of information and counterpoint to the Huffington Post." Beckofiles dutifully buy the junk his sponsors market, although most of these products border on scam and certainly exploit the fearful and gullible. Credible sponsors left Beck in droves when he moved from CNN to FOX.

Like other recent right-wing celebrities, Mr. Beck is part entrepreneur, part opportunist. Ms. Palin is another. If the American Dream is to parlay charisma into multimillions, both of these characters are living the good life. Stephen Colbert skillfully skewered Glenn on the rally hyperbole that drew nearly a hundred thousand to Washington, D.C., expecting miracles as advertised. Yes, some 90,000 of our neighbors gathered to experience something akin to a big tent revival and patriotic tribute to the nation's military. Glenn Beck has become a very unlikely de facto head of the Christian political movement. There is a good deal of money to be made by tapping into the Christianist roots of the Tea Bagger movement, gone leaderless since Dubya stepped away from the podium. It doesn't matter that the facts don't support the issues that anger this demographic, or that Beck is a Mormon.

Both Beck and Palin reinterpret and rewrite what doesn't serve them. They promote resentment against government and rail against the elitism of education, the sinfulness of secularism and the emotional dysfunction of liberalism. They reinforce the belief that the country has been stolen by a black, Muslim upstart, and promise a return to the Good Old Days of white exceptionalism and a soon-returning Jesus. They have no trouble finding an audience. To those who want to believe, Palin's and Beck's folksy charm sells a uniquely American mix of theocracy and ideology that has no need to make sense.

The Becks of the world paint a very dark picture of America's future, oblivious to its internal contradictions. For instance, because 79 percent of Americans believe it's important to reduce the influence of corporations over elections, incumbent Republican lawmakers are losing their place to upstart Tea Baggers who are not yet in bed with corporations. Yet the system itself is not changed, nor are Republicans willing to allow it to change. Campaign finance continues to be the very core of our political dysfunction. Glenn Beck may call for more ethics, Tea Baggers may whine for less corporate influence, but the right will do nothing to achieve these goals.

The President recently took the GOP to task for obstructing a bipartisan effort to regulate special interest campaign funding from corporations. The Party of No depends on the deep pockets of corporate donors to fund the blitz of television advertising that will win them slots in the next Congress. Republicans also staunchly defend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, set to expire soon. Repeal of those tax cuts could generate enough money to dramatically impact our current economic challenges, but Republicans label such repeal a 'tax hike' -- and raising taxes is taboo in a capitalist nation, especially in an election year.

Americans have never enjoyed so low a taxation rate, nor owed so much to so many with so little hope of repaying them any time soon. Counter-intuitively, instead of raising taxes on the wealthy, the right proposes to eliminate vital social services up to and including radical changes to Social Security. And the faithful will vote for them?

In the few months before the mid-terms, no fabulous economic news will buoy the Democratic chances, nor will the Republicans allow any substantive legislation to pass through Congress. More diversions like the 9-11 mosque controversy and the Beck rally will deflect attention from the inequities before us. The Republicans will obstruct progress at every turn, not only because they cannot allow Obama a win, but also because they have no use for governing. They are primarily capitalists, dedicated to removing impediments to money-making and national expansion. There is no social contract in capitalism, no concern for the commonweal nor mandate for equality. This has to stop. We have already privatized ourselves out of a functional government. We can't afford any more Republicanism if we're to survive.

Glenn Beck may have inadvertently described 'what's the matter with Kansas' when he accused the president of practicing 'liberation' theology. Liberation theology reflects Christ's teachings on freeing the poor and oppressed from social injustice and poverty. Beck holds that social justice has no place in the religion of the founders or of conservatives. By contrast, social justice is the mandate of American liberals, speaking to our concern for one another and our expectations of the democratic process. Ironically, social justice also describes the belief system of Martin Luther King, the man whose thunder Beck tried to steal last weekend.

While King might admire the number of people Beck gathered together, he would argue that it is for us to "shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges." The one thing Beck got right is that there are too many of us still wandering in darkness. Perhaps it's time we took ourselves into the streets for what we believe. Perhaps we're past due shaking the foundations. Beck's rally reminds us that King's dream still awaits us all.

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