Some observations: Beck expresses a lot of the anxiety anti-Obama conservatives have voiced--a sense that the country is being torn away from its core values, that the Constitution is being threatened, that the president is after a broad socialist agenda, that progressives are conspiring, and that the nation is on a path to wreckage because of the debt. All of this amounts to radical change and makes people afraid, angry, and stunned that everyone doesn't see it. Beck, in his exasperation and sometimes in his tears, shows us the immediate and impending doom of it all. He's a Cassandra of the Obama era.
Those are my observations. I asked a handful of people at the Glenn Beck rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday why they like Beck. Find their responses below (these are from a notebook, not a digital recorder, so the quotes are incomplete, as I took down what I understood to be the significant parts of their responses.)
A few notes on the crowd: Some people had come out of political support for Beck; some had come for the focus on faith. The rally wasn't political, but rather a hybrid Christian-faith event, inspirational talk, and free-form historical exegesis on the roots of the nation and how to restore its honor and greatness. All these were blended together. (Click here for a description of what it was like.) Beck had advertised it as non-political, asking people not to bring signs, so most of the rally-goers knew what they were getting before they got there.
Here's how a few people responded when I asked, "So why do you like Glenn Beck?":
Cheri, 52, a retired teacher from Arkansas who now lives in Oklahoma and is active in the Leflore City Tea Party, said: "His sincerity. And he's a Christian." Cheri's Tea-Party group has incorporated prayer into their meetings, and Cheri is concerned that President Obama is a Muslim who wants to take the Christian God out of American public and political life. (Cheri wouldn't tell me her last name once I told her I was with The Atlantic.)
Mike Gautier, 56, a Roman Catholic, unemployed former casino worker from New Jersey who now lives in Raleigh, NC, said: "He's a voice for what's in our hearts. He's speaking our minds...He's giving us a voice...He's not afraid to tell you that it's gonna take faith...to change this country."
Timberly Cox, 24, a graduate from Bryan College in Tennessee who wants to go into the medical profession, said: "He's willing to stand up and say things that people don't want to hear...[to separate the] truth from the lies." Timberly came to the rally from Richmond with her friend's family; she seems less interested in Beck and Sarah Palin (who spoke at the rally) as she is in the Tea Party movement. She says the country is "in a time where we're making mistakes."
James G. Cohn, 46, a Baptist from Yadkinville, NC, who does construction work, said: "He stands for faith; he stands for God Almighty; he tells it like it is. He does not come out and boldly lie like the politicians here in Congress." James says he's angry at Congress and politicians for rampant lying and that the government is after "complete control of you and I."
Randy, 48, a Lutheran and active member of the Navy who does desk work in Norfolk, said: "His message is less about politics...Glenn today is giving voice to many people with a message...He's not a preacher, he's a historian. He is a man of faith...He's trying to bring us back to what our founding fathers believed in, and they were men of faith...I like the way he's trying to explain history...It was Glenn Beck who said, 'Get off your duff and be heard." Randy cited Beck's historical lesson that Democrats opposed the Civil Rights Act. Randy also says it was opposed by President Lyndon Johnson. (Randy didn't want to use his last name given his service in the Navy.)