C-SPAN was running live coverage of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally from the National Mall today, but I only had time to watch a little of it as it happened. I did get to see what I considered an unobjectionable video tribute to Martin Luther King, whose appearance at the same site 47 years ago has made Beck's appearance today controversial in some eyes. In the little I saw of the event I saw more black people in front of microphones than in the audience, though the C-SPAN cameras made a point of showing as many black spectators as possible. Since Al Sharpton's counter-event had not yet started, it'd be natural for some of his cohort to stroll over and see what the fuss was about. A little bit later, I caught some of Beck's own speech.
Beck was in a defensive mood when I saw him. He noted with some indignation that he has been called a "fearmonger." He denied the charge, arguing, to paraphrase, that when someone on the deck of the Titanic calls out that he sees an iceberg dead ahead, that isn't fearmongering. That point is inarguable. The question for the year 2010, however, is whether there is an iceberg. If there isn't, the man who cries iceberg is a fearmonger. We shouldn't have to wait until the iceberg hits, of course, but there should be ways to verify its imminence without having to take one man's word for it, especially when the man is as interested in steering the ship in a particular direction as in avoiding the iceberg. For all we know, his proposed course will put us on a collision course with an iceberg, -- only don't take my word for that.
In any event, Beck doesn't think of himself as a fearmonger, and since I don't watch or listen to him I won't venture an opinion. He argued today that fear is inadequate by itself to motivate people in a necessary direction. He believes that the nation united immediately after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, but that the moment of unity passed quickly because it was based mostly on fear. He offered another instance of the inefficacy of fearmongering: the story of Jesus. Beck assumes that the Disciples must have been scared when they spent the night in the garden of Gethsemane, what with the authorities hunting them and all, but their fear wasn't enough to keep them awake. By the time Jesus woke them up, it was too late to escape Judas and the gathering soldiers. The Disciples only gained long-term resolution, Beck explained, following the Resurrection. This left open the question of exactly what he thought might inspire a new sense of resolution today, but I had places to go and couldn't wait to find out.