Glen Beck speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial

As Tea Partiers Descend on Washington, Ideological Divides Apparent Between Grassroots and Organizers

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Sunday, August 29, 2010 at 2:30 pm
Glen Beck

Glenn Beck speaks on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the Restoring Honor rally on Aug. 28. (Patrick Caldwell)

When Glenn Beck scheduled a mass rally for Aug. 28 in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, many were skeptical of his claim that the proceedings would be fully nonpolitical, especially with former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin scheduled to speak. To the surprise of his liberal critics, Beck held largely true to his word at Saturday’s event, the Restoring Honor summit. Palin spoke primarily as the mother of a combat veteran. Beck discussed the country’s founding fathers at length, but barely mentioned today’s politicians or parties. Attendees largely heeded Beck’s call to leave all political signs at home. One message rang loud and clear throughout the speaker system lining the Lincoln Memorial reflecting pool: America is a godly nation, and preferably of the Christian variety.

[Congress1] Across town, the previous day, Tea Party organizers held a markedly different meeting. Americans for Prosperity (AFP) hosted the Defending the American Dream summit. It left history and religion almost entirely behind, instead focusing on taxes, the scope of governmental regulation and organizational efforts to support “free-market” candidates in the upcoming midterm elections.

These two events presented a fractured picture of the nation’s farther-right grassroots-focused politicos, blanket-termed the Tea Partiers. Supporters of the movement often describe it as an uprising of the people, and it is popular: Though estimates vary, the Restoring Honor event likely drew at least 80,000, and thousands gathered for AFP’s conference at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel’s ballroom. But beyond popularity, the similarities between the rallies were few. Restoring Honor proffered grand statements on the country’s religious nature and the need to return to an ideal of traditional American values. AFP burrowed down on the anti-governmental regulation topics that animate business executives.

AFP’s position as one of the main monetary backers of the Tea Party is well established by this point. Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch bankroll AFP, which just launched its Remember November campaign to sway the midterm elections, kicking off with a $4.1 million ad buy targeting two dozen congressional Democrats. At Friday’s summit, AFP offered activist-training panels and set up a phone bank so that conference attendees could stop in to make calls throughout the day.

Restoring Honor, on the other hand, was heavy on inspiration, filled with religiously themed stories of individual triumph. Few lines received louder applause than mentions of God or Jesus. The whole event had the atmosphere of a televised megachurch sermon, only with a little more patriotic discussion and more flags.

Beck himself credited the success of the rally to God answering his prayers. The event was hosted as a fundraiser for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a charity that provides education funds to the children of soldiers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Beck described a moment when he prayed to God, worried that there was no possible way the event would reach its fundraising goal near the scheduled date. Just two days later, Beck said, without his mentioning his concerns on air or to friends or family, the required $600,000 in donations came through.

“I come to you as someone that will declare their principles and their values. We can disagree on politics, we can disagree on so much. These men and women here don’t agree on fundamentals. They don’t agree on everything that every church teaches. What they do agree on is God is the answer,” Beck said near the end of the rally.

Speaker after speaker lamented the current state not of politics, but of culture: America needs a return to tradition, to the ideas and ways of the founding fathers. While there were fewer political signs and colonial garb than at past Tea Party gatherings, the Mall was a sea of flag paraphernalia. Red, white, and blue were the dominant colors as far as the eye could see.

AFP’s summit, in contrast, was a largely business-casual affair. Panels drilled down on topics such as how to discuss economics with your friends or the threat of Democrats passing legislation during a lame duck session. There were panels like “Free Speech vs. Media Reform,” “Finding Common Ground with Local Chambers and the Business Community” and “State Budgets in Crisis.” The closest the proceedings got to rabble-rousing was a breakout session titled “Repealing ObamaCare.”

Indeed, the social issues that have animated other rallies received scant mention. Washington Post columnist George Will, accepting AFP’s highest award and discussing education policy, noted that the focus should be on parent-child ratios rather than teacher-child ratios. But it went little further than that. Instead, the speakers discussed things like the estate tax and the looming expiration of the Bush tax cuts. When Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) gave one of the keynote addresses in the evening, some of the loudest audience applause came while she railed against the Obama administration’s interventions in the private market.

Still, the conferees in the hallways were happy to discuss more populist grist. Nancy Gingrich, a friendly retired woman who had traveled by bus from Georgia, readily listed her concerns with the Obama administration. Not only does she fully believe that President Obama is secretly a Muslim, Gingrich also questions whether Attorney General Eric Holder may be hiding his Islamic intentions as well.

And attendees such as Gingrich demonstrate that while the AFP and Beck rallies seemed polar opposites, they in fact represent two sides of the same political coin. Pundits are too quick to label the Tea Party movement a grassroots uprising, or a secretive operation funded by billionaire libertarians. As is usually the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle: The Tea Party movement receives support and guidance from organizational forces like AFP, but is comprised of folks like Gingrich getting on buses and showing up at rallies.

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57 Comments

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Marya
Comment posted August 29, 2010 @ 7:00 pm

How many Tea Partiers know who the Koch brothers are and what they are doing? I know I am shouting into the wind but if anyone hears me, read the article by Jane Mayer the August 30 New Yorker magazine
The world needs to know about the Koch boys. They can afford to buy the U.S. Congress and are well on their way to doing just that.


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ValleyVixon
Comment posted August 30, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

I did read the article about the Koch Boys. Do you remember the old Eddie Murphy movie, Trading Places? These men are like movie characters, except for the fact that they are dangerous. I am concerned about the fact that they and the politicians who are in their pockets don't seem to think that there are other voters in the country who are not buying this crap, and forget that the information about these groups always become public.You are not shouting into the wind, the Tea party members might not hear the truth, but we do.


Macsurf
Comment posted August 30, 2010 @ 4:04 pm

VV & Marya,

You are both so right, correct I mean. LOL

What we saw on Saturday at the Lincoln Memorial was the antithesis of waht MLK espoused and, perhaps, the birth of a potentially, at least in the short term, very dangerous and successful neo-fascist movement -Glenn Becks populist, faux religious, right wing religious poop, coupled with the Koch brother's money and nfluence are truly unsettling iin this current political climate.


M_richert
Comment posted August 30, 2010 @ 8:31 pm

“folks like Gingrich?” Gingrich is, thank God, one of a kind.


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monkey99
Comment posted August 30, 2010 @ 11:22 pm

Beck knows nothing about Christianity.

If he did, he wouldn't gab about it on Saturday, then make vague references to President Obama's beliefs.
First, it was social justice. Now, it's liberation theology. He rails against the very message given by Jesus Christ. Matthew is all about social justice and the tenets of “liberation theology”.

By Beck's interpretation, Mother Theresa was a fool and a Marxist dupe, as were those four nuns murdered in El Salvador in 1980.

And “restoring honor?” If he had any concept of honor, maybe he would spur the obstructionist Republicans to do something about the 99ers, and the unemployed about to become 99ers. Did he? No. In fact, publicly uttered, he has no respect for them, nor will he fight for them.

He's more concerned about shilling for Goldline.

That's restoring honor, alright.

Funny that he and Palin should “honor” our military, when they haven't the foggiest how the military actually works. It is a “collective” society based on collective action, for collective outcomes, decided by…GASP! ….the government.

The “rally” on Saturday was nothing more than a precursor for more President bashing and more confusion to his mesmerized masses to accept as some sort of “truth”.

I am an Iraq war vet, and neither Beck nor Palin spoke for me. They are posers and frauds. That much is clear.


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Comment posted September 5, 2010 @ 3:34 am

If you had attended the rally, then your commenting on what it was about or was intended to be, would matter. But you didn't and your comments are worthless


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Comment posted September 5, 2010 @ 4:05 am

Like the frauds you worship.

If you believe in the tinfoil hat brand of religion he's foisting on you, you're opinion is worthless.

You know not what you speak of……..I pity you.


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