Hitchens on the Beck Rally: Large, Vague, and Moist, 'the Waterworld of White Self-Pity'


Hat tip: Alan Vanneman!

Over at Slate, Christopher Hitchens weighs in on the Beck-a-Palooza:

The numbers were impressive enough on their own, but the overall effect was large, vague, moist, and undirected: the Waterworld of white self-pity.

The Washington Post quoted Linda Adams, a Beck supporter from Colorado, who said, "We want our country to get back to its original roots," adding that "her ancestors were on the Mayflower and fought in the American Revolution." She was also upset that some schools no longer require students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Well, the U.S. population is simply not going to be replenished by Puritan pilgrims from England, and the original Pledge of Allegiance was fine with most people as a statement of national unity, until its "original intent" was compromised by a late insertion of the words "under God" in the McCarthyite 1950s. But one still sees what she means and can feel sympathy with the pulse of nostalgia.

In a rather curious and confused way, some white people are starting almost to think like a minority, even like a persecuted one. What does it take to believe that Christianity is an endangered religion in America or that the name of Jesus is insufficiently spoken or appreciated? Who wakes up believing that there is no appreciation for our veterans and our armed forces and that without a noisy speech from Sarah Palin, their sacrifice would be scorned? It's not unfair to say that such grievances are purely and simply imaginary, which in turn leads one to ask what the real ones can be. The clue, surely, is furnished by the remainder of the speeches, which deny racial feeling so monotonously and vehemently as to draw attention.

Whole thing here.

Having experienced both Waterworld and the Restoring Honor rally, I can honestly say the special effects and storyline of the latter was far better, though I'm sure we all missed the villains on Jet Skis.

Hitchens is right that Christians—or even believers more generally—do feel endangered, as if religion is less in the public square than ever. This is empirically wrong: As Cathy Young noted back in 2004, it's secularism that is conspicuously missing from contemporary politics. The attendees that I and my colleagues spoke to at Saturday's rally were emphatic that any sort of faith (most pointedly included Islam in their list) was a mitzvah (sorry) and that secularism or atheism, which they saw as running the field, was a bad thing. "We've got to turn back to God," various people said with a lot of feeling but not a helluva lot of clarity.

This sort of ecumenicism is a massive shift from 30 or so years ago, when evangelicals routinely accused Catholics of belonging to the World's Greatest Cult. There are some echoes of this in attacks on Beck's Mormonism from Christian believers, but overall, it was a real Kumbaya crowd when it came to the Beck rally.

But what of Hitchens' point above, that since religion is doing just fine in public discourse, the real message has something to do with race? I think that the sense of loss (and nostalgia) promoted by Beck and others reflects a huge amount of anxiety and worries about displacement—not by an Other coming from Mexico, say, or by a secret Muslim in the White House but by a system that has resolutely shown it doesn't really care about any of the cogs in its machine. Most of the folks I talked with offered up George W. Bush as an idiot who got the ball rolling with bad and corrupt policies. Obama is pushing that all to the next level. Three years of recession, massive amounts of corporate bailouts, useless stimulus spending (under Bush and Obama), and more will do that to people.

For me, the strangest and most off-putting element of the day was the disjuncture between the anti-authority dimension of the rally—our leaders have disappointed us and must be called to account! – and the whole-hog deference to militarism – we need to thank our soldiers for following orders so honorably and self-sacrificingly. While there were plenty of wounded soldiers on the stage, there was absolutely zero discussion of why these guys were being sent overseas and whether we should expect the same pols who lie to us on domestic policy to be any better on foreign policy. This crowd desperately wants to believe in an ordered, moral universe, but it seems that even they can't quite nurture that mustard seed into a robust faith. at the Beck rally: