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The Rant

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It's been more than 20 years since I visited Israel as part of a statewide delegation led by then-Senator Al Gore Jr. It was a multi-religious group, which was great for me as a product of a Jewish home and a Catholic education. I saw the tourist sights, but I was inclined to break away from the group, particularly at night, and stroll the streets in order to get a personal feel for the place. Chance encounters, in combination with walking in ancient footprints, soon had me believing that I was a part of some larger scheme. An old rabbi physically stopped me in the street and pulled me into his classroom for a lecture on goodness, and when he had finished, he invited me to join his communal group and promised to find me a wife.

My last night in Jerusalem, I hailed a cab driven by a young Palestinian, who offered to be my guide. When I told him I was leaving for New York the next day, he proudly displayed a business card from his brother's sandwich shop inside a Manhattan office building. He had me memorize the address, since it was his only card. I glanced at it and told him I'd look up his sibling if I was in the neighborhood, then forgot about it. The next day, after an endless flight and morning hotel check-in, I was feeling jet-lagged and walked through a side door into the afternoon sun. Directly in front of me, not 30 feet away, was the office building whose address I had seen on the cabbie's card. I crossed the street, entered the building, and walked up to the lunchroom counter where a gentleman identified himself as the owner. I told him, "I was with your brother in Jerusalem yesterday. He sends his love and wants you to call him." Lunch was on the house. The proprietor told me that he had married a Jewish girl in Israel and they had come to the U.S. to escape the hostility of their respective families and communities. We agreed that the intolerance between the peoples of the Holy Land was regrettable and when I left him and again walked into the sun, I looked up and said (and I paraphrase myself), "Lord, you're messing with me."

Most of the Lord's messengers have beatific news to deliver, but if I was only supposed to convey a shout-out between brothers, that was cool. Afterward, I walked around for several months searching for signs and wonders, believing the Lord was personally leading me by the hand, until reality returned and I discovered that I had neither been called nor chosen but had an ailment common to unseasoned tourists known as "Jerusalem Fever." It's the inclination for first-time visitors to the Holy Land to believe they are personally interwoven with the ongoing religious narrative and are receiving instructions directly from the Deity. Some believe they have been called to play great roles in the events of mankind.

Such a pilgrim is Glenn Beck, who claimed his "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington, D.C., landed on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech because of "divine providence" and only "wrote out a few bullet points so as not to interfere in case the Spirit wanted to talk." He professed an "American miracle" was going to occur and attendees would be present "at the awakening."

Beck's not that difficult to analyze. A self-confessed "hard-drinking, hard-living ignoramus" gets sober, reads some books, and begins to see patterns. By espousing his conspiratorial views, he is first promoted from talk radio to back-bencher on the Headline News Channel, then on to the big leagues, where he becomes the most controversial "entertainer" on Fox News — no easy feat. Soon his every utterance is dissected by other teleditorialists and his ratings and self-importance grow until he perceives himself as the leader of an earth-changing, transcendent movement. His grandiose scheme drew a quarter million people to the National Mall, but Beck's gathering was more of a religious revival than a societal shift, and if he was trying to channel Martin Luther King, he came off sounding more like Elmer Gantry.

At his "Million White Man March," Glenn spoke of returning to God, supporting the military, and the importance of family. Who could argue with that? The firebrand Beck was entirely inoffensive, unless you object to receiving religious instruction from a shill for Rupert Murdoch. The big crowd seemed pleased, but I thought it was like going to a Kiss concert and having the band come out in street clothes playing acoustic guitars.

Unquestionably, Beck possesses accumulated knowledge, but he consistently misinterprets it and ends up connecting the wrong dots. He praises the "chosen people" but rails against "social justice," which is the cornerstone of the faith. He speaks of "restoring honor," yet refers to the president as "a person with a deep-seated hatred for white people," and "a racist." Personally, I thought the nation's honor was restored the moment George W. Bush left the White House, and although a short film was shown to commemorate King's historic 1963 march, there were more blacks on stage as speakers and singers than in the audience.

Beck's restraint was the result of his promise to keep the event non-political, but the location, the date, and the name, "Restoring Honor to America," by implication, made it so. To his credit, Beck waited until three hours into the pageant before succumbing to his patented sobbing. He even read the Gettysburg Address. Mostly, he did no harm, which I suppose is a good thing until his next outrageous on-air outburst. But, his stature has been diminished. Beck demonstrated that he's not a transformational figure and he certainly is no Martin Luther King. Forty-seven years ago, King had a dream; Glenn Beck merely has a delusion.

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