Chris Wallace shed some light on the Glenn Beck phenomenon in his exclusive interview on Fox News Sunday, right after Beck's big rally Saturday in Washington, DC.
You have to give Wallace credit: Although he is part of the conservative media, and despite the absurd coyness in Washington about the obvious connections among the Republican Party, the Tea Party movement, and the conservative talk machine, he asked tough questions and he illuminated some of the most troubling aspects of Beck's anti-political politics.
"Do you feel you have a role in trying to transform this country?" Wallace asked Beck.
"Don't you?" Beck shot back at his Fox News colleague.
"No. I just ask questions for a living," Wallace said.
"I forgot I was talking to an actual journalist," Beck said.
Forget for a moment whether a Fox News anchor can fairly claim to be an impartial reporter. It may be because he and Beck are on the same team that Wallace seemed less intimidated than some members of the "liberal media" who are reluctant to point out the racial subtext of the tea party rallies.
Wallace got right to the point: What gave Beck the gall to hold a rally on the anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech, right in the spot where MLK stood as he addressed a very different crowd? If the rally was billed, in part, as a reclamation of the dream, Wallace asked, "reclaim the civil rights movement from whom?"
"People of faith are reclaiming it from politics," Beck answered. "Race should not be in politics." He equated the Administration hiring an employee who was a former Black Panther with voter intimidation by whites. "We're seeing justice perverted on both sides for a long time."
Here is where Wallace went much further than the Washington Post or CNN take on Beck.
Martin Luther King, Jr., he pointed out, was for economic justice. The "I Have a Dream" speech was part of the "March on Washington for Jobs and Economic Justice." Labor leaders, including A. Phillip Randolph and John Lewis, shared the stage with King.
"The civil rights movement was always about an economic agenda," Wallace said.
"That's a part I don't agree with," said Beck.
For all the economic discontent that fuels the tea party movement, it's worth noting that the leader of the biggest tea party rally to date opposes the largest grassroots movement for economic justice in American history.
Wallace didn't let him off the hook there, either.
"Martin Luther King was assassinated when he was leading the Poor People's Campaign," he told Beck. "That's not your civil rights movement; it was Martin Luther King's."
He went on to show a clip of Beck's famous quote accusing President Obama of harboring "a deep-seated hatred of white people and white culture."
Beck repeated his comments that he regrets what he said. It wasn't just white people--the President believes in "liberation theology"--which is not really Christianity, because it views salvation as collective rather than individual and sees the world in terms of "victim and oppressor."
"Who made you the God Squad?" Wallace asked.
Beck quoted the Pope, who described liberation theologists in Latin America as "demonic, not divine," and said that a Christianity that emphasizes helping the poor is "Marxism disguised as religion."
"The Catholic Church as a long history with it. They understand it," said the Mormon Beck.
Here Wallace could have done more. He could have insisted on going beyond the red-baiting smear, and asked Beck what's wrong with liberation theology, or with helping the poor for that matter, which a lot of Christians view as fundamental to their religion.
Instead he let Beck talk about himself, about what a regular guy who couldn't afford college he is, and how he gave up drinking and went on a quest for the truth and not just what people told him.
Beck's regular-guy mode has its appeal. He seems self-effacing and gentle, unlike those puffed up playground bullies, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. Asked to respond to a clip of Jon Stewart doing an impression of his meandering, weepy monologues on TV, he smiled and said, "I think he's very funny." When he talks about being an autodidact and being "the most ignorant person in the world" not long ago, he strikes a chord with a lot of people who feel distrustful of their government--the main tea party message--and left behind by massive economic and cultural changes they can't control.
He says over and over "it's not about politics."
But it is.
This rally, during the lead-up to the mid-term elections, featuring Sarah Palin, the Republican Party's biggest star, featuring a conservative commentator who has relentlessly bashed the Democratic Administration, was certainly political.
The Tea Party won't let announced candidates for office speak at their rallies, and the Republicans in Washington claimed not to even know Glenn Beck was coming to town.
But as Jane Mayer reports in The New Yorker in a fascinating article about the billionaire Koch brothers, anti-Obama and pro-Tea
Party funding are heavily connected. The Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity funded hotels and buses for the Beck rally, according to an investigation by Adele Stan at Alternet.
The Koch brothers' empire includes everything from Dixie Cups to Lycra, Mayer reports (no Poor People's Campaign for them).
She quotes Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, explaining, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of
lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”
The notable thing about Beck is not that he makes racially inflammatory remarks, or his strange notions about religion. It's that his regular-guy appeal, particularly to white guys set adrift in the rapidly stratifying economy, is a complete snow job. Beck works for the billionaires who would like to do away with everything from public education to affordable health care--everything, that is, that makes the lives of regular people livable.
Wallace had his finger on it when he talked about the key difference between Martin Luther King's civil rights vision and Beck’s: The real issue is economic justice.
Beck doesn't have to lay out a political agenda--cutting taxes, electing Republicans. It's better, in fact, if he doesn't. He puts a smiling face and a warm, fuzzy feeling on a political program that will benefit people who never take buses or stand around in the
open air holding signs.