If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Glenn Beck has a huge man-crush on a figure he regularly tears apart on his show: President Barack Obama.
In addition to “taking back” the civil rights movement, Beck also appears to be “taking back” Obama’s Change movement. Take, for example, the images that Beck uses on his show (and on his merchandise) to promote his values:
They are religious, conservative variations of the Shepard Fairey-designed Obama logos used in the 2008 Presidential campaign. Instead of Obama, they feature past presidents and the values Beck cites as the essential teaching of Jesus: Faith, Hope, and Charity. The Obama icons, instead, promoted Change, Progress and Hope, the one value they share.
Some commentators have noticed a parallel between Beck’s current speeches and Obama’s campaign speeches. In 2008, Obama told crowds that “One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.” Beck, at his “Rally to Restore Honor,” said “One man can change the world…That man or woman is you. You make the difference.”
Both try to mobilize their audiences by appealing to the American ideal of individual participation as a means of improving society. For example, which of these two quotes was Glenn Beck, and which was Barack Obama?
We have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task. This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
We as individuals must be good so America can be great! America is at a crossroads…Do we do what every great generation has done in America in times of trouble: look ahead, dream about what we are going to become, not what we are? Look forward, look West, look to the heavens, look to God, and make your choice.
Hard to tell, right? The first was Obama’s inauguration speech, the second was Beck at his Rally.
Obama notably invoked the image of Lincoln in his campaign, taking the same train ride from Illinois to Washington for his inauguration and being sworn in on Lincoln’s bible. Beck, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, went as far as to reread the Gettysburg Address, noting its continuing resonance.
But why in the world would Glenn Beck, the demagogue of the religious right, follow in the footsteps of Barack Obama? The reason is that he is playing to an audience motivated by similar emotions as the electorate in 2008. The Tea Party movement, despite vastly different politics, is really a mirror image of Obama’s Change movement.
Obama was vaulted to power on the momentum of a populace disillusioned with a dysfunctional government, seeking change from the misadventurous George W. Bush administration that led to two wars and an economic crisis. In the Tea Party, the political doppelganger of the Change movement, Beck sees the same features: idealistic activists who believe that the country is on the wrong track politically and desperately want things to change.
All that Tea Party anger the media is so fond of citing is built on a desire for different politics, albeit from a conservative perspective, seeking to restore fonder, simpler times. Guy Miconi, an Italian immigrant and Glenn Beck supporter from New Jersey longs for such a restoration to America’s glory days. “This was the Mecca. People wanted to come. People spoke so highly of the United States. Go to America, and you work hard, and you’ll earn anything you want to do. But guess what, you can’t do that anymore.”
Even with a copycat political strategy, Beck will continue to use his unique brand of fear mongering, religion, and apocalyptic rhetoric to motivate his followers. Don’t be too surprised if his next book is called “The Hope of Audacity.”