In an America that has grown up in a hurry – some might say too much of a hurry – Glenn Beck is someone saying “hold on just a minute.” In Beck’s stirring speech before CPAC this past weekend (he was last Saturday’s keynote speaker) the conservative political commentator showcased his brilliance not merely as an orator but as the maestro of a mass movement disaffected toward the present state of American politics and big government. In his delivery, Beck is at turns funny, flamboyant, histrionic, sarcastic and just plain brilliant. In an age of teleprompters and cunningly crafted sound bites, Beck at all times speaks from the heart.
Beck is a Constitutional purist: a true believer in the great men who founded this country. He believes that those men of genius got it right from the start and still have it right today: that America is an idea—an idea that sets people free. And so Beck is a believer in all the greatness that was and still can be America. His speech begins with a fond remembrance of Ronald Reagan (himself a former and frequent keynote speaker at CPAC) and the conservative President’s “Morning in America” slogan. As bad as things seem, Beck assures us that it is still morning in America, albeit one where we are all hung-over and gripping the toilet bowl after the excesses of the previous night’s binge.
Beck is a self-taught student of history and a believer in the lessons it has to teach those who would only seek to learn from it. In particular, Beck warns time and again about the unfortunate history of Progressives and the Progressive movement in America. At CPAC, he actually had his trusty blackboard hauled out onto the stage so he could write out the word: Progressives. “This is the disease!” Beck exclaims. Progressives and Progressivism are the cancer that is eating away at America and the American Constitution. It is a big government socialist utopia that must be eradicated. The two (the Constitution and Progressivism), says Beck, cannot coexist, and the country needs big thinkers and brave people “with spines” to combat the Progressive disease. But Beck, speaking to his conservative and pro-Republican audience, is not convinced that the Republican Party is even up to that challenge. Drawing parallels to Tiger Woods, he says he still hasn’t seen a sincere “come to Jesus” style mea culpa from Republican leaders who, like a recovering alcoholic (which Beck himself is), need to admit that they have a problem too (with too much government spending and too little integrity). It’s not enough, Beck says, “just to not suck as much” as the Democrats. Beck speaks often and passionately about the need to have leaders who won’t “check their souls at the door” when they take on the privilege and responsibilities of elected office. In this respect, one could say Beck has taken on the mantle of a modern John the Baptist in search of his country’s messiah, and one wonders if he would ever consider the lead role for himself.
Beck concludes his CPAC speech with a brilliant exposition on the little known back-story connected to the Statue of Liberty. He explains that the French didn’t simply gift it to the United States as a mere gesture of goodwill between nations. But rather it was given with the ulterior motive of mocking their fellow Europeans at a time when Europe was in the midst of its own upheavals and soul searching. Further, it was a statement of admiration, not to say envy, toward a new and dynamic nation that, after its first one-hundred years, was beginning to come into its own. This is a strong message and counterpoint for today when our own leaders seem to be saying we should become more like Europe!
The true intent and meaning behind the Statue of Liberty becomes evident when one reads (as Beck does) the entire poem that is engraved within the pedestal on which the statue stands. The full poem reads thus:
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
—Emma Lazarus, 1883
The poet and critic James Russell Lowell wrote that the poem gave the Statue of Liberty its “raison d’être.” Beck would undoubtedly agree, but would add that the poem transforms the statue from a fancy welcome mat for immigrants into a testament to the world of indelible hope and endless possibilities for all who might yearn to breathe free, including even those that the storied nations of Europe, with their old systems and internecine struggles, would discard.
As Glenn Beck and many others would see it, the Statue of Liberty is really what America is all about. And America is an idea that sets people free.