David Brooks couldn’t find a bad word to say about the Glenn Beck rally. Really. In his conversation with Gail Collins, she certainly tried to drag something negative out of him. But he liked what he saw:
I have to confess I really enjoyed it. I’m no Beck fan obviously, but the spirit was really warm, generous and uplifting. The only bit of unpleasantness I found emanated from some liberal gatecrashers behaving offensively, carrying anti-Beck banners and hoping to get in some televised fights. … There, at Saturday’s rally, were the most conservative people in the country, lauding Martin Luther King Jr. There they were, in the midst of their dismay, lavishly celebrating the basic institutions of American government. I have no problem with that.
In fact, that is why the liberal punditocracy’s criticism was both muted and half-hearted. What was there to grip about? Well, there was all that, you know, religion stuff. Brooks is fine with it:
If there was a political message to the meeting, it was that many people think America’s peril is fundamentally spiritual, not economic. There has been some straying from the basic values and thrifty, industrious habits that built the country. I don’t agree with much of what this crowd wants, but I do agree with that.
Hmm, perhaps a spiritual revival that pushes back against the get-something-for-nothing me-ism of the 1960s and preaches delayed, not instant, gratification is socially beneficial. Next we’ll find out that stable two-parent households are the key to staying out of poverty.
But they are so angry. Not really. Brooks said “elite” was never mentioned at the rally. He explains: “There was a sense that the moral failings are in every home and town, and that what is needed is a moral awakening everywhere. … This was an affirmation of bourgeois values, but against a rot from within, not an assault from on high.”
What seems to have flummoxed the left is that the Beck rally demonstrated that the populist anti-Obama faction in the country (some might use the mundane phrase “majority”) isn’t composed of wackos. They actually understand better than elites that the economic problems are in large part a function of a collapse in values. Obama likes to rail against Wall Street. Well, that’s a location. The ralliers want to talk about what went wrong with the people who populate business and government. They would say we have lost touch with essential values — thrift, persistence, responsibility, modesty, and, yes, faith in something beyond self and self-indulgence. As Brooks put it, “Every society has to engird capitalism in a restraining value system, or else it turns nihilistic and out of control.”
The chattering class should stop chattering long enough to listen to what citizens are saying. Not only is it quite reasonable; it is profound.