Glenn Beck's Happy Warriors
You probably couldn't have found a more polite crowd at the opera.
Pundits will debate whether the crowd at Glenn Beck's Saturday rally in Washington was the largest in recent political history, but it was certainly among the most impressive.
Mr. Beck is a television host and radio broadcaster with a checkered past and a penchant for incendiary remarks. But if he's judged by the quality of people of all colors that he attracted to the Lincoln Memorial, his stock can't help but rise.
One would not be able to find a more polite crowd at a political convention, certainly not at a professional sporting event, probably not even at an opera. In fact, judging by the behavior of the attendees following the event, you'd have a tough time finding churches in which people display more patience as others make their way to the exits.
This army of well-mannered folks that marched into Washington seemed comprised mainly of people who had once marched in the U.S. Army or other military branch, or at least had a family member who had. Perhaps that's not surprising, given that the event was a fund-raiser for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides scholarships to the children of elite troops killed in the performance of their duty. The day was largely devoted to expressions of gratitude for the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers, for great men of American history like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and for God.
But it didn't end there. Dave Roever, a Vietnam veteran, offered a closing prayer in which he thanked the Lord for the president and for the Congress. Despite the unpopularity of the latter two, no booing or catcalls could be heard.
Perhaps feeling defensive about how they would be portrayed in media reports, various attendees wore t-shirts noting that they were "Not violent" or "Non-violent." For other participants, there was no need for an explicit message. Relaxed young parents felt comfortable enough to push toddlers in strollers through the crowded areas along the memorial's reflecting pool.
Not only was the rally akin to a "huge church picnic" (in one Journal reporter's description), but one had to wonder if the over-achievers in this crowd actually left the area in better shape than they found it.
After the event, walking from the Lincoln Memorial's reflecting pool through Constitution Gardens, this reporter scanned 360 degrees and could not see a scrap of trash anywhere. Participants and volunteers had collected all their refuse and left it piled neatly in bags around the public garbage cans. Near Constitution Avenue, I did encounter one stray piece of paper—but too old and faded to have been left that day.
Given the huge representation of military families at the event, maybe it's not surprising the grounds were left ship-shape. A principal theme of the day was that attendees should restore the country by making improvements in their own lives—be the change you wish to see in the world, as Gandhi once put it.
Most of the participants were strictly amateurs in the business of activism. For many, it was their first appearance at a public demonstration. Their strikingly mild-mannered nature might inspire even Mr. Beck to acknowledge that in a crowd estimated at 300,000, the craziest person at the event might have been the one with the microphone. While he admits that he's part entertainer and prone to over-the-top comments, his followers appear to be sincerely responding to his message that Americans need to cling to their best traditions. (Mr. Beck's program appears on the Fox News Channel, which is owned by News Corp., which also owns this newspaper.)
The conservative Mr. Beck's ability to draw this many people to Washington may suggest enormous gains for Republicans come the fall. But the GOP shouldn't expect voters to simply hand them a congressional majority without making them earn it. If pregame chatter and off-season optimism translated into victory, the New York Jets and the Washington Redskins would meet in the Super Bowl every year.
Between Saturday's crowd in Washington and the tea partiers agitating for limited government, we may be witnessing the rebuilding of the Reagan coalition, the "fusion" of religious and economic conservatives that political theorist Frank Meyer once endorsed. Reagan always believed that the Republican Party was the natural home for this movement, but GOP leaders in Washington need to prove they are worthy of it.
Mr. Freeman is assistant editor of the Journal's editorial page.