Glenn Beck came to Orlando this weekend and staged a day-long American Revival for 8,000 die-hard fanatics that was intended to focus on the themes of "faith, hope, and charity" but made clear that the right-wing media icon's upcoming much-ballyhooed plan for America involves something else: Pain.
The Fox News Channel host - who's called his American Revival tour a run-up to a massive rally at the Lincoln Memorial in August and a book with a "100-year plan" for the nation this fall - told the nearly sold-out University of Central Florida basketball arena that in about two weeks he'll unveil an expert-devised "budget for the United States of America."
And that plan, Beck added, would have two major components, starting with what he admitted would be a "massive" cut in federal spending, on the order of 40-50 percent. But while most conservative political chatter since the start of the Obama administration has focused on deficit reduction, Beck said the flip side of his scheme would be large-scale tax reductions to a rate of about 12 percent - which he claimed would encourage investment and growth.
"We're going to develop the way out for the United States of America," Beck said to loud whoops. "Before you clap, realize that I'm going to piss of almost every single person in America. Because we can't afford all the stuff and that means all of us are going to lose something that we love."
The fact that a talk-show host is unveiling his own budget proposal is quite a commentary on the state of conservative politics in 2010 -- and it wasn't the only news that Beck made at the seven-hour arena event, where the self-proclaimed "Howard Beale" wannabe wept on several occasions and repeatedly called for injecting God into the political arena.
Frequently accused of relying on apocalyptic fear-mongering to build ratings and get attention, Beck provided details of the fictional political thriller that he's planning to publish in June -- called The Overton Window, according to online catalogue listings -- that will do little to dispel those complaints, as the tome will portray America sliding into a civil war.
"It's a story of America at time much like today where the people are confused and they're being lied to and they're not sure what's right-side-up and upside-down," Beck said. "And there's one part...there's a group of people that plays a role called the Founders Keepers...This leads to a battle and a civil war, and life is upside down planet-wide. There's a group of people that just won't give up."
On Saturday, Beck continued to weave his characteristic apocalyptic warnings in between a series of self-help-flavored anecdotes and repeated appeals to religious faith.
"If we don't face the truth right now, we'll be dead in five years -- this country can't survive," he said at one point. During his keynote speech, Beck also advised his fans to stockpile food. "I am incredibly prepared," he said.
The audience was typical of a large Beck fan gathering -- predominantly over 50 and white and heavy on retirees, the jobless and military veterans, or the kind of people who now often receive government benefits like Medicare or unemployment checks that would likely get hammered if policymakers actually listened to Beck's budget scheme. In an odd appeal to the heavily middle-class gathering -- many of whom spent $120 for lower-level seats -- the FNC host confided that some of his fiscal ideas come with conversations with friends who are billionaires.
Said Beck in explaining the rationale for massive tax cuts on top of spending reductions:
What's happening right now at the global level is I have friends who are billionaires who say I don't know what to do with their money to preserve the wealth. 'I don't know what to do with it. Do I buy gold or do I not buy gold? Do I buy inflation protected treasury bonds?' These are people who deal in billions of dollars and they have no idea.... There are billions and billions and billions of dollars looking for the answer. The answer is and always has been America, but we have to convince them and the rest of the world that we're serious about our debt and spitting ourselves out of this system.
Clearly stung by a wave of accusations that right-wing radio and Fox News are ginning up death threats and potential violence against members of Congress and progressives, Beck also expanded on a new theme that resistance to what he claims is growing socialism in America must be non-violent -- again invoking Gandhi as well as Martin Luther King.
"Get God on your side, and then pick up a hammer," Beck said. Quoting Gandhi, he took the hammer to an anvil onstage and said "with non-violence, take your hammer and POUND that truth every day and everything that doesn't fit, toss it out! We have the truth...[W]ith non-violence, be the anvil of truth every single day!"
Most of the attendees were eager to voice their resentments at the portrayal of Beck fans as either racist or as capable of violence -- but many of them clearly feel rage toward the Obama administration.
Perhaps none more so than 71-year-old Phillis Kluft, who raised four kids as a single mom in East Haven, Connecticut, and moved six years ago to The Villages, Fla., a retiree-laden epicenter of Beckmania where she now is a leader of the Tri-County Tea Party of Florida. Kluft said she believes that supporters of President Barack Obama want Washington are mainly seeking handouts.
"I saved money for my old age and didn't go on a vacation or buy a new car," she said, her voice rising in intensity. "It really galls me that these people sit on their ass and expect other people to take care of them!," the grandmother said, then adding to whoops of approval in Section 107, "I am so disgusted with this Obama bullshit!"
Indeed, much of Beck's American Revival was just plain revival, with Beck playing the role of Billy Graham or the fictional Elmer Gantry, depending on your view of the divisive political entertainer.
"Faith gives us an opportunity to start all over again," said Beck, who at one point spoke sprawled out on the floor of the stage, reenacting his lowest moment with the bottle. Before the lunch break, a fan -- later reported to be OK -- in the upper deck fell and required medical attention, and as doctors in the house raced to the spot, Beck and economic commentator David Buckner led the throng in a softly sung "Amazing Grace." It was a moment he reenacted when he took the stage for his keynote, choking back copious tears as he said, "I love you guys."