It's already been dubbed Beckapalooza, the Beckoning, Beckstock.
Somewhere between heartfelt sermon and star-spangled sideshow, Fox News host Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" event, to be held Saturday at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, has already attracted outsized praise and criticism. A celebration of faith, personal virtue and traditional American values, the gathering will feature prayers and a speech by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, as Old Glory rolls in the summer breeze and folks get in touch with their inner patriot.
"It's going to be overwhelming," Mr. Beck predicted on his show Thursday evening.
But the political aftershocks of the gathering are proving harder to gauge.
Mr. Beck insists the three-hour gathering will not be a political rally, a "tea party" celebration or even a vehicle for personal aggrandizement. But defining what it is has proved to be an irresistible challenge for supporters and skeptics alike.
The event has attracted much buzzy press attention and vigorous criticism from liberals such as MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, who framed the event as an "end of days" extravaganza, and is questioning Mr. Beck's sanity. Think Progress editor Faiz Shakir simply declared, "the guy is insane," while liberal watchdog Media Matters for America said Mr. Beck was guilty of "outrageous hyperbole."
Democratic political organizations jumped on the bandwagon, gleefully pointing up the low-key welcome GOP establishment groups have given the rally.
"The fact that [Republicans] are trying to plead ignorance is just completely absurd," said Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
But the phrase "crazy like a fox" could apply here to Mr. Beck and his event. And timing is everything.
Organized with the Special Operations Warrior Foundation more than eight months ago, the gathering will unfold on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic "I Have A Dream" speech, virtually on the same spot where the civil rights leader stood in 1963, shaping his destiny as well as the nation's. Mr. Beck said the coincidence was not planned.
"It's not the date. It's the message," Mr. Beck said Thursday.
This does not sit well with the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights activists, who are vexed with the outspoken Mr. Beck and convinced he seeks to capitalize on King's legacy to enhance his own clout.
In a broadcast last year, Mr. Beck noted that President Obama was "a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture. I'm not saying he doesn't like white people. I'm saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist."
With the support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League, Mr. Sharpton will stage a "Reclaim the Dream" counterrally at the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial site just a few hundred feet away from Mr. Beck's temporary stage.
Mr. Beck has said he hopes to build on King's dream of racial equality, not challenge it. And he has some potent backup: Alveda King, niece of the slain civil rights activist, is a featured speaker at the Beck rally.
Said Bob Parks, a black conservative and a member of Project 21, a nonprofit interest group sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, "Al Sharpton essentially wants to crash Beck's event. Has anyone noticed how the left loves to invite themselves to things for the sole purpose of smearing them? Just because the good reverend says he doesn't plan on confrontation, would he explain the provocation of having his marchers be turned loose within yards of Beck's rally?"
Protesting groups such as the National Urban League "must realize that Martin Luther King had no monopoly on the public square - or the Lincoln Memorial. Holidays and special events are shared at various sites and on the same day," said Emery McClendon, also a Project 21 member. "Check the record. Find out that Glenn Beck is holding his event on this day to honor Dr. King as well as to remind all Americans that God alone can heal our Republic. It is an event aimed at restoring honor."
But Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democratic nonvoting representative of the District in Congress, said that if Mr. Beck "has any respect for the unity across racial lines ... he would not hold what looks to be an all-white march."
The U.S. Park Service is offering no prediction about the size of any of the Saturday events.
"We don't provide crowd figures either before, during or after these events," said spokesman Sgt. David Schlosser.
Meanwhile, the buses full of Beck supporters are rolling toward Washington. In what Mr. Beck said is an attempt to tone down any political aspect of the gathering, participants have been instructed not to bring signs that could politicize the activities.
FreedomWorks, a grass-roots group founded by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and friendly with major "tea party" organizers, will stage a separate convention and several private events.
Oddly enough, Fox News itself will not be providing any special coverage of the Beck affair, according to a spokeswoman - but C-SPAN will be there from start to finish.
"And we're covering Reverend Sharpton's rally as well," said spokesman Howard Mortman.
"Glenn Beck is what I'd call a poli-entertainer," said John Tantillo, a Manhattan-based marketing analyst who originally coined the term "no-spin zone" for Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.
"He addresses political and cultural ideas, but he makes it compelling and spirited. He makes it fun. You have to listen to this man, and as a 'brand,' he's top-notch. The guy is brilliant," Mr. Tantillo said.
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