In front of historic crowd on the Mall, Beck makes plea for spiritual renewal and self-government

A crowd estimated to be around 300,000 gathered on the national Mall Saturday for a three-hour rally led by Fox News personality Glenn Beck, who held largely true to his promise to keep the event nonpolitical and instead conducted something of an old-style religious revival meeting that meandered between calls for moral renewal, racial unity, self-government, and support for the U.S. military.

Beck, who shed a neck tie midway through the event and appeared to be wearing a bulletproof vest, was a constant presence onstage during the rally, dominating the message and speaking nonstop for the entire third hour. The only other major speaker was former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who devoted most of her 17-minute speech to honoring military veterans and telling their stories.

That left Beck as essentially the host of his own three-hour special on the Mall, with a historic crowd lending him a dramatically enlarged platform. Beck showed his talent for oratory and cemented his place as a notable and unusual figure in American political history, and along the way raised what he said was $5.5 million for the families of special operations soldiers killed or wounded in the line of duty. But Beck’s message throughout likely came as a surprise to many who don’t usually watch his show, who see him as mostly a loud and dramatic critic of President Obama.

The Beck rally was a mixture of religion, public relations and political philosophy. After predicting the beginning of another Great Awakening at a Kennedy Center event on Friday night, Beck strode back and forth across the massive but spartan stage set, keeping his rhetoric long on motivational generalities but short on specifics.

Arguably, the energy in the country that drove so many people to attend the rally came from concern about government spending and debt, as well as its size and its growing involvement in the private sector and individual lives. But Beck, who is a Mormon, titled the Saturday rally “Restoring Honor” and used that theme to talk about the need for Americans to return to God themselves as individuals and live upright, moral lives.

“If we want our country to survive, we must begin to look within ourselves,” Beck said. “To restore America we must restore ourselves.”

Beck’s presupposition was that America is at a crisis point and its citizens are in danger of losing their power for self-government because they have grown lazy and apathetic and allowed it to atrophy.

“America is great because America is good … America is only what we choose her to be, we as individuals must be good so America can be great,” he said. “We’ve grown tired. We’ve grown weak. We’re dividing ourselves. There is growing hatred in the country. We must be better than what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. We must get the poison of hatred out of us. No matter what anyone might say or do, no matter what anyone smears or lies or throws our way … we must look to God and look to love.”