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We are not the ones we have been waiting for.
That was the takeaway message of the recent “Restoring Honor” rally on the National Mall.
Unless you were on a strict no-media diet in the run-up to Labor Day this year, you saw a lot of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin in the coverage of the rally. But the rally Beck organized, and at which Palin appeared, honoring wounded military heroes, actually had very little to do with Beck or Palin.
In many ways, I wondered if the title was off. “Restoring Humility” would have been more accurate. It’s exactly the right message — at any time, and especially now.
The humility aspect is somewhat foreign to politics, so many people were confused. Was this supposed to be a political rally, or a Protestant revival? No one showed up to campaign. No one even claimed God’s mandate for his agenda. They talked about grace and decency. And Glenn Beck talked about something every political pollster and campaign adviser probably advises against: sacrifice.
And then it was over.
So on the Monday night after the Mall rally, Mark Levin did what needed to be done. He hit the airwaves on his radio show and properly closed the rally: “Any society that is not rooted in God-given natural law is a society that will ultimately destroy itself. No question. It is a society that will become tyrannical. It is a society spiraling out of control — like our society. The Founding Fathers knew this.”
What was best about the “Honor” rally was also what made it incomplete. It was great civics but it went so far. Where do we go from here? Back to our churches, this was clear. Back to our political engagement, too.
Where does God call us to? This is not an invitation to justify anything with God as your cover — as we too often see. It is a call to serious discernment about vocation and principle.
What is true? What is prudent?
“You cannot separate philosophy from politics,” Levin said in the wake of the rally. He added: “You cannot separate our politics from God-given natural rights. So we rally. We meet. We pray. We preach.” We all have our roles in the restoring of honor, in the saving of our identity as a country. “Never ever surrender politics to those who would use government against us. That’s what happened last time around. Look what happened. We don’t choose between God and politics. We embrace God who directs us into politics.”
Watching Glenn Beck’s rally, I thought of Mother Teresa, whose life and death we’ve been celebrating on the anniversary of what would have been her 100th birthday. Not because anyone there was necessarily a saint, but because you got the sense people there do want to do the right thing. Because they believe there is such a thing. And they are not looking to religion as an escape from the challenges of the day, but as their truest engagement, from which all actions flow in the pursuit of happiness.
In a 1949 article in The Thomist, philosopher Aurel Kolnai wrote: “It is indubitably true that a system of government in which the ‘plain man’ as such ‘has a say’ is intrinsically better than government by an esoteric caste of public officials no matter how well bred, ‘cultured’ or ‘public spirited.’ This is what perennially validates Democracy in the sane sense of the term, as contrasted to its erection into a false religion of secular messianism. Democracy, in that same sense, means participation at various levels of the broad strata of the people in the shaping of public policy.”
The tea party strives for that participation. So much of the engagement and rallying we’re seeing is rooted in something deeper than the next vote before us. It’s in tension with so many of our institutions that have insisted for so long that truth is what we make it. And that’s all the more reason to be not only looking back at what men before us discerned, but to keep our ear to the eternal as we make our way today.
Instead of spending the next two months, as many of us have spent the last week (and two years), debating Glenn and Sarah’s style, analyzing how sharp their Fox News prep is, and trading gossip while watching Dancing with the Stars, we need to participate. This is what the tea party seeks to do. We need to be involved in elections with a spirit of seriousness and even love. We need to not be merely angry about what is going on in many offices in Washington, but know why we’re angry and know what the change we’re voting for is, exactly. We needn’t simply get caught up in a mood that throws good guys out with the bad because there’s a feeling that the whole town ought to be Febrezed. We need to make sure that our children know why we bother to love this country and want it to be good. And at the same time, “never let your praying knees get lazy,” as one contemporary country crooner puts it.
We have a call to answer. Not because we’re anything special, not because we’re perfect — but because We the People know there’s something better than us. And inasmuch as we can reflect it — with justice and tranquility, securing the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity — we’re going to be okay in the long run.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at email@example.com.