It seemed the opposite of sanity that on the day of Jon Stewart’s big rally with Steven Colbert on the National Mall, that Glenn Beck, who inspired the gesture with his own late summer rally, that would be here, in my town, West Hartford, at a Barnes & Noble to which I can easily walk.
There, this morning, his shiny campaign bus parked outside the store where a six or eight people stood with signs at the door. Were they protesters dogging his appearance and tearful professorial rants? No. Just local Republicans hoping to glom onto the star power, preaching to the choir with signs of local Congressional candidates lagging in the polls. A couple held flags as well. A protest flatbed had lurid paintings of the incumbents, labeling them as All the Presidents Men. (Well, yes, they were fellow Democrats, but painting them with the title of the book about the Republican Watergate fiasco?). An attempt to turn Blue Back Square red, if only for a day.
Inside, hundreds gathered, though you’d hardly notice. Quiet as a congregation hushed before their leader, an orderly line snaked through the store all the way to the back, though few seemed to be leafing through books in the shelves on either side of them as they approached. No, they had the one they want, the new tirade “Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure.“ Some with two or three copies. You’d see somebody with six and think they were restocking but no, they were all awaiting the scrawled autograph of Beck.
I nosed around to see if Dana Milbank’s book was still in stock in the store. I remember seeing his critical ”Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America” being prominently displayed on the new books kiosk there the other day, but it was definitely more hidden on Saturday.
There would be no public reading by Beck, as there was at the only other Barnes & Noble author event I’ve been to there, when ESPN’s Kenny Mayne put out a title. Instead, the pundit would appear and nod and shake hands and sign his books with a quick circular swirl.
For those who had followed him on television, where tears and fidgeting made him look like a shorter man, some could be surprised how tall he was. He also looked a little ruddy – was it from sunburn or embarrassment?
People approached him quietly. Some said their hands were shaking as they presented the book.
There was no line at the coffee counter so I went there. The barista said the Beck lines started about two hours earlier.
But it’s not as if Beck was a rare commodity in Connecticut. He lives, after all, downstate in New Canaan. A big chunk of his early broadcasting career started here as well from 1992 to 1999, largely as part of a whacky morning zoo team at New Haven’s Top 40 station KC101, with the usual jokes and pranks. It was there he became more interested in political talk radio, turning in some hours at the sister station on AM talk station WELI.
“I’d like to apologize to everyone who ever listened to me,” he told me in 2007 regarding his KC101 days. “I was phoning it in every day.”
“It was the lowest point of my life,” he said. “Being a drunk, raving egomaniac.”
But look at him now, commanding this room, selling so man books, drawing hundreds of thousands to his rally at the Lincoln Memorial on an anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Beck’s speech that day didn’t turn out anything near as memorable, but at least it inspired Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert to mimic the grand gesture and announce their own Washington rally.
Strange that Beck was here in my hometown while thousands – some say more than had gathered for Beck – were assembling on the Mall for The Really to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.
It was part of a full day in the state. Saturday night, he was to share the stage at the Mohegan Sun Area in Uncasville with Bill O’Reilly for what they call the Bold & Fresh Tour 09. Tickets at the casino event ranged from $62.75 to $142.75 (again the title of Beck’s book comes up: “Broke”). For a while, the Beck-O’Reilly appearance here was listed in the paper under comedy events. It probably wasn’t that far off the mark.
Another unusual thing that happened Saturday was that Barack Obama was also in the state Saturday, stumping for candidates in Bridgeport. And you thought Washington was the center of the universe.