Fresh from the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C., the Glenn Beck American revival show rolled into Anchorage Saturday night with special guest Sarah Palin.
What little real news there was came quickly. Palin, the half-term former governor of Alaska and unsuccessful though much-loved Republican candidate for vice-president, will keep the country waiting on whether she plans a bid for the presidency in 2012. Not so for Fox News star Beck. "No, I'm not going to run," he said point blank when asked by Palin, on the stage, about his presidential aspirations.
The Sept. 11 joint appearance of Palin and Beck in Anchorage had stirred widespread speculation they might be planning a big announcement, possibly one of presidential size. The duo, who thrive on bashing the media, seemed to take a special pleasure in poking holes at their having been the centers of that sort of national political attention as they moved toward their Anchorage appearance on the symbolic date of 9/11.
For almost an hour on this night, they kept an enthusiastic and near-to-capacity crowd in the Denaina Convention Center waiting to see what was going to happen. Scheduled for an 8 p.m. kick off, the Palin-Beck show didn't start until almost 9 p.m. The audience didn't seem to care. They welcomed Palin politely with loud applause, and then went ballistic when Beck hit the stage.
Reading from a polished script, Palin opened the show in her now familiar Minnesota twang. She referenced meeting Beck in New York in the shadow of Lady Liberty -- a monument given to the United State by France, she said, as "a gift to warn us against socialism.''
Palin continued, referencing her touchstone president, Ronald Reagan, in almost biblical terms: "and then Reagan said" and warning that "freedom is not free; freedom is worth fighting for.''
That set the stage for the arrival of freedom-fighter Beck. Palin introduced him as a regular victim of the "leftist media elite,'' but added "he's not retreating; he's reloading.''
The phrase has become a Palin trademark, and the crowd loved it. She played to them, noting they were good and patriotic people even if in "the media'' they were "portrayed as an angry mob.''
Then Beck hit the stage. The audience started screaming. And Beck screamed back: "Hello Alaska!'' There were more cheers. "I don't know if you realize how far away Alaska is,'' Beck said, noting he had to fly and fly and fly to get here from New York City.
The real Alaskans in the audience laughed politely -- tourism, which depends on air travelers, being the cornerstones of state business. Beck didn't exactly help with the tourism aspect when the next words out of his mouth were that he and his wife had been thinking about vacationing in the 49th state, but Todd Palin, Sarah's husband, talked them out of it with promises to take them climbing on a glacier and hunting for wolves.
"We didn't come to Alaska because your husband scared us to death,'' he said to Sarah who sat with him on the stage for the first half of the show and laughed politely. The Becks instead vacationed in Idaho, he said.
Beck praised the pioneering spirit of the people in Idaho and then segued into how there's even more of that in Alaska. Palin jumped in with all the clichés about Alaskans: so friendly, so hard-working, so independent, so good.
"It' just the most real group of people you've ever met,'' she said.
Maybe too real for some. Beck hinted he didn't quite know how to react at being told by Sarah that she'd just come back from caribou hunting and still had blood under her fingernails.
"I feel like a girl again,'' he said, which might have provided the other news of the night if anyone was closely paying attention. Glenn Beck was once a girl? It was an apparent misstatement, and one the professional talker would certainly have made fun of if he'd caught it in time, humor being a big part of his show.
The second half of it -- after Palin left following her speech and a clearly scripted exchange with Beck -- was that humorous Beck, and more. Lots more.
He was at turns bombastic, self-effacing, philosophical, funny, historical and even tearful as he prowled the stage lamenting the collectives that rule American politics today, stressing the value of the individual and suggesting, without ever actually saying so, that those in the attendance form a new collective. Stand together, he said; take strength from each other; and take back America.
The mostly white crowd loved it. Not that Beck's message wouldn't have had something for any race or nationality. There were, as is often the case with Beck, so many messages scattered through the presentation that there was something for anyone.
He said to find God, but then he stressed it could be any God, even a mountain top. He attacked the bureaucracy, something with which almost American has had a run-in at some point, although he referred to them as the "administrators.''
He said everyone should read their history, though his livelihood is dependent on people watching an electronic box instead of reading. He said he'd already made enough money to be set for life, but that he was carrying forward his message for the good of the country.
It was very good theater. Those leaving had all kinds of reactions to the message, although they seemed mainly to have gotten the theme that they should find the Christian God and fight to shrink government.
Beck's last pitch was to call on them to join his 40 Days/40 Nights campaign of self-awareness, which includes the search for God, after which "our politicians will be replaced.'' The new ones, he suggested, wouldn't fight so much, which would probably be a first in American's cantankerous political history.
There was a dose of that Saturday night, too. Beck and Palin got briefly heckled, called hypocrites, which led to a Palin shout-out to former Anchorage talk-show host Eddie Burke, a failed candidate for Alaska lieutenant governor --who she strangely enough refused to endorse during the campaign -- after he apparently intervened to help grab the heckler early in the show.
"God bless you,'' Beck said to the heckler. And Palin chimed in that her son, Track, who has served in Iraq, was protecting the woman's right to protest, although protection of free speech in America was never one of the reasons former president George W. Bush cited for invading the Middle Eastern country.
The audience didn't seem to mind. They were all with Palin when the dissenter was hauled away.
"Eddie Burke,'' Palin said. "Eddie Burke, hey!''
The crowd applauded.
Beck then said, "It's like a high school classroom." And there was applause.
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com