Speaking about America’s identity brought TV and radio personality Glenn Beck to tears as he addressed its failures and the surprisingly positive role they play in the country.
“That’s what America is really all about,” he said. “Just somebody’s ideas and then moving forward with it. Let’s reinvent ourselves. … Failure is a huge part of success, you learn something from failure.”
But although Beck’s message was sometimes hopeful, his appearance was not well-received by all.
Hundreds of protesters arrived well before Beck spoke at MSU’s Kellogg Center on Tuesday as part of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s Future Forum.
The crowd was there to protest Beck’s past statements about President Barack Obama, among other issues.
Beck has drawn criticism for calling Obama a racist.
“I think it is absurd,” MSU College Democrats Vice President Kaitlin April said. “The slander that he’s put out … spreading lies. I absolutely think he has a right to speak, but I think we have a right to speak as well.”
State Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith, D-Salem, and state House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, cancelled plans to attend the forum and boycotted the event because of controversies surrounding Beck.
Cameron Cochran, an international relations and political theory and constitutional democracy sophomore and member of the MSU chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, came out to support Beck’s freedom to speak at the event.
“(We’re here) basically to ensure that everyone’s First Amendment rights are being protected,” he said. “That’s what our government was founded on, our Bill of Rights.”
Richard Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said although Beck’s appearance has been hotly contested, he stands behind the decision to invite Beck to speak at the event.
“We are concerned,” he said. “You would think on a college campus people would be more champions of free speech, (but) there are some groups who only believe in free speech … if it’s their speech.”
Listening to the opinions of many will help the state, Studley said.
“If the idea is, ‘We’ll only listen to people that we already know and already agree with,’ then the circle of discussion only gets smaller,” he said.
Beck called for needed change for Michigan and for the country, and warned of a “cancer” developing in Washington that threatens to stall progress.
Kristin Healey, a Potterville resident, said she enjoyed the speech and its message.
“The most important thing is that it’s no longer about parties, it’s about getting the competitiveness out of Washington,” she said.
Beck urged attendees to break the mold, even if it is a provocative move that challenges the system.
“Follow what you love, follow your passion, make a difference,” he said.
“Don’t look to anyone for anything other than a hand up. We need to help each other, but we don’t need to carry each other.”