I’m holding my nose, but here goes.

From A Tiny Revolution, I have a transcript of part of Glenn Beck’s Lincoln Memorial speech/sermon*:

Behind you, in front of me, the Washington—alone, tall, straight—if you look at the Washington Monument, you might notice its scars. But nobody talks about that…but a quarter of the way up it changes color. Did you know that it did? Look at it. Look at its scars.

How did the scar get there? They stopped building it in the Civil War. And when the war was over, they began again. No one sees the scars of the Washington memorial, the Washington Monument. We see what it stands for. No one also talks about what’s on top, facing east. Just two words, “Laus Deo,” “Praise be to God.”

I have no idea what point Beck is trying to make.

Maybe he’s trying to present the Washington Monument as something that transcended a racial divide, since he decided to hold his event on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

But it doesn’t really matter what point he’s trying to make. Because at the heart of his anecdote, Beck is historically-challenged just like his fellow GOP compatriot Newt Gingrich.

Would Beck have had to go very far to find out why the Washington Monument has two colors? Only as far as the National Park Service website:

Why does the color change on the outside of the monument?

When the monument was under construction in 1854, the Washington National Monument Society ran out of money and the project ground to a halt. Twenty-five years later, the U.S. Government took over and completed the upper two-thirds of the structure by 1884 using marble from a different quarry. The two sections closely resembled each other at first, but time, wind, rain, and erosion have caused the marble sections to weather differently, thereby producing the difference in color.

In case American history wasn’t your strong suit (it certainly wasn’t Beck’s), the Civil War was 1860-1865.

But there is an interesting political twist, one with modern parallels.

In 1852, construction stopped at the 156-foot level when the project ran out of money. Two years later, “‘Know Nothing’ political activists took over the uncompleted monument for two years.” And who were the “Know Nothings”, a pejorative term for the American Party?

Its members strongly opposed immigrants and followers of the Catholic Church… The Know-Nothing Party intended to prevent Catholics and immigrants from being elected to political offices. Its members also hoped to deny these people jobs in the private sector, arguing that the nation’s business owners needed to employ true Americans.

The majority of Know-Nothings came from middle and working-class backgrounds. These people feared competition for jobs from immigrants coming to the United States.

[…]

Nationally, in 1856, the American Party ran Millard Fillmore as its candidate for President of the United States. While Fillmore finished last, he still received almost 900,000 votes out of the approximately four million votes cast in the election…. The party did not run a candidate for president in [the 1860] election, as many of its followers had joined the Republican Party.

Where do we hear the rhetoric of “true Americans” today? You know, the only ones who can count on the First Amendment. Where do we hear fearful rhetoric about immigration?

Right. The Republican Party.

What’s ironic is that the Republican Party of the 19th century was an anathema to the South, which threatened to secede should a Republican be elected President, but today it is the party of the South.

What a transformation in my lifetime.

So Mr. Beck, just which of these parallels were you thinking about when you decided to talk about the Washington Monument on Saturday? Or were you simply blowing smoke?

* People who talk like this, in my experience, are preachers. Not journalists.

The truth is like a fire. I told you, you’ve got to stand in the blaze of truth and everything else will burn around you.

And this:

For too long, this country has wandered in darkness.

KATHY GILL, Technology Policy Analyst
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