Our Quote of the Day comes from Daily Beast and CNN centrist analyst John Avlon, from a column that ran yesterday. It sets the scene for conservative talk show host Glenn Beck’s big rally today in Washington D.C. It’s worth quoting and considering in detail here since it touches on some of the broader issues and places the rally in context.
But the ambition [of Beck] to turn from talk-radio rodeo clown to movement Moses has been toned down, with the event now presented as a thoroughly unobjectionable salute to the troops. Even the mention of partisan politics has been unconvincingly forbidden. But still, some smell trouble. Most elected Republican leaders are keeping their distance. Supporters have been asked to keep their signs—and their firearms—at home.
One of Beck’s new goals is to “reclaim the civil-rights movement” and “pick up Martin Luther King’s Dream that has been distorted.” But for all his self-help insights, Beck can’t seem to understand why civil-rights leaders are upset with his attempt to carry MLK’s mantle.
Calling President Obama a “racist” who has a “deep-seeded hatred of white people” is a good place to start looking for explanation. Repeated references to health-care legislation as “reparations,” and a relatively new riff on black liberation theology’s home in the White House, is another. Oh, and Beck’s repeated denunciation of “social justice” is at odds with just about all of King’s theology and activism.
But the problem runs deeper than incendiary language deployed for ratings—it’s rooted in philosophy. The fellow travelers Sarah Palin and Beck are now calling “constitutional conservatives” are, knowingly or not, resuscitating some of the same constitutional arguments advanced by the pro-segregationist forces that Martin Luther King spent his life fighting.
He goes on to explain:
For example, in the “Dream” speech, King denounced segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, “his lips dripping with the words ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification.'” Those are the same policy methods being pursued as remedy to what some see as the over-reach of the federal government under Obam…. Indeed, one of the last effective leaders of conservative populist tradition that Palin and Beck represent was George Wallace himself, who wrapped his hatred of liberal-led change in professions of deep patriotism and piety.
Republicans are absolutely right to point out that most of the pro-segregationist forces in the Jim Crow South were Democrats, like Wallace……
It’s a good point. And as someone who grew up during the years of the civil right struggle one certainty was this: the arguments used by King’s bitter foes when he fought his battle were considered by the bulk of American society to be smokescreen arguments that could not obscure what was smoldering underneath.
Avlon recounts Sarah Palin’s defense of talk show host Laura Schlessinger’s use of the n-word on the air 11 times. He then writes:
Taken together, its no surprise that at least three competing rallies and counterprotests will be held by civil-rights groups on the same day. It is a combustible atmosphere of mutual suspicion, the enflaming of faction that the Founding Fathers warned against and which Lincoln ultimately fought.
There is a direct line between Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, whose words are written on the wall of his memorial, and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Both promised a new birth of freedom, an inclusive vision of how America could evolve toward a more perfect union. In contrast, the self-righteous conservative populism that Beck and Palin have pumped up and profited from is predicted on a fundamental vision of division—”real Americans” versus subversive secular socialists; true patriots versus the president.
By dividing our country into us against them, sowing the seeds of hate and condemning the concept of a big tent, Beck and Palin represent the opposite tradition in American history as Lincoln and King—they are dividers, not uniters. We can take them at their word: They want to take our country back, not help it move forward.
May I say “ditto?”
There is indeed a strong undercurrent of “retro” in a lot of the rhetoric used now by Beck, Palin and other members of what I call the talk radio political culture — a retro that is not a matter of taking the country back to the American Ronald Reagan described in a way that won over Democrats and independent voters. And not to the kind of America Barry Goldwater described and seemed to detail more in his final years.
Will the rally transcend these negative vibes independents such as Avlon and others are getting — vibes all the more troubling as voters now seem poised to send many of these “new conservatives” to Congress and the new GOP…stripped definitively of its “compassionate conservatism” brand … possibly takes control there?
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