Glenn Beck, you're no Martin Luther King... not even close
I actually don't have much to say about Glenn Beck's idiotic, insulting "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday.
Everything was just so predictable. How could it not have been? Anyone familiar with Beck and his far-right shtick knew what was coming, and it all came, Sarah Palin included, as expected. We've seen it all before, we've heard it all before, and the only difference was the scale, the backdrop and the size of the crowd, and therein, on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's historic speech, was it so deeply insulting.
As C&L's David Neiwert put it, the rally was "just a long-winded and boring sermon," and overwhelmingly, predictably "white":
It was essentially Beck's call for a return to the religious life in America -- which was why he assembled 240 representatives of various churches in the crowd and dubbed them his "new Black Robe Regiment". This part was particularly creepy, since it came with an admonition that religious leaders needed to focus on "fundamental values" -- as defined by Glenn Beck, of course.
This means, naturally, that the "social justice" for which Martin Luther King fought -- and which Glenn Beck has vigorously condemned -- would not be part of those fundamental values.
As predicted, the whole show was a hoax -- a civil rights rally for easily frightened white people.
Yes, that's exactly right, from what I could tell, from my perch here in Canada, where we don't have a Glenn Beck and where social justice is built into who we are as a nation, where it defines us as a people despite our own conservatives who seek to undermine it. I was insulted as a human being who admires King and what he stood for, and I was insulted as one who has spent a lot of time in, and who loves, America, but, thankfully, I am somewhat detached from the madness of Glenn Beck, if only because there is a national border, however undefended, between us.
And yet I remain focused on what I and others have referred to as the American right's descent into madness, one of the defining political developments of our time, perhaps the defining political development of the decline and fall of the American Empire.
Here's the NYT's Bob Herbert: "America is better than Glenn Beck. For all of his celebrity, Mr. Beck is an ignorant, divisive, pathetic figure." Yes it is and yes he is. More:
Beck is a provocateur who likes to play with matches in the tinderbox of racial and ethnic confrontation. He seems oblivious to the real danger of his execrable behavior. He famously described President Obama as a man "who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture."
He is an integral part of the vicious effort by the Tea Party and other elements of the right wing to portray Mr. Obama as somehow alien, a strange figure who is separate and apart from -- outside of -- ordinary American life.
Facts and reality mean nothing to Beck. And there is no road too low for him to slither upon.
And yet he will undoubtedly remain, for the foreseeable future, a leading figure on the right, the articulator of an ascendant strain of conservatism that, along with the anti-tax, pro-business libertarianism of old, has taken hold of the Republican Party and that is widely popular in non-establishment conservative circles, that is, with the Tea Party "movement" and the Republican base.
When King spoke, on August 28, 1963, it was not about himself, and not really even about his own "dream," but about something so much larger than that, the promise that America held as a nation, the promise of white and black, and everyone else, coming together in common purpose to make the future a better place, a fairer place, a more socially just place. It was an historic speech, and it remains today one of the finest moments of American history.
When Beck spoke yesterday, on August 28, 2010, it was all about himself, about his vision, about remaking America in his own image. What I noted -- and, again, this was so predictable -- was the enormous egotism of it all. Who is Glenn Beck to speak at the Lincoln Memorial on the same day King gave his historic speech there? An arrogant, self-satisfied blowhard teeming with conspiracy theories and a self-interested ideology of fear, hatred, and loathing.
America is still a great and beautiful country in many ways, as King understood, but Beck's "America," as we heard yesterday and as we hear day after day from him and those like him, is an ugly distortion of that reality. What it seeks to restore is the ugliness of America's past, the divisions that threatened to tear America apart, the ignorance and closed-mindedness that are enemies to genuine progress, to genuine liberty.
We can ignore Beck if we like, at our risk, given his popularity, but what we really need to do is to articulate as forcefully as we can King's vision of America as a land of freedom and opportunity for all, as a land that is fair and just and inclusive. This is the vision that then-candidate Barack Obama articulated so brilliantly in his speech in Philadelphia in March 2008. American history has been the story of the quest for that more perfect union envisioned by the Founders. The American Empire may or may not be in irreversible decline, but to me that quest is still a noble one, and one that ought to guide American politics now.
Glenn Beck, those like him, and those who support him, like today's conservatism generally, is an obstacle to that quest, an obstacle to the realization of a better and more perfect America. He, and the ugliness he stands for, must not be allowed to prevail.