Glenn Beck Tries To Be King For A Day

Glenn Beck’s appeal is that he makes it all look so easy.

I mean, all you have to do is wave your American flag, pledge allegiance to God (the white version), bake in the sun for a few hours, and you are on your way to redemption, free at last, free at last from the reluctant acceptance of any lingering guilt about your complicity in this whole racial inequality mess, because by golly, you were the ones who really began the civil rights movement, and you were the ones who have been measuring people, not by the color of their skins but by the content of their character all these years, and…

…except the reality is, you probably would have had nothing to do with the civil rights movement, not if you are the kind of person who can praise Martin Luther King Jr. in one breath and demonize Barack Hussein Obama Jr. in the next, the way your fearless leader does on his radio and TV shows.

I don’t know why, but every time I heard Glenn Beck refer to “coming out of the darkness” this weekend, the only thing that came to mind was Dave Chapelle barking “darkness, darkness” while doing his imitation of Rick James taunting Eddie Murphy and Charlie Murphy about their dark skin complexions.

Maybe it was because I think Beck is more comedian than commentator, more huckster than holy man, with an air of desperate emotional urgency that gives his whole shtick the feel of a reality TV show star who has gone AWOL from the show's set, and is now roaming around in the real world.

What the host of the “Restoring Honor” rally does do extremely well is play the “good cop, bad cop” routine without a partner, imploring his audiences to believe in a better future while simultaneously heightening their fears of an inevitable cultural Armageddon.

"I'm begging you to get down on your knees. What is coming is not good. I don't know how things end. I should rephrase that. I do know how things end. But I know how things end after a long struggle. I don't know how that struggle is going to work out. I don't know how much time each of us has. I don't know how much time the country has."

Excerpt of transcript from recent Glenn Beck program

I guess I should applaud this high school graduate turned TV commentator for taking such an avid interest in history and religion and philosophy so late in life, but it is hard, real hard, for me not to notice that Beck is selling fear disguised as hope. It is hard not to notice, in these inevitable comparisons between King and Beck, that Beck has a rambling way of talking about everything and nothing, even when he calls on people from across the country to assemble on the National Mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

I guess I should be grateful that Glenn Beck has decided to emphasize the works and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to a group of people who probably don’t spend all that much time thinking about this African American drum major for justice, but it is hard—mighty hard—for me to get worked up about this when Beck spends his precious airtime demonizing the living black men who are still working on the same mission today that Dr. King undertook.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

 Martin Luther King Jr. - From “I Have A Dream” speech, 1963, Lincoln Memorial

The unique thing about Martin Luther King Jr. was his combination of years of intensive graduate level scholarship with a “boots on the ground” approach. Not only was he ready and willing to march in protest of racial injustice, but he could also craft and deliver powerful, cogent speeches that examined the very framework of American society. King mined his vast knowledge of history, religion, and philosophy to give a fresh perspective to age-old metaphors for his speeches, creating imagery with the kind of visual heft that even today, forty some odd years later, still inflame the hearts of those who hear them.

In this very same "I Have A Dream" speech, in fact, King used the image of African Americans "cashing a check" from America to demonstrate the debt America owed to its darker citizens regarding freedom and justice.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

 Martin Luther King Jr. - From “I Have A Dream” speech, 1963, Lincoln Memorial     

To Glenn Beck and his followers, this image is anathema, the mere suggestion of such an act an outright abomination, a rejection of "the individual as his own hero" meme that suffuses throughout much of his rhetoric. But this image, and the ideal behind it, is as much a part of the fabric of Dr. King's philosophy as the idea of social justice for all, regardless of race, creed, or religion.

Thank you, Glenn, for trying, but I think I’ll stick to my habit of honoring my black leaders and thinkers and civil rights activists and community organizers as much as I can in the here and now, while they are still alive and kicking.

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