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Why the Right Can’t Claim MLK Legacy

Of all the ridiculous things Glenn Beck spews on a daily basis, his constant attempts to portray himself as the true heir to the legacy of Martin Luther King has to rank near the top. John Avlon explains why those attempts by Beck and other conservatives is utterly inane:

Likewise, I was struck at Glenn Beck’s rally on the Washington Mall when he paid tribute to Dr. King, also part of a repeated riff on his show, which featured King’s face in a parade of heroes beginning with George Washington.

Last year, in the wake of Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting, Beck’s website offered a more explicit comparison, surreally positioning himself as the inheritor of King’s commitment to non-violence: “Over four decades ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Civil Rights Movement with a philosophy and pledge of nonviolence. In the wake of the tragedy in Arizona, Glenn put forth a similar call for nonviolence.” You just can’t make this stuff up.

On the one hand, its satisfying to see a figure like Dr. King be mainstreamed and admired across the political spectrum—it is a sure sign of progress and societal evolution.

But there is no small amount of irony in conservative populists invoking Martin Luther King—because some of their ideological ancestors were among his most vicious critics…

Polite society rallied against King under the auspices of the White Citizens Councils, appearing most recently as part of the plot line in the 2011 movie The Help.

Contemporary newspapers were likewise far from unified in their support of King, with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat calling King “one of the most menacing men in America today.”

There were roadside billboards scattered throughout the South purporting to show King at a communist training camp.

Adding to this narrative were people like Alabama Governor George Wallace, who told The New York Times in 1963 that “President [Kennedy] wants us to surrender this state to Martin Luther King and his group of pro-Communists who have instituted these demonstrations.”

If Beck’s show had existed during the civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s, he would have been doing to King what he does to every other progressive figure in the country. He would be at his blackboard playing a ridiculous game of six degrees of separation to prove that King was a communist out to destroy the country.

Comments

  1. d cwilson says

    The one thing I miss about Beck’s slide into irrelevance is the way in which Stewart and Colbert would eviserate him.

  2. Taz says

    On the one hand, its satisfying to see a figure like Dr. King be mainstreamed and admired across the political spectrum—it is a sure sign of progress and societal evolution.

    The mainstreaming came first. There’s no political advantage in attacking King, so people like Beck are trying to co-opt him in the same way they try to co-opt the Jews. The “legacy of King” is invoked in the same way as “Judeo-Christian” values.

  3. Chiroptera says

    …because some of their ideological ancestors were among his most vicious critics….

    Ancestors? What about them today? I mean, other than “it is wrong to say bigotted things out loud where other people can hear you,” which of MLK’s positions do contemporary “conservatives” accept?

  4. harold says

    There’s an even simpler reason. Martin Luther King’s views were far more progressive, even circa 1960, than Glen Beck’s are in 2012.

    King didn’t openly campaign in favor of gay rights. It would have been astonishing if he had. A retroactive demand for him to have done so would represent the most extreme anachronistic naivete. He did, however, leave a record of never indulging in homophobia (that alone makes him better than the current right wing) and treating people who were openly gay with personal kindness.

    King was strongly pro-woman by the standards of his time. Again, more so than the right wing today.

    On issues like economics, war, and the death penalty King was far more progressive, in absolute standards, than either party is today.

    Martin Luther King was a progressive figure. He wasn’t a “reverse reactionary” defending the rights of African-Americans but dismissing other human beings. He was a true visionary progressive, by the standards of his time, and on most issues, well beyond the standards of the current time.

    Glen Beck is simply indulging in Orwellian tactics. “I oppose everything Martin Luther King stood for, to the extent that I pander to racists, so I’ll claim that I admire Martin Luther King”.

  5. Stevarious says

    surreally positioning himself as the inheritor of King’s commitment to non-violence

    Surreal indeed – there was streams of confetti and a band playing on his show when bin Laden was killed.

    He would be at his blackboard playing a ridiculous game of six degrees of separation to prove that King was a communist out to destroy the country.

    Unlike many of the weird, brutally contorted connections that Beck makes on his blackboard, tying MLK to communists would be trivially easy – many of his top advisers were open communists and atheists. Of course, pesky facts like that don’t matter the Beck.

  6. Pieter B, FCD says

    Beck would probably use as another proof of Dr King’s iniquity the license plate I saw on 101 just a few minutes ago — 6MLK666.

  7. Michael Heath says

    All the older people I know, every single one of those Fox News devotees in meat-world who are now Tea Partiers, are the very people who promoted the idea within their sphere of influence that MLK was a communist. Most of them also supported the George Wallace presidential effort and then defended President Nixon as a victim of a liberal witchhunt during Watergate until Nixon resigned. So from my personal perspective, it’s an absurd claim without having to do much research at all to validate it’s true of the U.S. population -which we also know it is.

  8. pacal says

    One of the ancestors the “Conservative” block loves to quote and gush over is William F. Buckley. Buckley’s take on MLK was anything but positive but then I guess that is par for the course for someone who supported the “right” of majorties to segregate and relegate a large number of their fellow citizens to second class status on the basis of race.

    It is touching how William F. Buckley’s pontifcations of the 50s and 60s on these matters were hardly ever it at all brought up when he was later interviewed. I guess, like his celebration of Joseph McCarthy, it would have upset the poor dear.

  9. d cwilson says

    I think you’re all missing the main reason why the right is embracing a man they called an evil commie pinko fifty years ago:

    He’s dead.

    It’s easy to claim a dead man was really one of yours decades later since he’s not around to contradict you. Hell, King’s own niece now makes a living going around claiming he was a rightwinger all along.

    It’s same way the republicans love to invoke the image of Lincoln, even through their great-great-grandpappies were probably burning him in effigy.

  10. says

    But there is no small amount of irony in conservative populists invoking Martin Luther King—because some of their ideological ancestors were among his most vicious critics…

    I have an old book by one of those ancestors. Written in the early 1970’s, it was purportedly a book about Chappaquiddick, but very quickly degenerated into an anti-Kennedy, anti-MLK, paranoid anti-commie screed. It features all the hallmarks of “modern” wingnut writing, right down to the randomly capitalized words, ALL-CAPS ranting, conspiracy theories and blaming of the media. It could serve as the style manual.

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