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Beck’s Shameful Dishonor of King Nothing New for Conservatives

By Ofari Hutchinson, Guest Columnist

Glenn Beck is either a liar or was simply mistaken as he claims that he got the date confused. The date is August 28, the same date as the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington. This is the date that Beck picked for his “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington D.C. Beck says he had no idea the date is a sacred day for civil rights leaders, and that it was pure coincidence he’ll rally that day.

Civil rights leaders don’t buy it, and neither do I. The provocative, over the top, incendiary talk show host doesn’t do anything by accident. He always has a keen eye on anything that he does. One eye is on what will shock, grab, and infuriate the largest number of people. That always ties in to his eternal hunt for ratings, ratings, and more ratings. Ratings are the mother’s milk of cable talk shows. Beck has delivered them better than most.

His other eye is just as firmly on President Obama — or rather, on dredging up anything that can belittle, ridicule and mock an African-American president. There’s no better way to do that than mock the day that for a half century has been nearly universally recognized as the moment when the nation and the world became riveted on King and the civil rights battle in America. Beck knew what he was doing when he picked the date, and the day won’t pass without Beck and speaker after conservative speaker invoking the name of King and the civil rights movement to tout a hands-off government, unchecked free markets, non-interference in the affairs of private business, and their phony “color-blind” notion of civil rights. The day also won’t pass without Beck and other speakers making the preposterous claim that if King were alive today, he’d be quite comfortable attending their rally. There’s nothing new about this shameful distortion of King by conservatives.

Starting with Reagan, Republican presidents realized that they could wring some political mileage out of King’s legacy. They tried to recast him in their image on civil rights, and bent and twisted his oft times public religious Puritanism on morals issues to justify GOP positions in the values wars that they wage with blacks, Democrats and liberals.

With King safely gone for nearly two decades, Republicans in the mid-1980s eagerly grabbed at the famous line in his “I Have A Dream” speech at the March on Washington in August 1963, in which he called on Americans to judge individuals by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Those sentiments prove, Republicans claimed, that King would be on their side against affirmative action. During the fierce wars over affirmative action in the 1990s, King’s words were even more shamelessly used to justify opposition to affirmative action.

Even conservative black evangelists jumped into the act, staging a march to King’s gravesite to protest gay marriage, the implication being as a good Baptist minister, King would have been on their side. Coretta Scott King dispelled that notion by repeatedly issuing statements saying that she was a staunch backer of gay rights, and so would her husband have been.

The Republicans’ distortion wouldn’t have been possible if some of King’s pronouncements on religion and the black family did not superficially parallel GOP positions on crime, marriage, the family and personal responsibility. Republicans carefully cobbled together bits and pieces from King’s speeches and writings during the 1950s and early 1960s to paint him as anti–big government, anti-welfare, and tough on black crime, as well as an advocate of thrift, hard work and temperance.

The snippets of conservative thinking in King’s early musings blended easily with the social conservatism of many blacks. And this was more than enough for Republicans to say that Kind would have been a big player on the GOP team. Beck and company merely picked up this manufactured view of King to justify their embrace of him.

Beck’s best efforts to stir his legion of Tea Party into a frenzy would come to nothing if millions didn’t genuinely loathe Obama and his policies, and firmly believe that he has turned government into a monster that will turn their taxes into endless social programs that benefit minorities at the expense of hard-working whites. This is how hate-mongers on the right stoke the anger and alienation that many whites feel toward health care and, by extension, Obama. This translates to even more fear, rage and distrust of big government.

Glenn Beck’s rally is an outrageous and cynical ploy to hammer Obama. Beck can have it both ways. He can knock everyone else for playing the race card with Obama, while playing it hard himself with the timing of his rally. Leave it to Beck to find the perfect way to dishonor King.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter:

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