On August 28th, the 47th anniversary of the historic March on Washington, Glenn Beck, Fox News Channel talk show host and conservative/Tea Party Guru, mobilized thousands for a rally at the Lincoln Memorial to “restore honor” to America. Beck proclaimed that the choice of the date and location was strictly coincidental, claiming he was unaware of the significance of the occasion. Having made the choice, however, Beck later proclaimed it was “providential” that he had selected such a momentous date in American history to stage his event. From the outset, the question looming over the Beck Rally was what he meant by “restoring honor” to the nation. Apparently, many Tea Party activists saw the march as a vehicle to assert their themes of limited government, low taxes and free markets. Having been made aware of the significance of August 28, Beck repeatedly attempted to wrap himself and his cause in the mantle of Martin Luther King, suggesting that his rally was consistent with the “dream” of justice and equality for all. The legacy of King was invoked as if he were an icon of the conservative movement, someone who embodied their vision and values. Hence, when Beck mounted the podium to address the adoring assembled masses, he declared that this multitude had gathered on “hallowed ground.”
Beck was correct that his adherents were on hallowed ground. Unfortunately, the presence of legions of his followers defiled the ground sanctified by heroes of the civil rights movement and their allies who sacrificed to journey to the National Mall in 1963. The sacrifice and suffering of these freedom fighters and that of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party “Patriots” are hardly similar. Indeed, they offer competing visions of the ultimate nature of the American Union. To the delight of his followers, Beck has openly taunted the first Black President of the United States and called Mr. Obama a racist. The marchers who gathered at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 were calling and fighting for a more expansive, inclusive democracy based on the eradication of segregation and all forms of discrimination. Their demand was for social and economic justice for all. In a real sense, Glen Beck’s followers were galvanized in reaction to the gains of the civil rights movement and other progressive social movements that have taken inspiration from it. They are largely reactionaries motivated by anger, fear and even hatred of the idea of a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious society with a “compassionate” government as symbolized by a Black family in the White House!
There were no national television or radio networks motivating the freedom fighters who marched on Washington in 1963. They were an assembly of bloodied and battered non-violent warriors from the frontlines of the struggle for dignity and equality in the South, joined by progressive labor, faith and women’s rights advocates. It was “the beloved community” that gathered in the nation’s Capital, a mostly Black but diverse multitude that mirrored the promise and prospect of a “more perfect union.”
Glenn Beck and his cohorts should be clear that we are not deceived and we will not be mocked. No matter how many times conservatives invoke the name of Dr. Martin Luther King and pretend they have embraced his “dream,” their pronouncements and practice/actions are hollow and hypocritical. Historically conservatives have always sought to “conserve” the status-quo – which in most instances has meant preserving the privileges of White men with property and power. Note I did not say Republicans were reactionaries. The issue is not about Republican, Democrat, or any other political party. It is about political philosophy. In that regard, the key issue is whether one stands on the conservative or liberal-progressive tradition in American history.
The record is clear. Conservatives have always been on the wrong side of history as it relates to expanding rights for the dispossessed. Liberals and progressives have largely been on the correct side. Liberals and progressives fought for women’s suffrage and more recently an Equal Rights Amendment over the strenuous objection of conservative Republicans and Democrats. Liberals and progressives (including Democrats, Socialists, Communists and some Republicans) supported the often-bloody struggle of workers to gain the right to organize and maintain unions. Conservatives sided with corporate/business interests in fiercely opposing rights for labor. Liberals and progressives, including Republicans like President Teddy Roosevelt and “fighting” Bob LaFollette, Senator from Wisconsin, led the fight to enact anti-trust laws and other regulations to rein in the avaricious behavior of corporations – “the greedy over the needy.”
Liberals and progressives pushed for consumer and environmental protection laws and regulations against the relentless resistance of conservatives. In addition, conservatives have never fought for civil rights for Africans in America or any other oppressed group. After the Civil War, radical Republicans like Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens fought for the passage and ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution and the enactment of sweeping Civil Rights laws that were the most progressive until the Civil Rights Revolution of the 60’s. Conservative Democrats sided with former Confederates and white supremacist elements to resist these acts at every turn. Indeed, the conservatives were successful in turning back the tide of Black progress during Reconstruction with the Compromise of 1876-77which effectively left Blacks in the south at the mercy of terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and White Brotherhood. The triumph of conservatives ushered in the brutal era of “Jim Crow” in the South. While some moderate and liberal Republicans like Senators Jacob Javits and, Kenneth Keating of New York and Clifford Case of New Jersey stood with liberal-progressive Democrats to pass a series of significant Civil Rights laws in the 60’s, there was uncompromising opposition to desegregation by conservatives, particularly Democrats/”Dixiecrats” from the South. You can rest assured that there were virtually no conservatives mobilizing/organizing their constituents to consecrate the grounds of the National Mall August 28, 1963.
Glenn Beck and his conservative Tea Party devotees are a fraud! They can lay no legitimate claim to embracing or carrying the torch of civil rights/human rights as envisioned by the freedom fighters who marched on Washington forty-seven years ago. Beck’s goal is to dilute, diminish and ultimately pervert the vision and mission of jobs, justice and equality that were the hallmarks of one of the greatest Marches and social movements in the history of this country. His followers are a frightened and ferocious crowd that seeks to restore honor to America by recruiting discontents who want to revert to a “cherished way of life” that was dominated by White power and privilege. For them the “browning of America” is not a dream but a pending “nightmare” which must be averted at all costs.
It would be easy to dismiss Beck and company as some fringe element in American society. But, what his March demonstrated is that there is a frantic and significant minority of Americans who are eager to be disciples of a radical right wing crusade to “restore honor” to America. Rather than dismiss or rail against this perverted movement, the challenge is whether the liberal-progressive forces can rally our adherents to out mobilize/organize the Glenn Beck’s of the world. The struggle for the heart and soul of these United States of America continues!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website and www.northstarnews.com. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at email@example.com.