… John Avlon, who on the Daily Beast says that Glenn Beck’s imminent Restoring Honor Rally, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and coinciding with the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, will be a “rally against everything the civil rights leader stood for.”
[F]or all his self-help insights, Beck can’t seem to understand why civil-rights leaders are upset with his attempt to carry MLK’s mantle. Calling President Obama a “racist” who has a “deep-seeded hatred of white people” is a good place to start looking for explanation. Repeated references to health-care legislation as “reparations,” and a relatively new riff on black liberation theology’s home in the White House, is another. Oh, and Beck’s repeated denunciation of “social justice” is at odds with just about all of King’s theology and activism.
I suspect that Beck fully understands why people who call themselves civil rights leaders are upset; he just doesn’t buy it. The race-baiting con men held up as King’s successors, among them Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton, have moved beyond fighting for equal respect of all Americans’ human dignity regardless of race and are now fighting for leftist policy goals like wealth redistribution and affirmative action; equating the former with the latter is no more than a tactical decision—one which Avlon is all too happy to parrot.
The fellow travelers Sarah Palin and Beck are now calling “constitutional conservatives” are, knowingly or not, resuscitating some of the same constitutional arguments advanced by the pro-segregationist forces that Martin Luther King spent his life fighting.
For example, in the “Dream” speech, King denounced segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace, “his lips dripping with the words ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification.’” Those are the same policy methods being pursued as remedy to what some see as the over-reach of the federal government under Obama (see, for example, former Southern Partisan contributor Thomas Woods’ new book Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century).
I’ll be the first to denounce nullification as unconservative and unconstitutional (see here for more on Woods’ shoddy history), but even so, that some on the Right buy it hardly supports Avlon’s thesis. For one thing, while Beck might show some ill-considered sympathy for the idea now and then, nullification hasn’t exactly been billed as a topic of the rally. For another, nullification is a tactic, not an intrinsically racist action. It’s no more logical to say supporting nullification is racist than it would be to say supporting judicial power is racist, just because the Supreme Court handed down Dred Scott.
Republicans are absolutely right to point out that most of the pro-segregationist forces in the Jim Crow South were Democrats, like Wallace. The consistency comes from the fact that those Constitution-citing opponents of civil rights were proud conservatives—and the pro-civil rights Republicans came from a nearly extinct progressive tradition that dates directly back to Abraham Lincoln, in whose symbolic shadow the rally will sit.
Of course, no racism-is-conservative screed would be complete without sowing confusion about what conservatism and progressivism are.