Proof-texting Dr. King

There’s been a lot of talk about how Glenn Beck and the conservative movement in general have tried to associate themselves with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

One thing that struck me was how many of the conservatives seemed to be getting their entire understanding of Dr. King from his “I have a Dream” speech. But this was probably the most optimistic of King’s speeches. They ignore all the rest of Dr. King’s speeches, and the rest of what he worked for. They’re very good at recognizing the color-blind society that was Dr. King’s ultimate goal, but they ignore the steps that he thought would be necessary in order to bring it about.

Conservatives are doing with Dr. King what they so frequently do with the Bible: they are proof-texting.

Dr. King still has enormous moral authority in our culture, and some folks want to seize hold of it without having to listen to the whole message. They’d like to remember his “I Have A Dream” speech, but forget that it was delivered during the “March of Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” They want to remember his martyrdom, but forget that it happened while he was supporting sanitation workers who were on strike.

I was going to compare some of Beck’s statements to selections of Dr. King’s speeches, but unfortunately my copy of A Testament of Hope is packed away. Luckily, Ben Dimiero over at MediaMatters has his copy, and he’s done an excellent job of comparing Beck’s favorite themes to Dr. King’s. Consider a few quotes:

Beck: “They’re collapsing the system and replace it with a system of guaranteed annual income for all the workers! Workers of the world unite!” […]

King: “We must develop a program that will drive the nation to a guaranteed national income.” […]

Beck: “The thing that I do find about Barack Obama is that — and I think America is starting to catch on to this — this guy really is a Marxist. He believes in the redistribution of wealth. He believes in the global government and everything else.” […]

King: “[W]e are dealing with issues that cannot be solved without the nation spending billions of dollars — and undergoing a radical redistribution of economic power.” […]

Notice how much King sounds like Beck’s worst nightmare? Yet this is the man whose mantle Beck is trying to wear? Consider this quote from a speech he gave to his staff in 1966 and tell me how Beck and his crew would react:

“We are now making demands that will cost the nation something. We can’t talk about solving the economic problems of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with the captains of industry … Now this means that we are treading in difficult waters, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong … with capitalism … There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a Democratic Socialism. ”

(“Frogmore Speech”, quoted in I May Not Get There With You, pp. 87-88)

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