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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  • nazani14

    Americans are so good at editing our past. Every high school should teach a course called “Your Grandpa was a Leftie.” Yay for good old-fashioned class warfare! I guess one could sum up the GOP philosophy thusly:
    “work and pray, live on hay, you’ll get pie in the sky by and by.”

    I hear from a friend in DC that the Beckites created quite a log jam in the Metro stations, being unfamiliar with the ticket machines and turnstiles, etc. She thanks them for their tourist dollars.

  • Barry Hardee

    I remember reading a book by Don Boys, a Christian author, and he flat out thinks MLK was a Communist. I don’t know Beck’s motives, but there are others on his side that don’t care for MLK’s message and beliefs and are cognizant that those beliefs weren’t laissez faire.

    • Elemenope

      MLK *was* a Communist. Well, at least a self-identified Socialist.

      And not a fake, imaginary one like Obama. More like Jesus.

      • http://lonewolfsden.net Lone Wolf

        I didn’t know MLK identified him self as socialist. What worse for them: Jesus was a socialist if not a full blown communist. Do they not understand what “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” means?

        Glenn and people like him have no clue what socialism, communism or even capitalism are. All they know is “capitalism good, socialism bad, communism socialism bad, bad, bad!”

        • http://theskippyreview.wordpress.com Skippy

          MLK never identified himself as a “socialist” or “communist,” per se. However, his strident critique of American capitalism and his support of a radical redistribution of wealth *could* be construed as socialism. As El points out, his views of American economics were based on a particular reading of Jesus’ ministry (and an unflagging belief that the Christian life was a life of self-sacrificial behavior, not avarice and blindness to the poor and destitute).

          • Elemenope

            MLK never identified himself as a “socializt” or “communist,” per se. However, his strident critique of American capitalism and his support of a radical redistribution of wealth *could* be construed as socializm.

            Apparently towards the end of his life (1965-’68), he commented privately on several occasions that a form of democratic socializm would be ideal, having already rejected communism as being incompatible with both his philosophical Personalism and any compassionate theology. Sources do conflict on how seriously he was committed to the notion of democratic socializm.

            (Sorry about the ‘z’s; dodging the filter.)

            • http://theskippyreview.wordpress.com Skippy

              It took a moment for me to figure out why my post hit the moderation filter. Damn those ED drugs and spam.

            • nomad

              ” a form of democratic socializm would be ideal”

              He may have had a point. The kleptocracy we have ain’t working so well.

  • Elanor

    I think it’s disgusting that these Bigots somehow find it appropriate to idolize MLK. He’s probably rolling in his grave. Hey! Maybe if we attach some wires to it, we can power the future on his rotations!

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  • Custador

    If I wanted to idolise a moral man, it wouldn’t be MLK – a serial unfaithful husband who plagiarised the bulk of his doctoral thesis (which was, in any case, in a non-subject).

    • nomad

      Yeah, forget about that championing of the oppressed.

      • Danny wuvs kittens

        Bullshit. He just got the credit.

        The civil rights battle was well over 200 years long. MLK made a few speeches, and now he gets a holiday and millions of roads named after him?

        Lets also not forget he was an extremist, fundamentalist Christian. Strongly pro-life, anti-gay, etc.

        Saying MLK was a good man is like justifying marital abuse by saying that the abusive husband spent 500 dollars on valentines day. One exceptionally good act does not make up for dozens upon dozens of exceptionally wicked acts.

        How about all the blacks who got sprayed with fire truck hoses and had police dogs sicked on them, and yet continued to protest? I admire those people. They saw they were being fucked in the ass, and goddamnit, they did something about it. They threw molotov cocktails, they shouted obscenities at authority figures, and they made their presence known. A tremendous amount of blood was shed, both innocent and evil, for the civil rights movement. The only reason MLK became the posterchild for it is because he didn’t have to use violence, because people before him already did. People bled, died and killed for him. I will honor THOSE people. The true champions of the civil rights movement. Not some silver-tongued, piece of shit fundie.

        • Daniel Florien

          The civil rights battle was over when there was still slaves? And then segregation? We must have very different definitions of “over.”

          • CoffeeJedi

            Caught me too, but he meant “over” as in “in excess of”, not as in “finished”.

          • Danny wuvs kittens

            I meant it lasted 200 years. It was over 200 years long. It wasn’t just MLK up and decided to save everybody. He wouldn’t of been able to make his magic speeches if the people before him hadn’t fought.

            • Jabster

              I’m really struggling to see your point here. Was it down to just him, well obviously not, but I some how doubt that he would have laimed that it was him and him only.

            • Ty

              There has been, in recent years, a strong anti-King backlash. I think in many cases it is just a rejection of the hero worship some people see being given to a flawed man. Some of the most vocal King detractors are gay rights activists, who seem to think that championing one type of equal rights while fighting against a different type of equal rights nullifies his contributions to the world.

              I agree that he was a flawed man who, like many in his time, espoused some ideas I strongly disagree with. But he was the right man at the right time to help a lot of people see racial issues in a different light. And he gave his life for his beliefs.

              He held his ground when others might have turned and ran. As Sten would say, “No one can do more than that.”

        • Elemenope

          He risked and ultimately gave his life in service to the cause of civil rights, and his eloquence and poise made it possible to break the movement through into the white dominant mainstream.

          Yeah, he also believed some things that I don’t like. So what? That’s not where he did his work.

          • nomad

            Above all. He was genuine.

          • Danny wuvs kittens

            He didn’t “give his life”. He happened to get shot by a KKK nutjob. Anyone can get shot, that doesn’t make you a hero.

            He did more than just believe things. He was a pastor. A FUCKING PASTOR. How many sermons did he preach on abortion? Homosexuality? Premarital sex? Hell? He’s just as responsible as any pastor for the damage that Christianity has caused to America.

            People picked him up and made him the posterchild of the civil rights movement. Curriculums were stuffed with his face. His life was sugarcoated up the ass. Propaganda all over the place.

            • Elemenope

              He didn’t “give his life”. He happened to get shot by a KKK nutjob. Anyone can get shot, that doesn’t make you a hero.

              If you’re suggesting that his getting shot was unrelated to his work, that’s absurd. His death was a direct result of the high profile he held advocating for civil rights. You make it sound like it was a random occurrence.

              He did more than just believe things. He was a pastor. A FUCKING PASTOR. How many sermons did he preach on abortion? Homosexuality? Premarital sex? Hell? He’s just as responsible as any pastor for the damage that Christianity has caused to America.

              Here is a decently-sourced article on the subject that comes to the conclusion that it was *possible but unlikely* he fits in with the stereotype of southern Baptists on the subject of homosexuality. He was publicly in favor of birth-control but staunchly anti-abortion, placing him at about the middle of the pack for his time; he did receive the Margaret Sanger Award in 1966 from Planned Parenthood for his advocacy of women’s rights in other areas and support for birth-control access.

              I am quite familiar with his work in Boston-school Personalism; it would be quite remarkable indeed if he were as vituperative and hateful as you imply, given the positions he staked out and modes of valuation he expressed in that work.

              Your desire to lump all preachers together and call them evil and destructive is intellectually lazy and distasteful. There is a world of difference between MJK and your average firebreathing mega-church pastor.

              People picked him up and made him the posterchild of the civil rights movement. Curriculums were stuffed with his face. His life was sugarcoated up the ass. Propaganda all over the place.

              Yes, it is normal human activity to venerate heroes and paper over their rougher edges. Now that we have the advantage of history and hindsight, we can see a fuller picture of who he was and what he did. In light of that, the picture you seek to paint here is further off the mark than those who wish to hide his flaws.

            • CoffeeJedi

              I’m pretty sure that when you take an unpopular public position with the full knowledge that people have been killed for expressing it in the past, and then someone from the opposition DOES murder you…. it counts as “giving your life”.

            • http://theskippyreview.wordpress.com Skippy

              How many sermons did he preach on abortion? Homosexuality? Premarital sex? Hell? He’s just as responsible as any pastor for the damage that Christianity has caused to America.

              Hm, I dunno. How ’bout you go do some research on MLK and find out how many sermons he preached on abortion, or homosexuality or premarital sex before spouting off about how utterly horrible he is *just because* he was a Christian? The nonsense you wrote is just as bigoted and nonsensical as anything spouted by the morons who are freaking out about the Park51 community center *just because* it’s being built for Muslims.

            • Ty

              He knew that his life was in serious danger, and had received numerous death threats, yet he refused to stop his work. If that isn’t ‘giving your life’, I’m not sure what is. By your criteria, soldiers and policemen who are shot on duty are not ‘giving their life’.

            • Danny wuvs kittens

              Soldiers and Cops sign up for extremely shitty, dangerous jobs. That’s what makes them heroes.

              MLK just pissed off some rednecks. Death threats are hardly anything new; everybody with a non-mainstream opinion gets an at least “I wanna cut your fucking throat open and watch you bleed to death”. I can’t count the number of times on youtube I’ve recieved death threats. I keep a fully loaded shotgun beside my bedroom door, and I sleep like a log. Nobody takes death threats seriously.

              Look, it sucks that he got shot. It really does. He had a family who cared about him. Still, people die every day going to their jobs to feed their families. They don’t get a holiday named after them. They don’t get roads.

              The people who got lynched for rebelling don’t have holidays named after them. They new they were going to die for having a pair, and they still fought.

            • Ty

              Sorry, Danny. At this point you are just hollering. You’ve stopped making even a lick of sense.

            • vorjack

              Nobody takes death threats seriously.

              When the Klan and other groups put a price on your head, and when the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are more interested in harassing you than protecting you, you start to take things seriously.

              There’s a story about a meeting between Malcom X and MLK. Towards the end, Malcom X just broke off and said, “You know we’re both dead men, don’t you?” I think that both men were pretty well aware that the most likely outcome of their campaigns.

            • http://theskippyreview.wordpress.com Skippy

              So, Danny, would it be a stretch to say you don’t know much of anything about the Civil Rights Movement here in the US?

    • http://theskippyreview.wordpress.com Skippy

      Oh, bollocks, Custador. What, you want all your heroes to be flawless Soong-type androids?

      • Daniel Florien

        Don’t forget Data’s evil brother…

      • Custador

        No, but I also don’t want them to be gigantic hypocrites. That rules King out many times over.

        • http://theskippyreview.wordpress.com Skippy

          How does Dr. King qualify as a “gigantic hypocrite”? Was there some historical document uncovered that showed King beating other African Americans as they tried to vote or something?

        • nomad

          You’ve got to be kidding. Of all the world renown figures in history, King ranks among the least hypocritical. Much less than, oh say, Churchill.

  • http://selfra.blogspot.com Dan Tres Omi

    actually MLK like his forebears was a liberation theologian. it is a central part of black theology in the united states.

    many other xian sects took parts of liberation theology and applied it to social movements such as Oscar Romero in El salvador.

    many right wingers claim that it is just another term for socialism but its uses predate Marx and Engels.


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