I didn’t watch Saturday’s Glenn Beck-run rally in DC and don’t have that much to say about it, but the orgy of apoplexy flowing from the rally’s critics on the left has been hilarious. The most extreme example is Bill Press claiming that God should not be mentioned on the spot where Rev. Martin Luther King jr. spoke these words:
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
Perhaps Press was thinking, in looking at the Lincoln Memorial of Lincoln himself, and the words of his celebrated Second Inaugural Address:
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Or maybe not.
Dave Weigel, meanwhile, gets it at least half right in the reactions to Beck & co. praising Dr. King’s vision of a colorblind America:
Every January and (to a lesser extent) August, conservatives write columns arguing that King believed that we’d reach racial transcendence when we judged “the content of character” over the color of skin. Liberals rebut that by pointing out that King was a man of the left who worked for social justice and racial uplift and opposed the Vietnam War, and was condemned by conservatives for all of this. Liberals have the facts on their side; conservatives have the fact that King has become a secular saint, honored not for all of his politics but for a few specific achievements. Schoolchildren don’t learn about the social democratic politics; they learn about him Having a Dream. So when Beck said he identified with MLK more than with the founding fathers, it was ironic; figuratively, he’s been carved in marble for decades.
Of course, it’s a dicey business to guess what Dr. King, like Lincoln or the elder Kennedy brothers, might have believed had he lived another decade or two, and seen the political realities that led the Great Society and its era to ruin and the nation rightward by 1980. Perhaps he would have drifted leftward, like Jesse Jackson; perhaps rightward, and come to be horrified by the politics of racial preferences and racial grievance. We can’t know; we can only know what he did with the time that was given to him.