One of the most annoying habits of conservative pundits is their tendency to take faux umbrage whenever it’s suggested that modern day liberals are the ones carrying the legacy of the civil rights movement when they do things like fight poverty (something Martin Luther King Jr. died trying to do) by doing things like expanding health care access. “How dare they!” say conservatives, often implying that they’re the real inheritors of the legacy, because free markets and color blindness and shit. That most black voters go for Democrats is explained away by implying they’re stupid dupes of Democrats. Suggesting that it’s screwed up to dismiss an entire voting bloc as stupid is characterized as the “real” racism.
The man locking arms with Pelosi is John Lewis, who was actually one of those people that Beck says he shouldn’t compare himself to. Those brave people conducting sit-ins? John Lewis helped organize those events. He was the chairman of the SNCC from 1963-1966. He’s been arrested over 40 times fighting for civil rights, and has been beaten up repeatedly.
Now, like Matt pointed out, Beck was so laser-focused on his hatred of Nancy Pelosi, who the wingnuts are trying to elevate to Hillary Clinton’s position of #1 she-devil in their worldview, that it’s mildly understandable that he didn’t give a shit about who was with her during this walk. But that’s really no reason to excuse this, because the complaint was bullshit in the first place. Locking arms and marching through a crowd of haters is hardly a gesture reserved for pro-desegration marches, for one thing. Even more than that, the whole conservative attempt to poach the legacy of the civil rights movement from the progressive tradition is such thorough bullshit that huge mistakes are bound to happen, huge mistakes like denouncing a civil rights leader for acting in a manner reminiscent of the civil rights movement.
Here’s what I don’t get about this civil rights poaching, as a political strategy. It makes sense to do this if you’re talking to young conservatives, people who grew up believing that overt racism was wrong and that basic civil rights are a given (even as they, like the ACORN sting crew, object to any and all attempts to help lift people out of poverty created by systemic racism). Taking MLK’s speech about seeing past the color of someone’s skin out of context could be very effective on someone who is completely ignorant of history. But those people aren’t Beck’s audience. Or Limbaugh’s, for that matter, and he’s a big fan of this whine, too. The average listener of talk radio is 67 years old and rising, and the average age of a Fox viewer is 65 and rising—and I’m guessing Beck’s audience is even older, because the average age is probably dragged down because of younger people who just tune in for the news reports. Viewers are almost exclusively white, as well.
Here’s why there’s a disconnect: these people are old enough to have been the opposition to desegregation. If you’re 65 now, then you were 20 years old in 1965. You were at the perfect age to be swept up in the anti-civil rights backlash that created the modern day Republican party. With your very own eyes, you’ve seen how the conservative movement grew out of opposition to the civil rights legislation passed by LBJ, and how the progressive movement grew out of the civil rights and anti-war movements of the time. In fact, I’d argue that the reason that conservative pundits keep re-fighting the 60s is that it appeals to this base. The average Limbaugh or Beck fan has been nursing these grievances about race and gender for decades now. These are the people who created the conservative movement, who organized to resist desegregation of schools, busing, affirmative action, anti-poverty initiatives, any and all attempts to rectify unjust inequalities in our society that break down by race because of a long legacy of racism in this country.
The fiction that keeps this particular whine that Beck trotted out going is that the civil rights movement is ancient history, and that it can be rewritten as they see fit, because there aren’t any witnesses from the original era to correct the record. Somehow, the main audience for right wing punditry has managed to suppress their own memories of the era, feeling now like they supported anti-racism initiatives that they probably didn’t, the few that conservatives now concede were the right thing to do. This has been so effective I think that it’s likely that right wing pundits using this argument don’t really stop to think about how some of the progressives they denounce for acting like they’re continuing the fight from the 60s might be speaking the truth of their actual experiences. Many of the liberal politicians and activists of a certain age do in fact see things like health care reform as part of an unbroken line of fighting progressive battles started in the 60s and even before that. You know, because they’re still around, as are many of the people who voted Nixon in on a wave of anger over the hippies and the civil rights activists and the general progressive movement of the 60s.