I think what’s most fascinating to me about how one of Glenn Beck’s major strategies is rewriting history is that Beck’s audience is most retirement age, and so we’re talking people that have actual memories of the history he lies his fool head off about. Just goes to show the mighty power of cognitive dissonance that people can listen to him say things they must know on some level are straight up lies, but they need to believe them so badly they just suck up all the lies.
It’s particularly interesting that he does this with regards to the legacy of MLK, since so many of his viewers were old enough to remember objecting to King’s work in his day. And, of course, the writers that Beck admires and promotes clearly saw King as a communist subversive. Beck spends a lot of time taking a crap all over King’s contemporaries who were doing the same work for the same reasons, but were not gunned down by assassins and made into martyrs. But for some reason, Beck and his audience have this game of Let’s Pretend—that they would have supported King, that they did support King, that King would have been on their side against the unions, the poor, and racial equality. Which includes straight up denying that King was killed while working with union organizers.
BECK: Wait, wait, hold it, just a second. Dr. King lost his life for collective bargaining for the public unions, really? Did you know that? ‘Cause — that — we have to update our history books, because I didn’t know that. Did you know that?
PAT GRAY: I personally didn’t. (Laughs)
BECK: Thank you for that.
GRAY: I didn’t know that. I – I was – I’m a little confused, I guess, ’cause, yeah, I thought it had something to do with civil rights, but it was a union deal?
BECK: It was a union deal. Yeah.
STU BURGUIERE: Well, there was the content of the character and the collectiveness of the bargaining was the —
GRAY: Ahh, that’s right. How did I miss that?
BECK: Well, to make the point – here’s the deal — April 4th is the 43rd anniversary of the day Martin Luther King was assassinated after speaking on behalf of the striking black garbage collectors in Memphis, Tennessee. So, I’m sure that the fact that they were black and in Memphis had nothing to do with his mention — with his, uh, message. It was all about unions and collective bargaining. I’m sure that’s what it was.
We’re all aware of this right wing “arguing” technique from forums and on Twitter—if you don’t have an argument, you restate the fact-based liberal point with sarcasm to show how done you are with it, and hope that suffices for a point. So, when a liberal notes that the U.S. spends a shit ton of money bombing countries that just so happen to have oil and isn’t that interesting, you say, “OOOOOOIIIIIIILLLLL”, to indicate that you’re bored and hope that this makes them shut up because they’re right and you know it. Same with whining about the “race card”—hey, if accusations of racism are boring for racists, imagine how tedious it is for those calling it out. Believe me, they would far rather be playing pinochle than dealing with the same old racist shit. And of course, Beck’s just running the same rhetorical ploy on the radio, figuring badly played sarcasm suffices for an argument.*
As Media Matters notes, King was in fact organizing for Memphis sanitation workers when struck down by an assassin’s bullet. And Beck characterizing King as sort of mindlessly supporting black people in every endeavor betrays the racism behind Beck trying to wear King’s mantle. It’s simply not true that King was somehow generally anti-union except when unions were predominantly black. Media Matters quotes a speech King gave the day before his assassination that makes this clear:
The issues is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers were on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.
Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be. And force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That’s the issue. And we’ve got to say to the nation: we know it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.
I’m going to take the time to note the nothing-new-under-the-sun aspect of this, which is that from this speech you can clearly tell that anti-union people were running the same con against Memphis sanitation workers that they’re not running against Wisconsin school teachers, using lurid and often false claims that the unions are violent in order to distract from the real discussion about whether or not we should pay workers fairly. Of course, the actual deathly violence was the other way around, as demonstrated by King’s assassination.
I shouldn’t even bother with Beck’s accusation that King wasn’t there because he had an intellectual and moral investment in ending poverty, but because he was just demonstrating some vaguely defined racial solidarity. But, I just want to quote from King’s book to show that Beck really is the ugliest kind of liar:
In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and Negro alike.
He then moves on to propose a guaranteed income as the solution, and in case you’re wondering (I know you’re not), he believed this should be for all people. Not that King was denying that direct racism was a problem in the slightest, but he could walk and chew gum at the same time.
*As a sarcastic person, I have to object to wingnuts abusing the form. Using sarcasm in service of lies is rarely, if ever, amusing. It just makes you sound like a dick. Sarcasm deployed correctly is a thing of beauty, however.