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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Glenn Beck, Free Speech, and How Hurt Feelings Trump the First Amendment

Sad smiley facrIt makes me feel sad, so of course, they shouldn't be allowed to do it. Glenn Beck and his racist, anti-government forces will gather in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial -- a memorial to a president killed by a racist, anti-government nutjob -- on the anniversary of Martin Luther King jr's "I have a dream" speech. A speech King gave that day from the same location. He too was killed by a racist. Keep an eye out for confederate flags. It was Lincoln who centralized the federal government these people despise so much. And beyond his civil rights work, King was also anti-war and in support of the hated unions. Clearly, Beck's rally is meant as a victory march on the graves of Lincoln and King, a stab at the heart of a nation still healing -- these many years later -- from the wounds inflicted by the deaths of these two men and the war that nearly tore our nation apart. Sure, they technically have the "right" to do it. But it'll hurt a lot of people's feelings, so "rights" should be ignored in favor of psycho-babble about closure and our deep emotional injuries. Perhaps it would be wisest to add "unless it makes us feel sad" to the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

I mean that paragraph only half-mockingly. I doubt the intention is to insult Lincoln and King, but Beck's rally -- as well as his attempt to hijack the legacy of Dr. King -- is offensive. The people attending have been told to leave the signs at home (it's not technically a political rally, you see), but these are the same people whose signs attack the president's race and religion and these are the same people who fly the confederate flag. Expect to see a t-shirt or two that features either/or. And these are the same people who believe a Muslim version of a YMCA "desecrates" the memory of those who died on 9/11. They'll gather in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, on the day that Dr. King told us about the "fierce urgency of Now" -- a phrase that the despised President Obama later took as a title for a book -- and desecrate the memories of Dr. King and President Lincoln. That may not be their intention, but that will be the result all the same.

And they'll be allowed to do this, to deliver this insult to blacks and liberals and anyone who believes that people working together can solve problems (they call this "collectivism" and insist it's inherently evil). They'll be allowed to do this because that's the law and we're not insane. And the massive hypocrisy of what they're doing will be lost on them.

I want you to consider how Beck and the rest of the rightwing media would react to this section of King's speech if it were delivered today:

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Beck himself has already accused Obama of seeking reparations for slavery -- a charge completely without evidence to back it up. Does anyone out there really believe that he wouldn't glom onto this "cash a check" metaphor and cast it literally? Beck would be a friend of King's in the same way he's a friend of Shirley Sherrod and the NAACP. He'd attack him in the very same way. In fact, the tactics haven't changed at all from King's day; Beck would attack him as an anti-patriot and a communist, just as they did back then. Glenn's not fooling many people here.

"Beck is hijacking the imagery and symbolism of August 28 and the Lincoln Memorial to promote an agenda of intolerance," said Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League, told Media Matters. Morial said that Beck "is deliberately trying to poke a stick in our eye, or kick sand in our faces" by holding this rally.

"His vision of America is a vision of America from yesterday and our vision is an America of tomorrow that builds on yesterday," he said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks racist movements in America, calls Beck's rally a "sick farce" and points out that his attacks on Obama and minority leaders have "earned him grudging respect from hardcore white nationalists who usually have little patience for major media."

Even the normally slow-on-the-uptake teabaggers have caught on. "I call it 'Beckaplooza,' because it seems to be all about Beck," Andrew Ian Dodge, the Maine state coordinator for Tea Party Patriots, told Politico.

"There have been discussions continuously over the last year about whether he is necessarily a force for good or not necessarily," he said. "Beck takes it outside of the realm of fiscal conservatism into issues that are more emotional and make you wonder if we really want to be associated with this guy." According to the article, Dodge cites "Beck's inflammatory rhetoric, including his blasting of Obama as a racist."

So, when Beck and his little robots are marching around the Lincoln Memorial pretending to be patriots, remember that they're allowed to do this under the First Amendment. A counter-demonstration is planned, because that's freedom of speech too. And when Glenn Beck gets up behind the podium, squirts Vick's Vapo-Rub into his eyes, and starts "weeping for his country," remember that -- as stupid and phony as those tears are -- they're free speech.

Somehow, I doubt Beck and his robots will give that any thought at all. They're big fans of the First Amendment only when it applies to them. Let it apply to Muslims in Manhattan and they couldn't care less.


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