It is difficult not to contemptuously dismiss Glen Beck’s attempt to co-opt Martin Luther King into a supporter of right-wing conservatism as just one more piece of evidence for his lurid concoction of delusional megalomania, clinical paranoia and boundless self-pity. But, unfortunately, many Americans too young to remember the 60’s only know three or four sentences from King’s “I have a dream” speech and can therefore easily be cynically manipulated into believing virtually any nonsense imaginable about King’s outlook and philosophy.
But what did King actually think about the right-wing conservatives like Glen Beck of his own era? Well, for a start, here, taken from chapter 23 of his autobiography is what Martin Luther King said about Barry Goldwater during the 1964 election:
It was both unfortunate and disastrous that the Republican Party nominated Barry Goldwater as its candidate for President of the United States.
In foreign policy Mr. Goldwater advocated a narrow nationalism, a crippling isolationism, and a trigger-happy attitude that could plunge the whole world into the dark abyss of annihilation.
On social and economic issues, Mr. Goldwater represented an unrealistic conservatism that was totally out of touch with the realities of the twentieth century. The issue of poverty compelled the attention of all citizens of our country. Senator Goldwater had neither the concern nor the comprehension necessary to grapple with this problem of poverty in the fashion that the historical moment dictated.
On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represented a philosophy that was morally indefensible and socially suicidal. While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulated a philosophy which gave aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand.
In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I had no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that did not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.
While I had followed a policy of not endorsing political candidates, I felt that the prospect of Senator Goldwater being President of the United States so threatened the health, morality, and survival of our nation, that I could not in good conscience fail to take a stand against what he represented.
If there was ever a fine opportunity for progressives to make Glen Beck’s followers stop and think for a moment, it would be to upload this quote to every Tea Party discussion site in the U.S. and watch them try to figure out a way to reconcile the absurd mass of contradictions into which Beck’s cynical distortion of history has plunged them.
Martin Luther King’s philosophy — easily available in his five books and dozens of collections — is the most powerful and majestic refutation of right-wing conservatism penned in 20th century America. If only — if only — conservatives would really stop and read what that great man actually said. That, indeed would be a magnificent “Dream” for today.