Been There, Done That: Glenn Beck and Martin Luther King, Jr.

For the last few days, Alternet, the internet news for liberals/radicals has been talking about Glenn Beck’s Rally in Washington, D.C. and how it’s a mockery of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech because it takes place on the same site and the same day, some 40+ years later. One report said there were 2500 (twenty-five hundred) people there.  Other articles say hundreds of thousands.  I don’t much care because a) I don’t know a whole lot about Mr. Beck, b) he seems to be saying that the country ought to return to values and God’s will, and, (mostly) because, in comparison, Mr. Beck doesn’t stand a chance. As an orator, as a leader, as a Christian, as a prophet, as an example of how one man can change history for many around the world, Glenn Beck is a poor imitation of King, even if he were trying to “out-King” King (which I gather he’s not.)  There simply is no comparison, so why worry about it?

This is not to say that Beck is a bad person or a poor speaker.  I don’t agree with his opinions as far as I can tell, (though I think that God wouldn’t be a bad thing for this country) but I’m sure he can write and speak fairly well or he wouldn’t have the job he has. But, for liberals to be worried about Glenn Beck usurping or mocking MLK is kind of like being straight and feeling threatened because gays want to marry or Van Halen feeling threatened by every now-departed hair band of the 1980s.  What’s there to be threatened by?

I think Beck is quoted as saying something like “nobody owns an issue, nobody owns a day”.  Sorry, but barring a more incredible speech by a more  incredible person on the same day, MLK’s speech owns the day, in much the same way that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address owns that day and place or the writers of the Declaration of Independence own Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.

King was a one-in-a-generation person, giving a once-in-a-lifetime speech. King is, as I’ve said before, one of the most admired men in history — one of the best humanity has to offer.  And on that day, he brought his “A” Game.  Every pastor I know would be thrilled to have King’s “C” Game just once in their preaching career. But on that day, with television watching him, King was “on fire” and he wasn’t trying to imitate anyone.  In any subject there’s the person who — love them or hate them, agree/disagree, it doesn’t matter — is the standard by which everyone else has to measure themselves. In the category of “orators”, King is one of those people who defines the category.

The other difference between Beck and King is a generational difference — people of King’s generation wanted to be great leaders, not famous people.  The difference between Beck and King is the same as the difference between Chloe Kardashian and Katherine Hepburn : Both of them are famous, one of them can act.  There is a depth and substance to King that Beck simply doesn’t have, at least not yet. If Beck wants to grow into leadership, God bless him. If he wants to run a church, lead America to become one and put hope into each other, let him do it. I’m all for that.

But for right now, Mr. Beck, you’re no Martin Luther King. And all the hoopla and press and fear and anxiety doesn’t make you him. It wasn’t the press coverage that made King’s speech great. It was the words and King himself. I remember Martin Luther King and I remember the sense as he talked that “this man is a great man”. I’ve seen Beck on TV a few times at the local diner. I haven’t been impressed yet. If, in fact, Beck is feeling called by God, there is nothing saying that God can’t make him a great man. As of yet, I haven’t seen it.

That’s still another difference between King and Beck. If you asked King if he was a great man, I think he’d say he’d done great things, but that he himself wasn’t any more great than God let him be or than God made him.  King certainly had his personal failings, but he knew them to be that. I think Beck believes his own publicity, and that is his right. It just doesn’t make it true.

To his credit, I guess, he’s not the only one who’s “not King”. Billions of people are not MLK.  Two of King’s closest associates, Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young are incredibly bright shapers of democracy — spiritual men who have “that thing” about them when they speak.  But they are not King either. Still, a person has to get through the ranks of the Jacksons and the Youngs to even approximate Martin Luther King, with God Spirit behind him.  Beck’s not there yet — not even close.

So, to all my liberal friends, I know that I do this at my own peril, but I don’t see Glenn Beck as able to make a dent in the legacy of King’s “Dream” speech simply by showing up at the same place, same date, and using English.  Lots of people have been there, done that. None of them was King either.

When 3rd graders have to learn about Beck’s speech in school, then I’ll worry about it. Until then, let’s all have a nice day.

Peace,

John

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