Glenn Beck rally on Saturday: Whose honor is being restored?

Glenn Beck rally on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I have a dream' speech is sparking a racially divisive debate. But the main point may be to rouse conservative voters heading into the midterm elections.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Glenn Beck shakes hands with supporters at the site of the Restoring Honor rally by the Lincoln Memorial Friday. The rally will take place on Saturday.

A scheduling fluke or a ratings grab by a Fox News channel TV host? A late-summer push to rally the far-right "tea party" faithful as election season swings into high gear or a poke in the eye of history?

All or none of the above?

Calendar, shmalendar, conservative talk show host Glenn Beck says about his choice of Aug. 28 for a Washington rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. According to the Fox commentator, his first choice of days was Sept. 12 – to reflect his 9/12 movement – but that turned out to be a Sunday (he wanted a Saturday). The next best choice of (his) available dates was two weeks earlier, Aug. 28. The fact that the Saturday he happened to choose is the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech – also delivered on the steps of the same monument – was serendipity, he says.

Comedy Central’s "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart addressed Mr. Beck’s scheduling skills on his show Thursday night. “That’s weird. How would that happen?” Stewart asked of the scheduling synchronicity. Then he played a clip from Beck. “We picked August 28. It was open in my schedule. When I announced it, The New York Times blogged immediately that this is Martin Luther King Day, and I immediately said, ‘Oh my gosh!’ ”

“Wow," said Stewart. "So Glenn Beck didn’t realize that was an important day in African-American history?”

Truth be told, Jon, how many of us did? It's not exactly as if "I Have a Dream" Speech appears on the wall calendar, like Mother's Day and Labor Day. That being said, it is nonetheless an uncanny coincidence.

Stewart gets out his next clip, in which Beck says, “This is about restoring honor, this is about the things that Martin Luther King stood for … the content of character, not the color of skin, but people have been acting as if no white man can mention or praise or support the mission of Martin Luther King. African-Americans don’t own Martin Luther King.”

Not sure Dr. King argued specifically for "restoring honor," but the more people who pay tribute to his message of brotherhood and equality, the better. That's the whole point of having the federal Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January.

Roll Stewart's next Beck clip: “This is a moment, quite honestly, that I think we reclaim the civil rights movement. We are on the side of individual freedoms and liberties and, damn it, we will reclaim the civil rights movement … we will take that movement because we were the people who did it in the first place.”

Who, exactly, is "we" in that storm-the-ramparts statement?

White aggrievement is the subtext of that Beck trumpet call, suggests sociologist Charles Gallagher of La Salle University. “Beck is tapping into a sense of loss that permeates many sectors of society, particuarly during economic downturns.”

In choosing the Martin Luther King speech anniversary, Beck also capitalizes on the notion of progress in racial equality, a theme that underlies what Professor Gallagher calls a subtle but growing sense among many on the right that whites have become the new minority, “a group that must now reclaim its own rights.”

The Fox News host is trying to "take advantage of a feeling of loss, even if not conscious ... on the part of many white people, certainly many conservative white people,” says Xavier University sociologist Jacqueline Battlaora, a former Chicago police officer. She says a large segment of the tea party movement responds to this message by pushing for its own individual rights, and adds, "and this is the group Beck is reaching out to in this weekend rally."

But political strategists say the main goal of Saturday's event is to rally the troops ahead of what could be a pivotal election.

“It’s the end of August, [and] the big election push will begin next week, and getting people out and involved is what Glenn Beck is all about,” says Larry Farnsworth, former speechwriter for Republican ex-House Speaker Dennis Hastert and now vice president of Crosby-Volmer International Communications, a public relations firm. “This is all about making sure his followers in the tea party movement get involved in the election that is just around the corner.”

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