For the past couple of days, Glenn Beck has been on a stunning, if predictable, campaign against Eric Holder, trying to prove that the attorney general considers only his "people" when making decisions at the Justice Department. Beck has alternated wildly between accusing Holder of needing "the idea" of "race-baiting going on," suggesting that Holder "think[s] of people as mine or the enemy," and claiming that Holder hasn't "moved forward" from the civil rights era. Beck -- who has invoked Martin Luther King Jr. to attack "entitlement" programs -- said Holder has not "learned" the lesson of the civil rights movement, which, Beck claimed, was how not to be "vindictive" and how "we can't go back for revenge and exact some price out of it."
What prompted this vitriol were remarks Holder made on Tuesday at a congressional hearing, in which he objected to the suggestion that a 2008 incident involving the New Black Panther Party was a more "blatant form of voter intimidation" than what happened in the 1960s. Holder said the suggestion "does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line, who risked all for my people, my wife's sister."
Holder went on to say:
HOLDER: Anyway, the University of Alabama -- George Wallace stood in the door and said that she, as a state resident, could not attend the University of Alabama, Vivian Malone, who I'm proud to say was my sister-in-law -- to compare that kind of courage, that kind of action, and to say that the Black Panther incident, wrong though it might be, somehow is greater in magnitude or is a greater concern to us, historically, I think just flies in the face of history and in the facts.
Most people, provided with an accurate history of African-Americans in the United States, understand this. It appears the same cannot be said of Beck. On his radio show today, Beck took a call from a listener who commented on Holder's remarks and illustrated exactly the view Holder was railing against during the hearing:
CALLER: I think what the attorney general is missing is really the entire point of the civil rights movement. It wasn't anything to do with his people specifically, it was about guaranteeing equality for everyone. So if you take that in context, and you look at the fact that all men should be created equal and you really believe that, then the violation of civil rights by the Black Panthers is absolutely as egregious as anything that would be -- have been conducted against, quote-unquote, his people.
When confronted with this bit of revisionist history, Beck stated:
BECK: Not -- he said historically it is not, cannot be compared for its totality. ... But event to event, I agree with you -- exactly right. There's no difference between somebody doing that in the 1960s to an African-American, you know, some white guy standing there intimidating African-Americans to get them not to vote and the Black Panthers doing it to white people today. There is no difference.
Putting aside the fact that Beck's reply was as utterly offensive as the caller's -- if not more so because Beck has a national platform from which to share his views -- it is also egregiously erroneous. African-Americans did not go to the polls in the South in any significant numbers during the 1960s, if at all. There would never have been just "some white guy standing there intimidating African-Americans" to not vote; rather, sustained effort by the white community to send the message that blacks had better not attempt to vote or even show up at polling centers would have ensured that not happen.
It's absurd to have to keep recounting the injustices endured by African-Americans during that period and to have to remind people that for decades, blacks couldn't even approach a polling place anywhere in the South without knowing they were "putting their lives, their homes, and their jobs on the line," as U.S. Civil Rights Commission vice chair Abigail Thernstrom noted.
Thernstrom further wrote:
The actions of two Black Panthers in one Philadelphia precinct in 2008 were not remotely equivalent to the effort to keep blacks from exercising their democratic rights throughout the South; the equation is breathtakingly ignorant. The Panthers are a tiny fringe group -- a handful of racist nuts. The KKK was a serious criminal conspiracy that terrorized millions of black Americans, and only massive intervention by the federal government could stamp it out. No competent historian would possibly endorse [Andrew] McCarthy and [Bartle] Bull's contention that the actions of two Panthers in one little corner of Philadelphia were more blatant than what went on in Mississippi in the 1960s. If this ludicrous and poisonous idea gains acceptance in conservative circles, it will do more damage to American race relations than anything the Panthers could possibly do.
The fact that there are people who share and carelessly promote the caller's distorted view of black history is a testament to the influence Beck and other conservative media yield. I mean, should we really be surprised that Beck blithely sweeps away portions of black history he has a problem with every chance he gets? Of course not. This is the same Beck, after all, who called President Obama a "racist" with "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." And for the past two years, Beck and his conservative cohorts have attempted to define a new set of "real racists," who aren't the whites of history responsible for the systematic and brutal oppression of blacks. These supposed new racists are Obama and Jimmy Carter, Holder, Shirley Sherrod, and Michelle Obama.
But amid all the venom Beck has unloaded over the past 48 hours, the most offensive statement proves to be this one from today:
BECK: There's two separate cases here. In this sentence, in this paragraph that he is just talking about, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt because of my friendship with Joe, who is Korean. And his people, meaning his family, his people went and they left and they escaped. His grandfather died at the river. He was shot and killed -- or they don't really actually know what happened.
BECK: His family left and escaped. Now, you could, in that context, I would accept from Joe saying, "Don't you dare say something that that compares to what people went through in Korea. My people fought and died to be able to get out there and to be able to fight back that dictator" -- perfectly acceptable. And that's what I think he's saying here.
For all his pretending, Beck (who later apologized, not for his comments about Holder, but for commenting on the issue without the full transcript) will never ever know what it feels like to be disenfranchised, discriminated against, or feared because he is white. Nevertheless, here's Beck lecturing -- lecturing -- African-Americans on what is "acceptable" to say about the history and legacy of their people.