Glenn Beck's Partisan But 'Not Political' Rally

Conservative TV host Glenn Beck is hosting a rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Saturday. It's a day that coincides with the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Host Scott Simon talks with NPR news analyst Juan Williams about the heightened cultural sensibilities lately and how such issues are fueled and affected by partisan politics.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

On this day 47 years ago, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King uttered some of the most famous words in American history when he delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Today, the Lincoln Memorial is the chosen site of a rally led by conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck. And that's evoked strong reaction from the Reverend Al Sharpton and other civil rights activists, who are holding events of their own today.

NPR News Analyst Juan Williams joins us.

Juan, thanks so much for being with us.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: So, I mean it's almost dangerous in the streets out in Washington with these dueling rallies going on.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, you have such competing passions at play here. I mean you think about it, it's older white conservative group for the most part that's attending the Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin rally. And on the other hand, with the Al Sharpton rally, youve got an urban black, Hispanic population that really feels as if somehow the legacy of Dr. King is being trampled(ph) on.

In fact, it's interesting, Glenn Beck says that he's going to stand several steps below the marker...

SIMON: Yeah. He made a point of showing that. Yeah.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, where Dr. King stood to deliver the "I Have A Dream" speech. If you think about what Al Sharpton and his critics are saying, you know, in fact what you have is a situation where he is standing on King's legacy, King's moment there, and claiming it as his own. So you have Restoring Honor, which is what Glenn Beck calls his rally, versus Reclaiming the Dream. And so I guess that Beck thinks that he's restoring some honor that's been taken away, and clearly the critics think that they are reclaiming something that now Beck is trying to claim as his own.

SIMON: Glenn Beck, by the way, says his rally is to honor U.S. military forces, as President Obama in fact does in his Saturday remarks today, says he didn't know about, that August 28 was the anniversary of the King speech. And that raises the question: Doesnt anybody have a right to book a rally on the National Mall on that date if it's open?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. I think everybody has the right as an American. I think even people who may not be Americans could have the right if they get a permit from the National Park Service. But you know, it's the same tension, though, Scott, that exists when you think about the conversation going on about the mosque in New York.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

SIMON: Where you have people who are saying building a mosque at Ground Zero is really upsetting, it's in violation of what some might view as sacred ground. Now you have people on the left upset over a right wing rally at what is a sacred place for them, where King spoke and delivered the "I Have A Dream" speech. I think there's so many racial issues hidden in here. Immigration, you know, difference between blacks and whites, Hispanics on the proposition out in Arizona. Or you think about health care - the health care legislation, where again, you have tremendous opposition, especially from older white seniors concerned about their benefits being cut, their entitlements, versus younger, poorer people who see it as a safety net for them going through life. So there are a lot of wedge issues at play here.

SIMON: And let me ask you before we wind up our conversation this week, organizers at the Glenn Beck event say they're not affiliated with the Tea Party - some members of the group were attending. Did the Tea Party win a round at least in primary elections this week?

WILLIAMS: Well, they sure did. If you think about what happened up in Alaska with Joe Miller and, you know, it looks like he is now, he's on the verge of claiming that Senate, the nomination, the Republican nomination for that Senate seat. CBS polls find close to 30 percent support for the Tea Party, but over 50 percent of Americans saying they have a negative attitude towards the Tea Party. You know, Sarah Palin, whos going to speak at the rally today, 49 percent Tea Party people like her, see her as an icon. But overall she has only 23 percent approval from the American people, so there's a big gap there. But the Tea Party for the moment has only slight support in the American populous(ph).

SIMON: NPR News Analyst Juan Williams. Thanks so much for being with us.

WILLIAMS: Youre welcome, Scott.

SIMON: And Juan, stay there because you know what we're going to talk about now?

WILLIAMS: Tell me.

SIMON: There's corruption in Illinois politics.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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