*Like the historic original in 1963, Glenn Beck’s commemorative march on Washington has produced a clash of perception. Marchers celebrated rather than besieged the capital, and sweet piety floated above tribal antagonisms.

Responses of disbelief have mingled once again with giddy, puzzled surprise.

This time, by embracing the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., stridently conservative speakers revived hard questions about symbolic fusion in politics. Did their words invite a rare shift in the landscape? Or did they merely paint a mirage?

A week ago Saturday, from the Lincoln Memorial steps, Beck himself described undergoing a stark conversion as he organized the rally.

“When I put this together, in my head,” he told the crowd, “I felt it was supposed to be political.” His promotional announcement had put him “into a cold sweat” of doubt, however, until personal crisis made him grab an assistant by the lapels, Beck declared, “and I pulled him in close, and I screamed in his ear, ‘I don’t know how, but we’re wrong!'” He said an inner voice had told him to drop his slashing polemics, then politics entirely, for an unspecified new theme grounded in spiritual values. “I don’t understand it,” he said he had told his flabbergasted staff, “but this is where we’re going.”

A skilled dramatist, given to surging displays of emotion, Beck announced that paralysis had gripped him until last spring, when “we were still kind of lost, and we didn’t know what we were going to do when we got here.” He offered his audience no further clues to a mysterious transformation, but my cringing search of his program archives turned up – amid diatribes on Dr. King as a dangerous socialist, and on President Obama as an alien Muslim – a novel encounter with Dr. King’s niece, Alveda. Her first invitation to appear on Mr. Beck’s show suited his political mold, because she is a defiant crusader against abortion rights and gay marriage.

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