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Over at Alternet, Devona Walker has an interesting piece about how the rally that Glenn Beck is staging at the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in August to unveil his “100 year plan” for America is only the latest attempt by conservatives to claim King as one of their own. For example:
In 2006, the ultraconservative think-tank Heritage Foundation also took to spinning King’s legacy. In an essay titled “Martin Luther King’s Conservative Legacy,” it directed conservatives to lay claim to King.
“King was no stalwart conservative, yet his core beliefs, such as the power and necessity of faith-based association and self-government based on absolute truth and moral law, are profoundly conservative,” wrote Carolyn Garris. “Modern liberalism rejects these ideas, while conservatives place them at the center of their philosophy. Despite decades of its appropriation by liberals, King’s message was fundamentally conservative.”
Conservatives cherry-pick and exploit particular phrases, or quotes, while entirely ignoring the totality of what King stood for, what he fought against and why he died.
One snippet, in particular, seems to routinely find its way into conservative talking points. It’s taken from a 1963 address in which King said we should be judged by “the content of our character.” That simple phrase was re-branded and re-packaged into a rallying cry against affirmative action.
In 1994, right-wing media critic David Horowitz said on “Crossfire”: “Martin Luther King, in my view, was a conservative because he stood up for, you know, belief in the content of your character–the value that conservatives defend today.”
In 1991, Charles Krauthammer pitted King against diversity. Progressives, he wrote, “have traded King’s dream for something called diversity….It is the opponents of race-conscious public policy who today speak in the name of values that King championed.”
Then, in 1996, when Gov. Mike Foster abolished affirmative action, he presented the act as somehow being a fulfillment of King’s dream. In fact, one of the original astroturf groups waging an ongoing battle to repeal affirmative action cynically goes by the name American Civil Rights Institute.
Another effort to distort Martin Luther King is being undertaken with the construction of a corporate-funded memorial to the Civil Rights leader on the National Mall in Washington, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2011. While these efforts to co-opt King are infuriating, I still doubt that in the end they will be successful. One doesn’t need to read very deeply into his biography or writings to discover how radical he truly was. And unless there is some Orwellian rewriting of history, that is something that will never change.
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Politics have changed quite dramatically since the 1950s and 60s, but I think there is an argument that SOME of what Dr. King believed would fall under ‘conservative’ as we use the term now. For example, Dr. King was a deeply faithful Christian, while many liberals and Progressives are either agnostic or ‘spiritual but not religious.’ I can’t imagine that Dr. King would be a supporter of either gay marriage (many black Christians are oppossed to it) or abortion (since so many abortions are peformed on low income black women). I’m speculating, but having studied Dr. King in some detail, I think he’d find much of what passes for ‘pop culture’ in this day and age to be repulsive and damaging to people’s souls.
On war, obviously, and on economics, he certainly was to the political left. But who knows? Had he lived to see the failures of Johnson’s Great Society programs, and the dramatic negative results of federal welfare programs…who knows?
Eh, conservatives probably overstating his few conservative values; but outside of racial equality, there isn’t much I agree with Mr. King (sorry, but in my book if you plagiarize 50% of your doctoral thesis you don’t warrant the title). America is about personal liberty and equality of opportunity not equality of outcome.
I have no idea why anyone would whine or be infuriated about privately funded monuments. WHO CARES? Blind rants against corporations are frankly vapid.
Complaining that “radical” quotations are omitted? They could use this brain bender: “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?” How much of this water Mr. King is safe for use? This one’s good too: “If a city has a 30% Negro population, then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30% of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas.” So much for the content of character vs. color of skin thing. Why couldn’t “Negros” have 40% or 50%? How about: The “profit motive” has “encouraged smallhearted men to become cold and conscienceless.” Oh, another anti-capitalist rant. He didn’t say what alternative “motive” was better.
Mr. King did amazing things for moving equal rights forward, but wise economist he definitely was not. Looking at things thru a prism of race will always call problems.
It is better that self-described conservatives encounter King’s legacy, and try to frame their causes in terms of it, than ignore it. I also agree with Michael that self-described liberals today might do well to be cautious in assuming that they are the true inheritors of what King stood for in his time. If the two poles of power in the American political spectrum have anything in common, it is a shared rejection of the principles of nonviolence that King practiced and preached.
King belongs to neither, and should be listened to more by both—even keeping in mind some of the man’s personal faults, which D. Killion alludes to.