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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Martin Luther King - Are Conservatives Looking for a "Brand"?

Conservatives likely cringe when they're generalized as "white-upper-middle-class".  Nevertheless, it's incredulous to read about a think tank of conservatives who are claiming Martin Luther King was one of "them". Ahhhhh, I don't think so!

As the nation celebrates MLK (King's) national holiday on Monday (President Obama's inauguration day), a new battle has erupted over his legacy, reports CNN.com.  

Some conservatives say it's time they reclaim King's legacy, whose message of self-help, patriotism and becoming a "colorblind" nation was "fundamentally conservative", they say.  But, the people who marched with King during America's Civil Rights struggles and who studied his work say the notion of him being conservative is "absurd".  These conservatives, who want to claim King today, were among those who  once opposed his message of social and racial equality.

"He was against all policies based on race," says Peter Schramm, a conservative historian. "The basis of his attack on segregation was 'judge us by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin.' That's a profound moral argument."  

Indeed, Schramm is theoretically correct, but where do conservatives "walk the walk", on this point. They don't

Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of a trilogy on King, says some conservatives are invoking a phantom version of King, to avoid dealing with contemporary racial issues.

I agree with Branch.  Conservatives trying to claim MLK are reinventing history.  King stood down conservatives during his short lifetime.

Although Martin Luther King isn't here to defend his legacy, it's highly probable he would not align with a political movement that supports unbridled gun ownership, since his premature death was the result of a tragic gun assassination.

Moreover, King would support voters rights. He would most certainly oppose the marginalization of minority groups who want to register to vote.

Let's remember, Martin Luther King was "Reverand", a minister before becoming a social activist.  As a clergyman, King surely would advocate for the Christian teachings of providing social services to the poor, elderly, frail, disabled, unemployed, homeless and those who need access to health care.  Paying for these programs requires a fair system of income redistribution, ie "taxation".  

Martin Luther King would probably support liberal immigration policies.  

Although King spoke eloquently about his "dream" for America to become a colorblind society, his vision was based on all people being treated as equals, based upon their achievements, rather than the color of their skin. Conservatives don't generally support creating a level playing field to all socio-economic groups.

Conservatives who look to "adopt" Martin Luther King might get away with it, if they also adopt his vision in the "I Have a Dream" speech of August 28, 1963"

"In a sense we have come (here)... to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

"Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds'. But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy." (This certainly doesn't sound like conservative talk to me. Rather, King speaks of social justice.)

These words are as clear today as when King gave his inspirational speech in Washington DC.  Conservatives who claim to adopt King, must also stand behind his words, by proclaming them with the same inspirational enthusiasm as when they were first delivered.  I suspect they can't do it. It's too much for them to act in a play they don't want to see re-produced.  They can't rebrand themselves, nor revise history.

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Conservatives must support what Martin Luther King stood up and died for, rather than just adopt his message to create a particular image for themselves.  Conservatives should stand for social and racial equality as moral principles, and forget about using King's image as a political brand.  It won't work.

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