The Right’s Mythical Martin Luther King


I’ve written before about the right wing’s absurd attempts to reinvent Martin Luther King as a conservative, an effort led by his highly dishonest niece, Alveda King. But Glenn Beck and others have been pushing this idea as well by leaving out a hell of a lot of information that doesn’t fit their agenda. CNN reports on this phenomenon:

But now a growing number of people are calling King something else: A conservative icon.

As the nation celebrates King’s national holiday Monday, a new battle has erupted over his legacy. Some conservatives are saying it’s time for them to reclaim the legacy of King, whose message of self-help, patriotism and a colorblind America, they say, was “fundamentally conservative.”

But those who marched with King and studied his work say that notion is absurd. The political class that once opposed King, they argue, is now trying to distort his message…

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.

“They want to claim they understand Dr. King better than Dr. King did,” says Branch, author of “Parting the Waters.”
A quick look at King’s books and speeches, Branch and others argue, reveals that his message was not conservative but radical.

This is actually a longstanding pattern with the right, where they completely contradict their previous position and pretend that it never existed. We’ve seen it with constitutional interpretation and church and state, for example. The religious right of the late 1700s and 1800s argued that the Constitution was a godless document that would bring down the wrath of God on the country. They tried many, many times to amend the Constitution to add a “Christian nation” amendment, which would have declared our fealty to Jesus in the preamble. They were defeated every time. Then in the early 1900s, they changed their position completely and began to argue that the Constitution was intended to establish a Christian nation all along.

That’s what is going on here as well. While he was alive, the right wing savaged King as a communist who hated America and a dangerous subversive. Now they’re claiming he was just like them. Not coincidentally, they’ve done the same thing with the Bible. For 1800 years, the Bible was viewed as supporting slavery (and it does). Then it was reinterpreted, with no substantive support whatsoever. Their views evolve but they never admit that there has been a change. Their past positions are just disappeared.

Comments

  1. says

    According to his memoirs, one of Dr. King’s primary inspirations was Gandhi, a liberal socialist who fought against priviledge and wealth. For many years, his right-hand was Bayard Rustin, a pacifist who was both openly socialist and openly gay.

    We need to remind people of these facts.

  2. nemistenem says

    Joe321… I hope I live to see the day. Or maybe to see the Repub. party become a reasonable foil to the excesses of the Dems, not the party of crazy they are presently. Oh, jeez I just woke up – cool dream while it lasted.

  3. tbp1 says

    One of the most appallingly cynical political moves in recent decades is the attempt by the religious right to appropriate MLK, and to dilute/distort his message. He was all but universally despised by them, opposed by them at every turn, called every name under the sun, jailed, and eventually killed. The raison d’etre for the rise of the conservative movement was opposition to everything he stood for.

    For them to turn around and pretend he was one of theirs is unspeakable, but not at all surprising.

  4. says

    He was so! He had a dream, one where people wouldn’t be judged by the color of their skin, instead being judged by the contents of their bank account.

  5. timpayne says

    Back in the ’60’s when I was in school, the black students were listening to Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and Angela Davis. By comparison, MLK WAS a conservative. Just shows how far right we’ve traveled, when liberals see him as a radical in their rear view mirror.

  6. Scott Hanley says

    Some conservatives are saying it’s time for them to reclaim the legacy of King

    Rather like the 1844 Democratic Party platform calling for the “reannexation” of Texas and the “reoccupation” of Oregon … neither of which had yet belonged to the United States.

  7. says

    This is actually a longstanding pattern with the right, where they completely contradict their previous position and pretend that it never existed.

    It’s a longstanding problem with having bad or repugnant positions.

  8. Christoph Burschka says

    Their views evolve but they never admit that there has been a change.

    Yeah, they really don’t like evolution.

  9. bybelknap says

    Conservatives are always on the wrong side when it comes to progress in equality and human rights. The only “progress” that they like is finding new ways to exploit other people for profit.

  10. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Well, the right wingers shot him, now they figure it’s their right to stuff and pose him.

    *spits*

  11. bnerd says

    It makes me chuckle to see the Right try to hang on to his legacy now. We still have ample records of prominent Conservatives of the time (and now practically Saints in the eyes of the Right like Reagan) basically saying King brought his own death upon himself for “acting like God” and engaging in “moral relativism” in choosing which laws to uphold and which laws to break. We know what he was planning before he was shot: The Poor People’s Campaign. How many Conservatives rallied behind that cause? How many Conservatives stood up on the DC Mall steps with Corky Gonzales and Rev. James Bevel? Zero. They didn’t then and they wouldn’t now. It’s transparent BS to pretend like MLK would support them or that they somehow embody his legacy.

  12. says

    There’s the right, and then there’s the Right …

    http://www.alternativeright.com/main/blogs/district-of-corruption/mlk-conservative-icon/

    http://www.counter-currents.com/2013/01/the-case-for-skepticism-about-martin-luther-king/#more-35392

    Far from me being a concern troll….BUT!

    Both of these sites have an issue:

    The first is a blatantly antisemitic blog/website ran by the former editor of Taki’s Magazine; none other than Richard Spencer. Spencer is a borderline Neo-Nazi and a horrible racist bigot. When Spencer left Taki’s Mag, he wanted to start a site purely for racial identity — READ: WHITE racial identity!

    The Political Cesspool is a anti-semitic and racist show ran by a known racist bigot.

    The second site, is another site of that sort.

    Making a point, is one thing; but using these sort of sites to do so; is not a good thing gents.

    I concur about MLK. The right is trying to do this and Ed is correct about the Right in that period.

    Anyhow, I just thought I would bring this up to all of you. I know about Alternative Right and it’s owner. He’s a real winner. I mean, I am a white man myself; but what Spencer is doing is nothing more than identity politics in it’s purest form. It’s knee jerk, reactionary politics at it’s finest. Something Bull Conner and George Wallace would be proud of.

    Just letting you all know.

    -Patrick

  13. Erp says

    And his theology is hardly likely to appeal to many on the Christian right. From an article by Prof. Clayborne Carson quoting King.

    this uncritical attitude could not last long, for it was contrary to the very nature of my being. I had always been the questioning and precocious type. At the age of 13 I shocked my Sunday School class by denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus. From the age of thirteen on doubts began to spring forth unrelentingly.

    He was no atheist; he believed in a personal God. But a fundamentalist view of the Bible got tossed overboard.

  14. dingojack says

    Joe321 – hah much, much, much, much, much soon than that!
    By 2050 the PoG’s poster boy of conservatism will be Vladimir Ilyich Lenin – and they will have gone through the looking glass and into the authoritarian left via the portal of “government should be build on individuals (wroking people) having control (or else they’ll ‘go Gault’), therefore ‘bottom-up'”.
    :( Dingo

  15. andrewlephong says

    If you find this “King was a conservative” thing annoying, try dealing with the “Hitler was a liberal” meme.

  16. jonathangray says

    Charles Adkins:

    Far from me being a concern troll….BUT!

    Both of these sites have an issue:

    The first is a blatantly antisemitic blog/website ran by the former editor of Taki’s Magazine; none other than Richard Spencer. Spencer is a borderline Neo-Nazi and a horrible racist bigot. (…)

    The second site, is another site of that sort.

    Making a point, is one thing; but using these sort of sites to do so; is not a good thing gents.

    Why not? You may regard those sites as ritually impure and I certainly wouldn’t endorse everything on them. But too many on the left seem to think the ‘right wing’ consists of mainstream conservatives, libertarians & fundamentalist evangelicals of various hues, with a fringe of rabid neo-Nazi/KKK types. The rise of the altright and the Dark Enlightenment suggests something new is being born.

    When Spencer left Taki’s Mag, he wanted to start a site purely for racial identity — READ: WHITE racial identity!

    Does your urgent qualifier imply that non-white racial identity is OK or at least not as bad as white racial identity?

    I mean, I am a white man myself; but what Spencer is doing is nothing more than identity politics in it’s purest form.

    FTB’s own Crommunist Manifesto recently carried a post by some white guy who enthused about “a number of radical grassroots indigenous activists … a bunch of people who are proud of their indigineity, the lands their ancestors taught them to protect as though it were their next of kin … the blood kin of my indigenous friends … “

    Blut und Boden! What is that if not “identity politics in it’s purest form”? But it’s not white identity, so it’s all right … right?

  17. amadan says

    A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

    Communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truths of both.

    That is all.

  18. arakasi says

    My 6 year old son knows that MLK Jr. was killed while he was in Memphis to support the striking sanitation workers. He apparently knows more about King than the typical conservative.

  19. says

    “Just shows how far right we’ve traveled, when liberals see him as a radical in their rear view mirror.”

    I was in HS until 1967, in college (briefly) then the USAF in 68-72. My white racist conservative classmates, family and others that I knew, by and large, thought Dr. King was a dangerous man, not one of the “Good niggers” like Jesse Owens, Joe Louis or Willie Mays. Their assessment of all four of those gentlemen tells me that they knew fuckall about any of them..

  20. davidhart says

    Joe321:
    In fairness, given that he has the charisma to have the ‘icon’ bit sewn up already, and given that, to most of the rest of the world, the USA has a right-wing party and an extreme right-wing party, outside the USA he’s kind of already a conservative icon :-)

  21. says

    Blut und Boden! What is that if not “identity politics in it’s purest form”? But it’s not white identity, so it’s all right … right?

    Yeah, white racists trying to disenfranchise and re-enslave nonwhites are EXACTLY THE SAME as a nonwhite minority trying to gain equal rights and rebuild some of their ancestors culture that had been systematically liquidated by previous generations of whites. Nope, can’t see any difference at all — can you?

  22. jonathangray says

    Raging Bee:

    Yeah, white racists trying to disenfranchise and re-enslave nonwhites

    As far as I can tell, most WNs don’t want to “re-enslave” non-whites. They do, however, take note of the tsunami of black-on-white violence (much of it racially motivated) in recent years. In fact, there is an increasing grassroots white awareness of, and willingness to speak out about, this phenomenon and a contempt for the MSM’s
    deafening silence about it in favour of the official manufactured cult of Trayvianity.

    are EXACTLY THE SAME as a nonwhite minority trying to gain equal rights and rebuild some of their ancestors culture that had been systematically liquidated by previous generations of whites. Nope, can’t see any difference at all — can you?

    No, not exactly the same … Those previous generations of whites didn’t achieve hegemony by being more evil or racist than their victims, who were just as barbaric if not more so. They were just more powerful. “The strong do as they will, the weak suffer as they must.” Welcome to the human race.

  23. says

    They do, however, take note of the tsunami of black-on-white violence (much of it racially motivated) in recent years.

    …by which you mean they write fiction. Because that isn’t actually born out by reality. I’m totally unsurprised your ass is in their corner.

    deafening silence about it in favour of the official manufactured cult of Trayvianity.

    Ah, so that’s what flavor of racist jackass you are. I keep forgetting that teenagers deserved to be murdered for the color of their skin and a marginally flawed school record.

    They were just more powerful.

    You know what? I’mma give you a homework exercise – why did the silver stolen from Potosi mostly end up in China?

    Bonus question: Who is Zheng He? Seriously now, it’s not like only white people ever had the chance to engage in colonialism. Societies actually had the choice, and did not always do so. This isn’t because of any inherent goodness in non-white people (It was, in fact, unbridled arrogance, in China’s case), but it still puts the lie to this notion that white people only did what everyone else did and just did it better (Mighty Whitey if I ever heard it, and oh I have).

    who were just as barbaric if not more so.

    Reminder: Spain burned libraries and destroyed multiple empires with functioning civil services, and one with a widespread publilc works program. Human sacrifice was on a smaller scale than the depopulation of granada, and had been for a long time.

Trackbacks

  1. […] “While he was alive, the right wing savaged King as a communist who hated America and a dangerous subversive. Now they’re claiming he was just like them. Not coincidentally, they’ve done the same thing with the Bible.” […]

Leave a Reply