There's A Reason Conservatives Shouldn't Claim Martin Luther King: When He Was Alive, They Smeared And Demonized Him

[media id=11529] Glenn Beck decided to repeat his asking-black-conservatives-dumb-white-guy-questions show with a new round, this time evidently focu

Glenn Beck decided to repeat his asking-black-conservatives-dumb-white-guy-questions show with a new round, this time evidently focused on Harry Reid's remarks. Unlike the last time, there weren't any open embarrassments, except for the moment when Beck agreed that poor people are "like a domesticated animal [that] never learns to hunt."

But again, Beck hijacked the words of Martin Luther King Jr. He opened up the show with a King quote written on a chalkboard.

And it really is shameless. Conservatives nowadays love to claim King as one of their own. And it's a complete joke -- because when King was alive, conservatives were the people he had to combat.

Rick Perlstein described this some time back:

When Martin Luther King was buried in Atlanta, the live television coverage lasted seven and a half hours. President Johnson announced a national day of mourning: "Together, a nation united and a nation caring and a nation concerned and a nation that thinks more of the nation's interests than we do of any individual self-interest or political interest--that nation can and shall and will overcome." Richard Nixon called King "a great leader--a man determined that the American Negro should win his rightful place alongside all others in our nation." Even one of King's most beastly political enemies, Mississippi Representative William Colmer, chairman of the House rules committee, honored the president's call to unity by terming the murder "a dastardly act."

Others demurred. South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond wrote his constituents, "[W]e are now witnessing the whirlwind sowed years ago when some preachers and teachers began telling people that each man could be his own judge in his own case." Another, even more prominent conservative said it was just the sort of "great tragedy that began when we began compromising with law and order, and people started choosing which laws they'd break."

That was Ronald Reagan, the governor of California, arguing that King had it coming. King was the man who taught people they could choose which laws they'd break--in his soaring exegesis on St. Thomas Aquinas from that Birmingham jail in 1963: "Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. ... Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong."

That's not what you hear from conservatives today, of course. What you get now are convoluted and fantastical tributes arguing that, properly understood, Martin Luther King was actually one of them--or would have been, had he lived. But, if we are going to have a holiday to honor history, we might as well honor history. We might as well recover the true story. Conservatives--both Democrats and Republicans--hated King's doctrines. Hating them was one of the litmus tests of conservatism.

I lived in a conservative town in a conservative state at the time, and I remember how deeply and viscerally people hated Martin Luther King when he was alive. And for years after his death, conservatives fought his legacy. They opposed a national holiday in his honor (Jesse Helms, that conservative icon, launched a filibuster against the proposal). Even today, many conservatives believe the old Bircherite smears that King was a Communist.

I thought Beck had a phobia about Communists. After all, the allegations that King had "Communist ties" are about as well grounded as Beck's own charges that Van Jones was a "self-proclaimed Communist."

But I guess when they make for handy stage props for phony discussions about race with a carefully selected audience -- shows which rapidly devolve into whinefests by black conservatives about being pegged as sellouts -- he'll look the other way.

Now, I dunno about sellouts. But anyone who thinks "conservative values" were anything but a hindrance to the black community for most of this country's history is just plain ignorant.

Especially if you know anything about what Martin Luther King Jr. actually stood for when he was alive -- and who his enemies were. They were conservatives. And for them to try to claim his mantle now is a travesty and a joke.

About David Neiwert

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