The Right’s Mythical Martin Luther King

The Right’s Mythical Martin Luther King January 23, 2013

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.

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