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January 18, 2016 02:15 PM UTC

Co-opting the legacy - The Conservative Disneyfication of Martin Luther King

  • by: PKolbenschlag

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

@ColoSenGOP took a brief respite from lobbing its normal stream of vitriol and invective at any and all who disagree with its narrow agenda, to praise Dr. Martin Luther King on the day many Republicans fought tooth and nail to never see made a federal holiday.

Today is the day we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s life and mission: to challenge oppression, fight for the downtrodden, and call all of us to bold action in fighting injustice.

Although you might not know it from the social media feeds, the creation of this holiday in 1986 was not warmly embraced by American conservatives. In the revision of history Dr. King’s legacy has been watered down and de-radicalized, just as it has been warmly embraced by right-leaning politicians and pundits.

Meanwhile, King’s popular image—transmitted in elementary school lessons for the holiday—has been drained of its radical social critiques and has instead become a generic symbol of equality and kindness to all.

Take the tribute posted by the highly partisan twitter account of Colorado Senate GOP @ColoSenGOP — highlighting the need for equal justice.

And on his Facebook feed Senator Cory Gardner was also quick to appropriate Dr. King’s legacy.

Sen. Gardner praises Dr. King’s values without noting that King called on all people to make those values tangible in bold action.

Yes, Dr. King embraced the virtues singled out by Gardner, respect, tolerance, and love. But he was not just an eloquent speaker who mouthed nice words. Dr. King was an activist and he professed the need for radical action and not just happy talk and platitudes.

Unlike the conservatives of his time Dr. King stood for public sector unions, against the war in Vietnam, for racial and economic justice.

As part of his Poor People’s Campaign, Dr. King advocated for a social and economic bill of rights which included a right to a minimum income and universal healthcare coverage.

Every man, woman and child should be guaranteed adequate healthcare under the social security system.”

Today calls for a higher minimum wage, universal healthcare, and other economic justice reforms are met, often by the same folks ‘honoring’ King’s legacy, with derision and ridicule.

Much as they were in King’s time and in the 1980s when the holiday was being debated:  “Communism,” they call it, “handouts,” and “identity politics.”

Conservatives still regularly use racially charged stereotypes to suggest that economic justice is about black folks wanting free stuff and that this is the only reason they vote for Democrats.

Senators Jesse Helms and John Porter East (both North Carolina Republicans) led opposition to the holiday and questioned whether King was important enough to receive such an honor. Helms criticized King’s opposition to the Vietnam War and accused him of espousing “action-oriented Marxism“.[4] Helms led a filibuster against the bill and on October 3, 1983, submitted a 300-page document to the Senate alleging that King had associations with communists. New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan declared the document a “packet of filth”, threw it on the Senate floor and stomped on it.[5][6]

President Ronald Reagan originally opposed the holiday, citing cost concerns. When asked to comment on Helms’ accusations that King was a communist, the president said “We’ll know in thirty-five years, won’t we?”

The first time MLK Day came before the U.S. Congress, all of Colorado’s Democrats voted for it. The Republicans did not.

When the holiday was first proposed in legislation in 1979 it passed Congress by 252-133. Of the NAY votes, 101 were Republicans.  Colorado’s delegation of Democrats voted for the holiday, its Republicans did not.

In Colorado the resolution to recognize Martin Luther King’s holiday was introduced by Democrats and signed by Democratic governor Richard Lamm.

Everyone likes a winner, and the sanitized version of Dr. Martin Luther King – loving, tolerant, respectful—makes for a nice story when politicians want to look inclusive without actually challenging fundamental beliefs. But there is very little in Dr. King’s legacy to suggest that his politics and principles aligned with those of the conservatives that are today lauding his legacy. Indeed the policies professed by these latter day King fans are, in many cases, diametrically opposed to what Dr. King worked for and called people to become.

Dr. King is an American icon, and his legacy is complex and not owned by either party or any political persuasion. But that doesn’t mean it is void of meaning and a blank slate to be misappropriated at will, stripped of meaning and rendered into pablum.

And if readers think I am just working to shoehorn King’s legacy into my own liberal agenda, consider this in closing. Dr. King was a supporter of women’s reproductive rights, writing in a letter to Planned Parenthood, that:

“I have always been deeply interested in and sympathetic with the total work of the Planned Parenthood Federation…”

Sen Cory Gardner on the other hand, not so much, explaining his recent vote to defund this organization that primarily serves lower income women.

 “This bill would redirect funding for women’s healthcare away from the scandal-plagued Planned Parenthood and towards responsible community health clinics that operate without a political agenda,” he said in response.

Vacuous Facebook posts are ubiquitous, of course. But reality still matters. King talked about the need to recognize all humanity as one, not divided.

With constant fear-mongering about the “others” in our midst–immigrants, refugees, federal prisoners, gay nuptials, environmentalists, OBAMA!!!–today’s conservatives seem to have missed what Dr. King was saying to us. The substance of his message was about economic justice, peace, and racial equality. His call to us was to fight for these things.

And King’s appellations are just as relevant today. They were not a call for platitudes but for radical and, yes, disruptive action.



21 thoughts on “Co-opting the legacy – The Conservative Disneyfication of Martin Luther King

  1. I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. And yet I am not so opposed to capitalism that I have failed to see its relative merits. It started out with a noble and high motive, viz, to block the trade monopolies of nobles, but like most human systems, it falls victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.

    – Martin Luther King in a 1952 letter to (then) Coretta Scott.

    1. Eisenhower supported strategic bombing in World War II and Korea. He saw it as a necessary evil. Not saying it is the proper strategy for ISIS, the only way we will win there is by rearming the Sons of Iraq militias (and telling the Shiite government in Baghdad to suck it if they get mad).

      1. Forgive me, but I am unconvinced that Cruz's suggestion is "strategic"…unless you are talking about the strategy of pandering to xenophobic voters.

      2. That, and the fact that mass bombing was about all we had in our quiver.  Today we can use drones, surgical methods, coupled with sanctions, financial isolation and international diplomacy.  Cruz is a poster boy for arrested development. 

        1. While it is true that strategic bombing (aka carpet bombing, aka aerial bombardment) was a far more important asset back in the days before smart ordinance, it can still be an effective strategy, I for one would not be opposed to performing a strategic bombing operation in Raqqa. The only way to beat them however will be with the help of Sunni militia groups, the Peshmerga, and probably an international force on the ground. I'm not suggesting a unilateral coalition a la Gulf War II, but an international coalition like we had in Gulf War I and in Bosnia is really the only way we are going to knock these guys out. That being said, the question remains how to handle attacks inspired by ISIS. Look at San Bernadino, those guys had no contact with ISIS except through indirect means of social media, they are inspiring jihadists in a manner that even AQ was unable to do.

          1. I for one would not be opposed to performing a strategic bombing operation in Raqqa.

            Two things, Tommy…

            One… Who the hell are you to decide to extinguish the lives of thousands of people? You don't know them…you don't know why they are doing what they are doing .How would you feel if someone in Russia or China were to say the same thing about Aurora or Englewood or.. Fruita…wherever it is YOU live?

             Just because I am fighting with you, I should deliberately kill your wife and children, and any other innocent humans and animals nearby..? Really? In my opinion, that makes you little better than Col. John Chivington. Google him… 

            Two… this "," is a "comma"…Google that, too.


            1. my second comment was unfair…upon re-reading the tripe above, I see you have found some punctuation…keep up the good work..

              no retraction on comment #1

    1. I can't believe Ron Paul said all that!

      Love his final paragraph:

      I have often said that the neocons’ greatest fear is for peace to break out. Their well-paid jobs are dependent on conflict, sanctions, and pre-emptive war. They grow wealthy on conflict, which only drains our economy. Let’s hope that this new opening with Iran will allow many other productive Americans to grow wealthy through trade and business ties. Let’s hope many new productive jobs will be created on both sides. Peace is prosperous!

  2. First, part of the problem is not enough great roles for black (or other minority) actors outside of bios and historics about important black historic or celebrity figures and stories. It’s like if there’s no “important” movie about the black exprience there’s no reason to offer black actors the kind of roles that earn Oscars or to consider black actors in other types of movies at Oscar time at all. But that's not the whole problem. They could easily have recognized Idris Elba and/or Will Smith this year for starters. TV is getting to be a much better place for diversity with many people of color in great roles that aren't confined to those specifically about people of color. The dinosaurs who reign over Hollywood and the Oscars are far, far behind. No progress since this problem attracted so much attention last year. I won't be watching.

      1. the Oscars needs an "ensemble" award like the SAG awards have. The whole cast for the Martian was very well cast and acted. Ejiofor, Glover, Bean & Wong especially. 

  3. Whose water would MLK poison?

    Rick Snyder should be tried for homicide, negligent or otherwise.

    "This is a racial killing"

    The racial aspect of this story is widely under-commented. Even the excellent Bernie Sanders, in his recent call for Snyder to resign, did not touch on race. He well could have.

    Now comes Michael Moore to let that cat publicly out of the bag. Here's USuncut with the story:

    Michael Moore — Flint’s most famous native — is calling out the inherent racism of the policies that led to his hometown’s water crisis.

    Michael Moore: “This is a racial killing.”

    The result of a decision to switch water sources made under Snyder in June 2013, hazardously high levels of lead, copper, e. coli, trihalomethanes (which are toxic when inhaled, such as in a hot shower) and chlorine in the city’s water supply have created an epidemic of serious, long-term health problems in Flint. The alarming effects of Flint’s contaminated water were immediately apparent and known to public officials in 2014 when the switch was made, but were downplayed by political leaders for over a year.

    Michael Moore, who posted a petition for Snyder’s arrest on his website Wednesday, tweeted last month that Snyder “knowingly poisoned a black city”, calling it a “version of genocide.”

    Are both sides equally to blame in the conscious acts to use poisoned water as Flint, Michigan's primary source? Is there a happy middle between the two that a little bipartisanship couldn't find? Are the Republican and Democratic world views even compatible in this democracy?


    1. Are the Republican and Democratic world views even compatible in this democracy? 

      not in their current form….their fundamental goals are now so far apart and counter to each other, there appears to be no common ground. However, there is some…economic in nature…we are just so polarized, no one is giving  the effort to come together on it more than lip service. The Republicans have set adrift a massive voting bloc of racially agitated, under-inforned, economically distressed, white people. 

      I believe it should be our focus to educate that voting bloc. Tough task, I know, but we have to get them to understand and accept that this is the United States of America, not "the United States of Jesus". The attempt by the American Taliban to turn the US into a theocracy is no less menacing than Jamie Dimon and his band of billionaires (I saw him on TV this morning..he disgusts me) turning it into a medieval society of unparalleled inequity.

      He should be Rick Snyders' cell-mate. 

    2. It should please you, Zap that I saw a Reuters piece this morning that referred to Snyder embattled. I think they're coming for him and I won't be surprised if he's charged with, at least, criminal negligence.

      1. I'll be surprised if he doesn't manage to hold on despite current calls for him to resign and utterly shocked if he's ever made to answer to criminal charges, no matter how many sign that and other petitions calling for his resignation and/or arrest. I'll still sign but I believe that the worst that will happen is that he won't win any more elections to anything.

        Bottom line, they knew what this was doing to black children and didn't care as long as they could say they were cutting costs. For Republicans like Snyder, cutting costs on the backs of little children, dooming them to life times of mental and physical health problems, while making sure no .1 percenter doesn't keep on getting wealthier is as natural as breathing. These are truly horrible people and after throwing a couple of lowly henchmen and women under the bus they'll never have to pay.

  4. Donald Trump enlightens his audience about the meaning of celebrating MLK Day:

    It's all about Trump, of course.

    Donald Trump’s Remarks On Martin Luther King Day Were Mostly About Donald Trump

    What else would you expect?

    Trump's praise of Christianity, like his praise of King, was made relative to himself.

    "The Art of the Deal is second to the Bible," Trump said, referring to his own book.

  5. Considering the job Republicans have done ignoring or reinterpreting the life and teachings of Jesus, is it any wonder they would try this on Martin Luther King Jr. as well?


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