Wednesday, January 18, 2017




WaPo, Organ of Extreme Center, Calls MLK ‘True Conservative’

WaPo: Martin Luther King Jr. was a true conservative
The Washington Post‘s misidentification of Martin Luther King.
Because words and history evidently have no meaning, the Washington Post  (1/16/17) decided to honor civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr. by painting him as a “true conservative.”  In what one can only hope was a terribly botched attempt at high-wire satire, the Post’s editorial board attempted to use King’s frequent appeals to the “founding fathers” as evidence King should be lumped in the same ideological category as William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater.
Under the headline “Martin Luther King Jr. Was a True Conservative,” the editorial began:
Martin Luther King, Jr., conservative. That description of the civil rights leader whose birth we celebrate today might surprise or even offend many of the people coming to town to celebrate the inauguration of a new president and the supposed triumph of conservatism in some form or other. (The current choices seem to range from Calvin Coolidge to Marine Le Pen.) But in his way, Dr. King did a lot to preserve, protect and defend the best of our principles and values. Just as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was despised by many conservatives of his day, helped keep American society from succumbing to the radical ideologies that brought death and devastation to much of Europe and Asia, Dr. King worked to turn back extremism, violence and racial nationalism at the height of the civil rights movement, and to keep the cause of essential and long-overdue change in the American mainstream.
The Post sets up a false dichotomy that marks much revisionism of the era: MLK, to the Post, represented the “good” left, unmoved by racial nationalism and Marxist ideology. The lines, of course, were never that clear and simple. King considered himself a democratic socialist, “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children,” King said to the Negro American Labor Council in 1961.
He made a habit of not punching left, even though constantly prompted to do so. While he had different approaches and tactics, King often spoke fondly of black nationalists such as Malcolm X and didn’t say a bad word about the decidedly Marxist and Maoist Black Panthers, who were emerging as a national force at the time of King’s assassination in the spring of 1968. King did not “work to turn back” these forces as much as he simply sought a different approach, often in tandem.
“Negroes are not the only poor in the nation. There are nearly twice as many white poor as Negro, and therefore the struggle against poverty is not involved solely with color or racial discrimination but with elementary economic justice.” These statements are uniformly not conservative. They are expressly leftist and/or progressive in nature, depending on how one defines such concepts.
Also left unmentioned was that after the tactics of the early 1960s had reached their limits, with the achievement of de jure civil rights in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, King’s politics began to be more openly radical. With the concerns shifting to economic rights such as housing, jobs, wealth redistribution and affirmative action,his tone also shifted.
King’s split with the Democratic Party became most apparent in his scathing denunciations of the Vietnam War: “The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” King told the Riverside Church in April 1967, is “my own government.” On the issue of economic justice, it’s often overlooked that when King was killed in Memphis in April 1968, he was there in solidarity with an illegal sanitation strike—hardly the actions of a “conservative.”
The editorial would end on a note of lazy literalism that wouldn’t pass muster in a high school rhetoric class:
“My friends,” Dr. King said in his Detroit sermon, “all I’m trying to say is that if we are to go forward today, we’ve got to go back and rediscover some mighty precious values that we’ve left behind. That’s the only way that we would be able to make of our world a better world, and to make of this world what God wants it to be. . . .”
Spoken like a true conservative, and a truly great one.
King would often appeal to tradition, both national and religious, as a rhetorical strategy to normalize and bring into the mainstream what were then still very radical ideas. Today his ideals of racial equality—though not his associated ideas of economic justice and pacifism—while still unrealized, are considered much more mainstream. This does not mean his values were at all “conservative”; just because history catches up to someone’s radicalism does not mean they were somehow always a mainline “true” conservative. This is not how history, or power, or political change works.
The Post is not alone. Given his now-unimpeachable standing, many of the right and center have been trying to claim Dr. King as their own for decades (Extra!5–6/95Death and Taxes1/20/14). Indeed, “If MLK were alive today he would…” has become a sort of red flag for all ill-considered opinions in this mold. The reality is, King was a leftist and a progressive, and the Post’s attempt to argue otherwise is just one in a long line of attempts to flatter the predilections of their conservative, older white readership.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for You can find him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.
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