Charlie Pierce makes an importannt point about Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech:
As the president mounts the podium at the Lincoln Memorial today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's speech, we are reminded (ceaselessly) about one thing that Dr. King said in his address:It really is the only King line right-wingers remember, though they portray themselves as King's true heirs, while braying that his actual heirs and admirers are the betrayers of his vision.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.There it is. That's the great loophole. It is an otherwise unremarkable sentiment given the context of the entire address, but, for the people who almost certainly would have lined up on the other side of the movement in 1963, it subsequently has been used as an opening through which all manner of historically backsliding mischief has come a'wandering in, from "reverse discrimination" to Allan Bakke, to what is going on today with the franchise in too many places, to the reaction to the killing of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Modern conservatives have used that line to conscript Dr. King into their ideology, now that he's dead and unable to speak for himself. It's the only line in the speech that they remember.
Curiously, Jonah Goldberg didn't get the memo about King being a secret right-winger. Over at the L.A. Times, he acknowledges that King said other thing and believed other things. What's more, he's willing to admit that he and his fellow conservatives don't like the other things King believed:
Amid the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom, there was a recurring complaint: What about economic justice?Give Goldberg credit for candor. Give him credit for being an honest enough conservative not to wrap himself in King's mantle -- on the fiftieth anniversary of the March -- and not to pretend that King was really just the first teabagger.
It is a source of enormous frustration among many on the left that Martin Luther King Jr.'s deservedly iconic status doesn't lend more support and credence to his economic ideas.
... Even after the march, A. Philip Randolph, its director and opening speaker received more coverage than King. Randolph spoke of civil rights, but he also emphasized more typical left-wing economic fare: "It falls to us to demand new forms of social planning, to create full employment and to put automation at the service of human needs, not at the service of profits."
... Many on the left have felt frustrated that this agenda, subscribed to wholeheartedly by King, doesn't share the same moral and political stature as King's dream of a colorblind society.
The frustration is understandable, but it stems from a fundamental confusion. As many have long noted, the genius of King's appeal to an ideal of colorblindness was deeply patriotic, rooted in the foundational principles of the republic....
But in America at least, appeals to social planning and guaranteed economic rights are not universal. They are, deservedly, controversial and contestable....
Today, conservatives, who were too often on the wrong side of civil rights in 1963, are champions of race neutrality, while King's self-appointed heirs are more inclined to champion the ideas that never spoke to the hearts of all Americans.
Goldberg thinks America shares his distaste for King's economic message -- and, alas, he may have a point (there certainly isn't much anger in this country about the increasing gap between haves and have-nots, even among the have-nots). But that's not something America should be proud of.
On the whole, Martin Luther King was on one side and conservatives -- then and (especially) now -- were on the other. At least Jonah Goldberg doesn't pretend otherwise.