It is Martin Luther King Day! It is the day we celebrate the mythic figure rather than the man. And that is how it should be because no country has ever celebrated an actual man. But at least King is a happy exception to Lord Acton’s observation, “Great men are almost always bad men.” King was that kind of man Acton had in mind when he equivocated. Still, given that we are celebrating the symbol and not the man (we celebrated his birthday when it actually occurred last Wednesday), I would prefer to call it, “Civil Rights Day.”
I know that’s kind of generic, but it does have a few advantages. One very big one is that while King was hugely important to the civil rights struggle, he was hardly alone. What’s more, the civil rights struggle continues. Just ask blacks in Virginia. As I’ve noted before, “Everyone now accepts that poll taxes were a real issue meant to stop poor blacks from voting. What are voter ID laws other than a poll tax by another name?”
But I have a not-so-pure reason for wanting to call today Civil Rights Day. Republicans really bug me when it comes to Martin Luther King. Because he has become a mythic figure just like George Washington, he is cuddly and can be embraced by everyone except people who are explicitly bigots. I would find it less annoying to argue about the continuing civil rights struggle (Republicans think it ended in 1965!) than to argue about how King would now support the Republican Party.
Last night, TMCB Patriot sent me to the following image made by some true believing Republican:
As TMCB Patriot noted, MLK Was A Republican! Photo Montages Don’t Lie. I guess I can see how a Republican who said, “We believe in setting people free,” would think that. And all that disguised control in the form of charity! I can just imagine King saying those immortal words, “”Free to starve, free to starve! Thank God almighty we are free to starve!”
But this is the kind of nonsense we get from Republicans. They really are the postmodern party: reality is whatever we agree on. So if they say that Martin Luther King was a Republican long enough, he must have been. Just like in the 1960s they said (And some still do!) that he was a communist. But there is no evidence of either of those claims. Publicly, King stayed nonpartisan. Privately, he clearly tended Democratic.
What I find interesting is that Martin Luther King Sr was a Republican. At least he was until 1964. And then in the 1970s until his death in 1984, he was an outspoken Democrat. His political journey indicates what happened to the parties. The Democrats—especially in the South—had been a racist party. Similarly, the Republican Party used to be in favor of civil rights. But the Democrats evolved on the issue and the Republicans devolved on it. That’s why the image contains pictures of pre-Civil War icons.
Look at the whole message of the image: blacks vote Democratic out of habit or something. The use of the Elbert Guillory quote implies that blacks are either stupid or childish for voting Democratic. But note that the image reveals its own lie. Yes, blacks used to vote overwhelmingly Republican. And then they changed—because the parties changed. At least when the Democrats were a racist party, they didn’t run around whining that blacks were just voting Republican out of habit.
So happy Martin Luther King Day! And happy Civil Rights Day! But it is not a destination, just another step on an eternal journey.
Update (20 January 2014 11:35 am)