November 13, 2002
Bringing Out the Dead
Nothing irks me more than when right-wingers have the gall to assure us that "if [insert-dead-progressive-here] were alive today, he would surely share our conservative views on [insert-some-bullshit-they'd-never-support-in-a-million-years]."
In discussion about feminist theory in someone's blog recently, this kid (one of those Young Conservative types who reads national review everyday and thinks he's really got his game down) had the nerve to say:
"For the most part, yesterday's liberals who fought for equal opportunity, particularly w/rt race, would be today's conservatives. (MLK Jr. and Bennett come to mind.)"
The reply I posted:
Of all the plays in the right-wing playbook, the "if these dead guys were alive they would switch to our team" angle is the most laughable and the most tasteless. Shoving words into the mouths of dead men is the last refuge of those whose reasoning cannot stand on its own merits.
And in the case of Martin Luther King Jr. it is particularly absurd. Conservatives cling to MLK's quote about judging men by the content of their character as proof that he would join them in opposition to affirmative action and other similar programs. But if you take a closer look at how he believed his principles ought to be applied in the real world, it becomes clear that these right-wingers are kidding themselves.
King led his own organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in a nationwide campaign aimed at changing hiring policies, called Operation Breadbasket. Here is King's own description of the program: "First, a team of ministers calls on the management of a business in the community to request basic facts on the company's total number of employees, the number of Negro employees, the department or job classification in which all are located, and the salary ranges for each category. The team then returns to the steering committee to evaluate the data and to make a recommendation concerning the number of new and upgraded jobs that should be requested. The decision on the number of jobs requested is usually based on population figures. For instance, if a city has a 30 percent Negro population, then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30 percent of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas, as the case almost always happens to be."
In Why We Can't Wait he wrote:
"Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic."
And in a Playboy interview he said:
"Within common law, we have ample precedents for special compensatory programs, which are regarded as settlements. American Indians are still being paid for land in a settlement manner. Is not two centuries of labor, which helped to build this country, a real commodity? ...And you will remember that America adopted a policy of special treatment for her millions of veterans after the war."
As you can see, any speculation that MLK would support the current conservative stance on these issues is purely delusional. The truth is Dr. King explicitly endorsed the very ideas that right-wingers rail against today.