If Jesus Christ was alive today, he would be horrified by much of what passes for the religion he created. Many who claim to be ‘Christians’ are so far removed from Christ’s message that he would have to publicly denounce them or change his name completely.
Likewise, many of those who celebrate Martin Luther King on the public holiday in his name would have a rude awakening if they heard him speak today. While King certainly spread a message of peace and inclusiveness, he was by modern standards, a political revolutionary who would be much farther to the left than any current Democrat. Much of King’s anti war, economic equality and black self determination rhetoric has been lost in the political PR industry where politicians cash in on quoting him and pretend their objectives are the same.
Imagine, if you will, Barack Obama saying the following:
Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything Black ugly and evil. Look in your dictionaries and see the synonyms of the word Black. It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word White, it’s always something pure, high and clean.
I want to get the language so right that everyone here will cry out: ‘Yes, I’m Black, I’m proud of it. I’m Black and I’m beautiful!”
The quote is of course from Dr King, and you could never imagine Obama saying it because of the hordes of Republicans who would denounce him as a racist. King was also an advocate of a guaranteed wage that would lift people out of poverty – or in other words, a socialist. He wrote:
The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking.
The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.
According to modern Republicans this would be akin to communism and would earn Dr King comparisons with Hitler and accusations of treason. Yet many prominent Republicans have taken to their twitter accounts today to proclaim their admiration for Dr King:
Rev Martin Luther King jr earned our admiration with courage, consistency, humility, and dedication to a better future for everyone.
— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) January 19, 2015
— John Boehner (@SpeakerBoehner) January 19, 2015
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) January 19, 2015
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 19, 2015
All of the Republicans above have labeled Barack Obama a dangerous, divisive socialist at one point or another, yet are happy to channel Dr King who was demonstrably much farther to the left than the President. For example, Obama’s recent proposal to return taxation on the richest Americans to the level it was under Reagan was denounced immediately by Sen. Marco Rubio who dismissed it on philosophical grounds. He told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”:
The notion … that in order for some people to do better, someone has to do worse is just not true…Raising taxes on people that are successful is not going to make people that are struggling more successful. … It would also be counter-productive.
As Dr King well understood, racial equality is synonymous with economic inequality, and he spoke broadly about the topic. Said Dr King at a rally in Memphis in 1968:
Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know now that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?
Republicans like Gingrich, Boehner, Rubio and Paul may well have been sympathetic to equal political rights for blacks during the civil rights era (or then again, maybe they would not have been), but they would have certainly opposed him on issues like black self determination, the war in Vietnam, and the redistribution of wealth. Just as many so called Christians throw out the inconvenient teachings on turning the other cheek, forgiveness and helping the poor, disregarding central components of Dr King’s message means you don’t get to benefit from quoting bits that make you look better.
If Republicans want to channel the spirit of Martin Luther King, they should probably start by reading him.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.