Ilhan Omar Disrespects Fictional Memory Of Conservative MLK

Post-Racial America

Rep. Ilhan Omar twice used the word "radical" yesterday to describe Martin Luther King Jr., and that annoyed conservatives who want to imagine the civil rights leader as a Bagger Vance figure who inspired America to fulfill its post-racial promise. They'd prefer we all join hands today and call no harm, no foul for the slavery and Jim Crow oppression. Omar set fire to the memo saying everyone should just tweet that "darkness cannot drive out darkness" quote and declare King's dream fully realized because Bad Boys For Life was number one at the box office this weekend. No, Omar decided to do something radical herself and talk about the Dr. King who actually existed.

Naturally and obnoxiously, Federalist writer J.D. Rucker crept up into Omar's mentions to lecture her about King and civil rights. I'm pretty sure Rucker knows the modern Republican and Democratic parties are very different now and is just trying to confuse people with a tired argument that Kevin Kruse has refuted multiple times. This reminds me of when I recently returned to a favorite New York bar from my youth. They no longer played good music. The drinks were watered down and overpriced. The bartender was an asshole. That's what happened to the Republican Party since the 1960s.

Rucker also doesn't mention that President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in June of 1964, and his Republican opponent in the November election was Barry Goldwater, who strongly opposed the civil rights legislation. That bar went to shit quick. Goldwater didn't consider himself a racist. He just believed businesses should have more "freedom" and "rights" than minorities. Republicans today might try to paint Goldwater as some anomaly, as they're already doing with Donald Trump, but future Republican presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan all willingly endorsed and campaigned for Goldwater. Reagan gained national prominence with his pro-Goldwater speech, "A Time for Choosing."

REAGAN: The Founding Fathers knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing. [...] You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man's age-old dream – the maximum of individual freedom consistent with law and order – or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.

This was the beginning of cleverly coded language against civil rights. Conservatives like Goldwater and Reagan would argue that the federal government was "forcing" racial integration onto an unwilling white populace. Reagan's reference to "law and order" was a rallying cry against King's "radical tactics" -- the sit-ins and marches that conservatives almost uniformly opposed at the time.

MLK didn't just "vote" for LBJ because their initials rhymed. He put the smackdown on Goldwater like he was a common Trump. This is a New York Times headline from 1964, just after Goldwater secured the Republican nomination.

New York Times

King denounced Goldwater with language that mirrors most Democratic criticism of Trump. He said the Republican nominee "articulates a philosophy which gives aid and comfort to the racists." King never literally called himself a "Democratic socialist" because he was diplomatic enough to avoid personal labels that could endanger his larger objectives. He was already considered a "radical," and the FBI doesn't monitor you if you're just a simple country preacher who loves Israel. Republicans can try to whitewash King but cameras did exist while he was alive.

Omar claimed King was a "fierce critic of U.S. militarism," which is true. King condemned the Vietnam War in a fiery 1967 speech, calling the US government "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." Republicans won't lay off Jane Fonda, so I doubt they'd forget his anti-war positions if he were still alive.

MLK: Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: "Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent?" "Peace and civil rights don't mix," they say. "Aren't you hurting the cause of your people?" they ask. And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment, or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live.

King's opposition to Vietnam surprised the hell out of conservatives who defined "non-violence" as black people not taking up arms against their own oppressors in America. The hypocrisy was appalling: They expected black people to be "non-violent" against the people who blow up little girls in churches but become killing machines against the Vietnamese. Black men had already fought in enough wars by that point to know America would thank them for their service with a standing room only ticket on the back of the bus.

During the same speech, King used rhetoric that was as conservative as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after a boilermaker. It was clear he saw both racism and income inequality as threats to overcome.

MLK: A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A year later, King would deliver his final speech to a group of striking sanitation works in Memphis. He told them that "I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land." He died the following day.

J.D Rucker, without irony, tweeted his support for the gun rights rally today in Virginia. We hope we don't have to remind anyone that King didn't die of natural causes. He was shot and that requires both an asshole and a gun. Like Omar said, King believed in "radical love." He preached non-violence even when confronted by uniformed thugs with hoses and dogs. King proved every day of his life that "true courage isn't a man with a gun in his hand." If you truly respected King's memory, maybe you'd consider holding your march against life on some other day.

[New York Times]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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