There are two major takeaways that Democrats — particularly, the neo-socialists who now control the Democratic party — should consider as we celebrate the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Lest they forget, it was President Ronald Reagan who signed Martin Luther King Day into law as an official federal holiday, even though he was against it before he was for it. That was a very big deal for Reagan and the nation.
Only one other figure in American history had their own federal holiday: George Washington. Reagan initially opposed the idea because of the economic impact a paid federal holiday would have, and concern that the precedent would create more demands to honor great Americans with paid federal holidays.
There also were apprehensions from some, like advisor Karl Rowe, who accused King of harboring communist beliefs when he sought to link the civil rights movement to the anti-war peace movement. Bear in mind that this debate occurred during the height of the Cold War.
Ultimately, amid a soul-bearing political debate, Reagan embraced the holiday after Congress passed H.R. 3706, which had been introduced by Indiana Representative Katie Hall with 108 co-sponsors. On November 2, 1983, surrounded by King’s family in the White House Rose Garden, he signed the Martin Luther King Day bill into law.
Even then, fifteen years after King had been gunned down in Memphis, support for the bill was hardly collective. Senator Jesse Helms had famously filibustered to stop its passage. But Reagan, ever a unifier, used the ceremony to express how King affirmed the greatness of America and the faith in the country’s future.
“Now our nation has decided to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by setting aside a day each year to remember him and the just cause he stood for,” Reagan said during the ceremony. “As a democratic people, we can take pride in the knowledge that we Americans recognized a grave injustice and took action to correct it. And we should remember that in far too many countries, people like King never have the opportunity to speak out at all.”
No matter the shortcomings of the nation, Reagan maintained, America remained a singular place where liberty, equality, and individuality should flourish under the watchful eyes of God. Those were the core beliefs of our nations’ founders and of Reagan’s fellow Conservatives. King often invoked these principles to express his commitment to Western democratic principles.
King was a Christian preacher first and foremost. He led with love, not hate. His primary aim was not to change laws, but to change people, and make a unified nation out of divided races.
Conservatives did not, and do not, agree with all of King’s political positions. They think King looked too much to government, too much to the welfare state, and not sufficiently to entrepreneurial capitalism, to win economic opportunity for African Americans.
But there was a deeply conservative message throughout King’s life that neo-socialists find offensive. Be it new political celebrities like Rep. Alexandria Ortega-Cortez and “The Squad” of freshmen legislators, or grizzled ones like presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, their embracement of King is hollow.
They have turned King into a four-word sentence — “I have a dream” — tied to his hope that someday his “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.”
Eddie Glaudie, the chair of Princeton University’s Center For African American Studies, believes both parties have misused King over the decades. He calls the MLK holiday “an annual act of disremembering.”
“Even President Obama in his last State of the Union of Address invoked King’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech after celebrating America’s military might and proclaiming his willingness to hunt and kill our country’s enemies,” Glaudie wrote. “A domesticated King, in Obama’s hands, only urged us to reach for our better angels in our politics — not as human beings.”
King was no stalwart Conservative, yet his core beliefs, such as the power and necessity of faith-based association and self-government based on absolute truth and moral law, are profoundly conservative. Modern Liberalism rejects these ideas, while Conservatives place them at the center of their philosophy.
For King, a just law was “a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.”
”King believed in a fixed moral law, an anathema to moral relativists espousing subjective values,” wrote Heritage Foundation Researcher Carolyn Garris. “He required that his followers lead moral lives, and he emphasized the importance of faith in the face of adversity. Modern liberalism has rebuffed this teaching, dedicating great effort to silence religion and morality.”
In today’s political jargon, King’s movement would be called “faith-based.” His coalition was unambiguously religious, rooted in churches and Christian values. The staunchly secular groups that now stump for government action in the name of “social justice” eschew religion.
“The heart of the conservatism has always been grassroots movement, from the bottom up rather than from the top down, focused on faith-based and community associations,” Garris explains. “While Liberals who claim King’s legacy seek to mandate social change from the nation’s capital, Conservatives seek to empower communities, associations and congregations to carry out moral ends.”
Bill Bennett — Secretary of Education under President Reagan, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Bush and former Chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities — was teaching philosophy at the University of Southern Mississippi when King was killed.
Bennett, an expert on King and a friend of the King family, held a teach-in to honor King that night. He was physically beaten up for his views. He has shared a telling story with audiences about how King might view the secular interpretation that neo-socialists are selling of his legacy.
“King said this over and over and over again — he was not primarily a social activist, he was primarily a minister of the Christian faith, whose faith informed and directed his political beliefs,” Bennett said.
“I had the opportunity to go to the King Center two years in a row when I was in government. Coretta Scott King invited me down and I made this point both times, and both times she said, ‘Thank you for making this point. This is somehow an embarrassment for a lot of people — that Martin was a minister.’
The great divide between today’s liberals and King is also extremely political.
As a young man, King arduously studied history’s greatest political and philosophical thinkers. He believed in the principles of the America’s foundation. “We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom,” he said.
It is true that, throughout American history, racism has and does threaten that goal. However, King believed that the America’s founders had set the nation on the right course. Unlike today’s neo-socialists, he did not reject the principles of our nation because struggles endured. Instead, he hoped that racial groups would put aside their differences and acknowledge the principles that unite all Americans.
Conservatives stand with King as believers that the principles of America’s founding are as relevant today as in 1776. In a nation divided by cultural diversity, it is Conservatives that defend and celebrate the characteristics that we share as Americans. Identity politics and ruling by division are the stuff of today’s Liberals.