Earlier this year, Fox News televangelist Glenn Beck spent several months making a mockery of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
In the build-up to his 8-28 Restoring Honor rally, Beck repeatedly tried to co-opt King's legacy and portray himself and his followers as the true torchbearers of King and the civil rights movement.
In her new book America by Heart, Sarah Palin continues this shameful tradition by using MLK's words to attack Obama for seeking a "fundamental transformation" of our country. After (approvingly) citing then-candidate Obama's speech on race during the 2008 presidential campaign, Palin writes:
My only wish is that President Obama would follow through on this hopeful view of America. To want a better and brighter future for our country does not mean a rejection of our founding or a "fundamental transformation" of who we are. Instead it means following, in part, the wisdom of the most powerful American voice for civil rights of the twentieth century, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Famously, Dr. King called not for a rejection of America's founding principles, but for America to "rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed." [America by Heart, pg 32]
In a rare moment in which Palin and I agree wholeheartedly, she claims on the next page "it's a shame that not everyone wants to quote Dr. King these days."
Aside from repeatedly quoting King's "I Have a Dream speech" - while removing it from the historical context of the culmination of a march on Washington by civil rights and labor leaders not only to combat racial injustice, but also calling for massive federal intervention in the economy to fight economic injustice - conservatives like Palin and Beck like to ignore the balance of King's writings and speeches.
First of all, Palin spends much of her book railing against big government and spending, joining Beck in decrying people who want "handouts." King, on the other hand, spent much of his life explicitly calling for the government to fight poverty by redistributing our nation's wealth; called for an economic bill of rights guaranteeing a job to all Americans; wanted the government to ensure a "guaranteed national income"; and called for our country to "place the problems of the poor at the seat of government of the wealthiest nation in the history of mankind."
Further, Palin's invocation of King in this particular context is inane. She claims that Obama wants a "fundamental transformation" of our country, which puts him at odds with MLK. But in his last address as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King said that the civil rights movement "must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society."
I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where do we go from here," that we honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, "Who owns the oil?" You begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?" You begin to ask to the question, "Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?" These are questions that must be asked.
Now, don't think you have me in a "bind" today. I'm not talking about communism.
What I'm saying to you this morning is that communism forgets that life is individual. Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis. It is found in a higher synthesis that combines the truth of both. Now, when I say question the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.
[A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., Page 250]
As reported by author Nick Kotz in his book, Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Laws That Changed America, King also called for a "radical redistribution of economic power" to be achieved by the nation "spending billions of dollars" - a concept that is anathema to everything Palin purports to stand for.
Indeed, "it's a shame that not everyone wants to quote Dr. King these days."