"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.'"
Martin Luther King was a conservative. Just ask the conservative Heritage Foundation's Matthew Spalding. "Dr. King embraced not multiculturalism but the Western tradition of knowledge, wisdom and faith, reaching back through the likes of Reinhold Niebuhr, John Locke, and Martin Luther to Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, and Plato. And he firmly embraced this nation and its commitment to ideals rooted in that great tradition."
Let's see. How was again that Aristotle and Plato were reintroduced to the west after theocrats turned out the lights of knowledge for that little period known as the dark ages? That's right. Muslim scholars preserved the ancient Greek wisdom bureaucratic theocracy ruled irrelevant. If the west had not benefitted from exposure to other cultures and if there had not been open-minded thinkers like Galileo there would have been no renaissance and no age of enlightenment.
Nor would there have been born the vision of liberalism wherein each person has the God-given rights to pursue happiness and liberty as opposed to being mere pawns to serve the nobles of state and church. If America's original conservatives had gotten their way, we would still be bowing to the king, paying taxes on our tea and swearing an oath of allegiance to the official church in order to hold office.
As to the liberal ideals this nation is rooted in, let George Washington explain that regarding the religion of immigrants that for Washington "If they are good workmen, . . . they may be Mohammedans, Jews, or Christians of any sect, or they may be atheists."
Martin Luther King certainly had the same vision. After all, in 1967 Dr. King nominated Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, for the Nobel Peace Prize. Rev. King wrote that he did "personally know of anyone more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle Buddhist monk from Vietnam . . . [who had been] "cruelly separated from his own people while they are oppressed by a vicious war which has grown to threaten the sanity and security of the entire world." Dr. King wrote that Vietnam's history was full of "exploitation by outside powers and corrupted men of wealth . . ." He also said that applying Thich Nhat Hanh's ideas for peace "would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity." So much for Dr. King being a conservative opposed to multiculturism.
As to capitalism, Dr. King wrote that "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 synthesis that combines the truth of both. 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 synthesis of communism and capitalism does not seem to be a conservative value.
Liberals should be flattered at the size of the whoppers neo-conservatives have to tell. Being at such at a disadvantage in the open marketplace of ideas, conservatives realize that they need special modifications to the rules in order to win. For example, they know that they can't destroy the legacy of Dr. King. They might have done everything within their power to stop him when he was alive and slander him as an un-American communist. But now that he is immortal, they are limited to the time-honored hypocrisy of claiming him as their very own.
Geoffrey Nunberg shows in his new book "Talking Right" how the new cons have claimed King, liberal values and even the very language as their very own. In other words, Nunberg tells how wolves have learned to talk sheep. Even now the right has to talk in terms of the civil rights movement as if right wing Christians are a persecuted minority. Even though they might be heartless, they at least got to sound nice and mouth catchy phrases like compassionate conservatism.
Granted, the right has been right snappy with their jingoes. "America: Love or Leave It" is a lot better than "America: Stay and Exemplify It." Even the best liberal bumper sticker I've seen lately - "Stop Mad Cowboy Disease" - is a negative declaration. Liberals often sound like footnotes to footnotes.
Fortunately, Nunberg has a rare quality as a linguist. He can write in basic English unlike Noam Chomsky who routinely writes sentences of more than eighty words and paragraphs so long that you need a syllabus to span the breadth. Nunberg explains that liberals have come to be seen as negative, arrogant and out of touch. Which, of course, is truly unfortunate in that the majority of Americans support liberal values. That is, provided the positions are not called liberal. The overwhelming majority of Americans want guaranteed health care. They want peace. They want fairness and a clean environment. They also don't want to be called liberal.
Politicians have been running from the label at least since the defeat of George McGovern back in 1972. But it was only the right that was attacking liberalism. Leftists did more than their fair share. Remember the term limousine liberal and how leftists used it to describe anyone that didn't toe the line of correct political thought? Both the right and extreme left threw out the baby of liberalism.
So does it really come as any surprise that the right is currently able to get away with claiming the legacy of Dr. King and the civil rights movement? Practically every issue the neo-conservatives champion came from liberals. Values originated as a touchy-feely term way back when. Spreading democracy was never big among traditionalist conservatives who were so isolationist that they didn't even want to intervene with Hitler.
Because the neo-cons are currently in power doesn't mean that they have won the cultural war they cooked up. Even Pat Buchanan told Time that the right cannot win the cultural wars. Buchanan is right, but for the wrong reasons. The right can't defeat truth any more that theocracy could keep buried forever Aristotle and Plato. Back then the theocrats had almost absolute control of all information and exchange of ideas. Even then, they couldn't keep the truth down forever. They couldn't keep a lid on our yearning for liberty and full expression of whom we are as individuals and what we are capable of doing together without having the masters order us around like pawns. Nor, no matter how much the current crop of hypocrites have ripped off the language, can they defeat the basic liberalism of the vast majority of Americans.
No matter what the neo-cons say, this is our country and we're not going anywhere. Liberals were the original patriots, the people who ended slavery, got women the vote and saved our forefathers from starving in the great depression brought on by country club conservatives. We're the ones who fought for your right to speak your mind and determine your own fate. A fair day's pay for a fair day's work is still what we mean by economic freedom and not freedom for corporations to do whatever they want to us. Not the church, not corporations, not political parties but a government of, by and for the people is still the liberal call to action.