As we head towards the 50thanniversary of the March on Washington, it is worth pausing for a second to solidly stake out the fact that Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of the left.
For years the right has sought to either de-politicize Rev. King or expunge his leftist sentiment from the public record. We are told time and again that King was somehow beyond ideology and that his quest for civil rights and justice didn’t deal in politics.
Rev. King was a liberal. A dyed in the wool liberal. He was on the left. He favored liberal solutions and liberal policies. He wasn’t a centrist, moderate, on the center-left or God forbid anywhere near the right. HE WAS A LIBERAL.
The first, and worst counterargument to King’s liberalism often relies on conservatives assuming that people are either stupid, ignorant or unwilling to challenge their perversion of history. They claim that since the most vehement of opposition to King was often rooted in the Democratic party, while he had support in the Republican party, as proof that he was on the left.
This is absurd because it pretends that both parties occupied the same positions on the left-right spectrum in 1963 that they do today. In fact, as anyone who has ever cracked open a history book understands, the Democrats had a contingent of southern racists while the Republicans had northeastern liberals.
It just happens that it was the movement led by Rev. King and others that helped to remake the two parties. Lyndon Johnson – a Democrat – signed the Civil Rights Act into law, and the racist Dixiecrats soon found themselves on the outside of the party. Similarly, the conservative takeover of the Republican Party – liberal Rockefeller lost the nomination in favor of Goldwater – moved that party to the right. Soon the Dixiecrats found a resting place in the GOP while liberals became a part of the Democratic Party.
But back to King.
If he had lived until today, I doubt he would be happy with the Democratic party in many ways. Based on his ideology, King would see a party much too tied to the center-left than the left. He would probably be elated to see Obama elected to the presidency, but be disappointed by his policies on a host of issues, including economics, foreign policy, and other domestic policies.
Because Martin Luther King Jr. was a liberal. He opposed war. He supported income redistribution. He supported jobs programs, government spending, and on and on and on. He was a man of the left, and don’t you dare forget it.