Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Something Making You Uncomfortable?

Martin Luther King, Jr. was an almost unparalleled political force in this country. His contributions to the concepts of human rights, human dignity, non-violent protest, economic opportunity for all, defense of the downtrodden and peaceful co-existence with all of humanity - all delivered with a uniquely inspiring brand of spine tingling oratory - sent shockwaves beyond our shores to inform political discourse around the world. Honestly, is it possible to listen to one of King's speeches without getting goose bumps?

His wife Coretta, like so many of history's great underappreciated accomplices, was an integral and indispensable part of that legacy - often enduring the same level of hostility, raw malice, threat, danger and governmental scrutiny as Martin (via illegal wiretaps and FBI-hatched plots to tear down the couple) while somehow maintaining a reservoir of strength to carry on the fight herself and prop up Martin and others throughout the Civil Rights movement.

Her story, and his story, were political stories. Lives emdodying the best in us: our ability to stand up against insurmountable odds to turn back the forces of oppression. Their courage and sacrifice, and the bravery of so many now anonymous co-crusaders who surrounded them, is beyond humbling.

That Coretta Scott King was treated as a queen at her memorial service was only fitting - and in a certain sense it provided this nation a rare opportunity to attempt to correct the ignominious official slights her husband received at his funeral (no presidents in attendance) after dying a martyr for the aforementioned political causes. So it should come as no surprise that against the backdrop of Coretta Scott King's life, and with Martin's presence pervading the room, that some of her close friends and admirers would bring up her life's passion: the improvement of the lives of the oppressed, the spread of peace, the rule of law and the continuing struggle for equality and the vanquishing of hate.

That was, after all, so much of what animated the Kings. That some of this political discussion should take on a tone critical of certain of President Bush's current policies is only natural and should be expected by all. Bush's economic policies that seek to remove tax liabilities from the absolute wealthiest Americans while shifting the burden to working people, combined with the slashing of social services and other safety net programs in place to help those who are struggling to rise up out of poverty or who are aged, infirmed, minors or otherwise incapable of managing on their own, are anathema to the message and life of Coretta and Martin.

The speech by President Bush in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in which he rather uncharacteristically acknowledged the legacy of poverty, though commendable, has quickly faded into the background as more "pressing" concerns (such as making those multi-trillion dollar tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans permanent) have eclipsed Bush's egalitarian moment. Just to remind you of Bush's homage to the lifetime struggles of Coretta and Martin:

As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.
With that type of lead-in, you can understand why Coretta and her fellow travelers might be feeling a bit underwhelmed by the follow through of "bold action" so lacking in boldness and action.

Further, Bush's doctrine of elective, preventitive wars runs contrary to the Kings' message of Christian peaceful resolution of conflicts - saving war for absolute last resorts and in certain prescribed scenarios. And in a bit of cruel historical irony not lost on many of the speakers and attendees at Coretta's memorial, the Kings were themselves targets of illegal government wiretaps that were initiated in the interest of "vital national security" as part of the claimed executive branch's wartime powers.

And so, some of the speakers chose to pay homage to Coretta (and by extension Martin) by highlighting her life's work, her driving passion, her raison d'etre. They took the opportunity to make her and Martin proud by moving the struggle ever forward.

But this form of tribute to Coretta and Martin upset many on the right including Michelle Malkin, Glenn Reynolds and the host of bitter bloggers they link to, respectively. Look, I understand that some of the criticisms of Bush hit home, and that they are making conservatives a little uncomfortable, but to suggest that raising extremely relevant political issues at Coretta Scott King's memorial service was somehow inappropriate is ludicrous. This is Coretta Scott King we're talking about. C-o-r-e-t-t-a S-c-o-t-t K-i-n-g. That would be like complaining that family and friends brought up music at Elvis's funeral, movies at Alfred Hitchcock's wake or baseball when the Bambino was laid to rest. How odd.

When someone dedicates their life, and sacrifices all that Coretta sacrificed, for a noble cause, you don't just ignore that at her funeral because the substance of those remembrances might make some hypersensitive conservatives feel a little uncomfortable. Sorry folks. Live with it. Or better yet, why don't you take this opportunity to reassess some of your beliefs in light of the concerns raised by Coretta's close friends, co-workers, peers and family.

Eric Muller makes this point rather succinctly - with photographic aids that should prove helpful for the selectively amnesiac in the punditry.

Scott Lemieux also makes a good point:

...there's also a staggering degree of presumptuousness involved in other people telling her family and friends what kind of funeral they should have.
Yeah. Do you suppose that Coretta or Martin looking down from heaven (if there is a heaven, there are few more deserving of membership) would have been offended? Their daughter was in attendance, as were an extensive array of family and friends (ranging from confidants to acquaintances), and they weren't offended. In fact, they were partaking in the very same political discussion that has drawn the ire of the Malkins, Reynolds's and other variations of the same. Again, how odd.

Nevertheless, Glenn Reynolds does his part to point out how wrong Coretta's family and close friends were, and how they just don't understand the Civil Rights movement. Lucky for us - and more importantly lucky for them - Glenn Reynolds is here to explain to those poor misguided folks what the movement is really about:

And this post by Eric Muller only serves to underline the very point it attempts to refute. The problem with today's Democrats is that they try to invest the naked hunger for power with the dignity of the civil rights movement, a dignity that they no longer possess because it was based on a self-discipline that they no longer possess.
Naked hunger for power? Because Jimmy Carter joined Coretta's family and friends in discussing the political aspects of Coretta's life and how best to honor her life going forward? Hey Glenn, no offense, but if I want to hear about the "dignity of the Civil Rights movement" I'll take my cues from the family and close friends of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King. I could be wrong here, and totally out of line, but it just seems intuitive that they might (maybe) have a better handle on it than you.

And it should be pointed out that the Civil Rights movement is not a past event that is over and done with, something you can freeze in time, revise, sanitize, neuter, coopt and put on a hallmark card for posterity's sake. It's still going on Glenn - still full of dignity and righteousness, still confronting ignorance, hate and suffering. And if those in this movement like Coretta Scott King and her family and closest friends feel aligned with certain Democratic politicians, policies and principles, and they decide to speak up about it, maybe they know something that you don't. And maybe, just maybe, they are rational adults capable of deciding for themselves what is and isn't an appropriate setting for political discussion - however inconvenient or unsettling that prospect may be for you, Michelle and your fellow conservatives.

Not to get all presumptuous or anything.

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