U.S. Intellectual History Blog

And the 2015 Ward Connerly Award Goes to….

Today is Martin Luther King Day, a time for many of us to enjoy a day off from work or school, for some of us to reflect on the legacy of Dr. King, and for still others of us to tendentiously claim that Dr. King would support our pet political causes, however far they may have been from his actual beliefs. As the old conservative habit of attacking King as a Communist or worse begins to fade, the misappropriations of his legacy become more common. As Scott Lemieux notes over on Lawyers, Guns, and Money, most of these take the form of ripping a single line from the “I Have a Dream” speech out of context and using it to suggest that King was dedicated to the proposition that any discussion of race constitutes racism. But some of the appropriations of King are more creative than that. Occasionally they are even from the “left,” like Jeh Johnstone, now Secretary of Homeland Security, then General Counsel to the Department of Defense, arguing in 2011 that Dr. King would have supported America’s current wars.

It is to these more interesting misuses of King that I like to grant the Ward Connerly Award for Martin Luther King, Jr., Revisionism, named after the former University of California regent who has dedicated most of his public life to destroying civil rights in the name of civil rights.

There were lots of worthy entrants this year. Though he’s just playing a particularly, er, colorful version of the old talking-about-race-is-racism card, it’s hard not to recognize self-described cowboy conservative “Wild Bill” Finley claiming King for the Tea Party. And convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza pictured himself as King in a tweet:

The National Center for Public Policy Research also deserves some sort of special award for offering media outlets a speakers’ bureau of African American conservatives willing to lie about King’s legacy.

But this year’s Ward Connerly Award winner is the anti-immigration group Californians for Population Stabilization, which is appropriating King in a way that, I suspect will be more common over the next few years: to “fight illegal immigration [and] Obama amnesty.” The genius of the CAPS press release (and thirty-second tv spot that it touts) is that it does not even bother to provide evidence that King would have opposed “illegals.” It simply asserts it. CAPS has thrown down the gauntlet for future Connerly aspirants: who even needs that sentence ripped from the “I Have a Dream” speech to claim King for one’s cause?