I’ve got to hand it to the GOP and a couple of centrist Democrats - they certainly know how to misinterpret and misrepresent the message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in an effort to promote their retrograde agendas.

It never fails, almost like clockwork, some politician will echo (arrogantly and without shame) a select passage of the iconic speech that the late civil rights leader delivered during the March on Washington in 1963: "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

It was a profound comment to be sure. And, indeed, every morally requisite human being should adopt and unapologetically embrace its values. The problem is many members in the two aforementioned categories fail to “practice what they preach," choosing instead to engage in antics that embody the antithesis of such traits.

The most recent is newly inaugurated Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who shamelessly employed all sorts of disturbing sorts of dog whistles in his gubernatorial campaign. Youngkin perversely used King’s words to advocate for parent’s choice in public schools, issuing an executive order to justify his ban on critical race theory in K-12 education.

“We must equip our teachers to teach our students the entirety of our history — both good and bad … Only then will we realize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that our children ‘will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,’ ” Youngkin's executive order states.

Several months earlier, it was Florida governor and much talked about potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis who incorrectly cited the civil rights leader. DeSantis stood before his state legislature with a straight face and declared that his reason for invoking his STOP W.O.K.E. Act, a law that grants parents permission to sue teachers caught teaching critical race theory in Florida public schools, was “to honor the spirit and values of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

Yes, you read that correctly.

I wonder if King were alive today, would he have advocated to direct such hostility and disingenuous outrage toward any form of education that taught kids to learn about the history of its people regardless of whether the truth that emerged from such information turned out to be either good, bad or ugly? You can’t make this stuff up! This is political theater of the obscene.

The gross misinterpretation of King’s message doesn’t end with Republicans — they have kindred spirits in the Democratic party who enjoy playing similar games. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who has pretty much thumbed her nose at every segment of the progressive wing of her party, stated that John Lewis, the late congressmen for who the voting rights bill is named, along with King were her personal heroes. Go figure.

Perhaps she feels that the most effective and laudatory way to support the legacy of both men is to politically align herself with Republican senators like Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell to protect the filibuster (a long held relic of Jim Crow) rather than pass legislation designed to protect the right to vote for Black people.

It should not go without saying that in his landmark article “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” King made it clear that he reserved the majority of his frustration with the white moderate.

The truth is that most of Republican politicians would have likely mercilessly attacked King and everything he stood for tooth and nail had they been in congress during his time on Earth. He would have been lumped in with Black Lives Matter, a big government liberal, and referred to in other terms by this group of men and women to indicate their disdain for his progressive and humanitarian values.

The truth is King would have opposed virtually all the retrograde values these individuals embrace in his name.


Copyright 2022 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.