April 08, 2008

(The following, time-sensitive text was prepared before the firestorm erupted over my announcement that paleoconservatism may be approaching the condition in which Nietzsche placed his maker. A detailed response to some of the insightful comments that my remarks about the changing American Right elicited will be offered next week. PG)

Last Friday the New York Post (April 4, 2008) had in its commentary section several tributes to Martin Luther King, on the fortieth anniversary of his death. Pervading these tributes were depictions of our country as a cesspool of bigotry before King came along to redeem us with his (borrowed) oratory. Before MLK taught us that we are “€œto be judged by the content of our character,”€ America was suffering under the burden of “€œraw racism.”€ Because King carried out his redemptive mission, every tribute in this commentary section asserts, “€œAmerica is a far better place now than the America of 1968.”€

There are several aspects of this by now predictable neocon hagiography that warrant attention. One, the neoconservatives, when I started reading them in the 1970s, were convinced that the US was falling apart because of the “€œlawlessness”€ unleashed by the civil rights movement. But this important fact, which I bring up in my latest book, has been allowed to disappear into a memory hole. At the time of King’s death, none of the leading neoconservative journalists any more than that renowned worshipper of equality Harry Jaffa had nice things to say about King. Perhaps the present neocon leadership owes us an explanation as to why their party-line on this historical question has changed so fundamentally in the last thirty to forty years.

Two, it is simply untrue or grossly oversimplified to say that America and its black population are much better off now than they were in 1968. Although obviously a leftist news-site, MSNBC posted last Friday a far more nuanced view of King’s legacy than the New York Post. MSNBC did not try to hide either King’s personal defects or the growth of a large underclass black population with mounting social problems. In 1984 the neoconservatives, who then exhibited some intellectual honesty, showcased Charles Murray’s Losing Ground, a work whose disturbing picture of the black “€œculture of dependence”€ that had developed since the 1960s is as applicable now as it was twenty years ago. Are not the neocons sufficiently sentient to notice the disastrous disintegration of black family life and the explosion of black violence, which neither the career nor death of King did anything to mitigate?

Haven”€™t they also noticed King’s solutions to black social problems were the same or even more radically statist and redistributionist than those that Republicans are now criticizing in the speeches of Senator Obama? From his statements, it seems that King was a passionate advocate of racial quotas, which he believed the government should impose. Whatever he may have said in his Washington speech about being “€œjudged by the content of his character,”€ he also favored retribution for black, something that he thought could be paid for partly by providing blacks with privileged access to jobs and school admissions.

It is finally childish to pretend that the social policies pursued by the government and the politics of guilt, which have been around for a very long time, have nothing to do with the changed political situation of blacks starting in the 1960s. One does not have to be a fan of Southern segregation to recognize that what has taken its place is a far more widespread abuse of power than the racial situation that had existed before. We are now encountering white self-incrimination, black racist demagoguery, and the continuing extension of the designated victim list to include women, gays, Latinos, and the transgendered. Admittedly the civil rights movement did not yield the entire mind-boggling range of designated victims and victim-oriented policies which are characteristic of our updated democracy. But it would be hard to think of any of these later anti-discrimination movements making headway without the civil rights movement as an icebreaker.

Since younger neocons have no memory of a country that preceded these cataclysmic changes, what fuels their patriotism is their attachment to a society that developed in the 1960s. This is the only America that the neocons could possibly feel comfortable living in. For his present “€œmovement conservative”€ worshippers, King has a world-historical significance, having accomplished internally what the great centralizing presidents had done internationally, by killing Germans or by devastating the Southern states in the early 1860s.

One of the effects of the process the neocons are celebrating is a large, radicalized black electorate that fits easily into the left wing of the Democratic Party. It has been the longtime preoccupation of Republican spin-doctors to pull this self-consciously black mass of voters into the Republican column. Despite the supportive role the GOP played throughout the civil rights revolution, black voters have come to hate the Republican Party intensely. They have gone so far as to associate GOP politicians with slavery and segregation. The neocons who are busy embellishing King’s mythology are trying to help along the party they have taken over ideologically.  More specifically, they are hoping to convince black voters to become Republicans.

Note how Republican presidential nominee McCain railed against South Carolinians who had been insensitive enough to hoist the Stars and Bars over public buildings. As I write this piece, the same nominee has just finished delivering an address about Martin Luther King in Memphis; and from what I could pick up, McCain’s text sounded remarkably similar to certain recent commentaries in the New York Post. While still a governor in Texas, moreover, another Republican luminary, George W. Bush, gave orders to remove Confederate memorabilia from the statehouse in Austin. As president, Bush traveled uninvited to the funeral of Coretta King, where his outreach encountered jeers from the assembled black Democratic politicians.  It is not surprising that the blacks are rewarding the Republicans and neocons who lick their boots by treating them with derision. Those who render themselves contemptible by groveling do not win the respect of those they fawn on. The share of the black vote that will go to the GOP in November will not likely exceed the 8% that it garnered in 2004. But this may be poetic justice in the case of sycophants.


Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!