Mythy Memories of the March that Was
This past week there was a commemoration on the 50th anniversary of what was then called the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" and which is now referred to more simply but incorrectly as "the March on Washington." To many of us, the commemoration, which drew about one fifth of the estimated crowd, was a reminder of how low the present civil rights movement has fallen in our esteem in these five decades; how much of a left wing anti-Republican Democratic myth-generating operation it is and how necessary it is for its organizers to undermine the very tenets of King's dream for colorblind society in order to keep their gravy train on the rails.
It was convened and led by Al Sharpton, who uses the title "Reverend" before his name although he never attended divinity school. Sharpton came into prominence in 1988 as the advocate of Tawana Brawley, a teenaged black girl who claimed to have been kidnapped and raped by white men, when in fact she was merely afraid to go home to her stepfather, a convicted killer. The man who served as Sharpton's assistant during the first four months of the affair later quoted Sharpton as exulting, "We beat this, we will be the biggest niggers in New York." Eventually, a jury found Sharpton guilty of having defamed one of the accused white men, awarding substantial damages. Since then, Sharpton has made a career as what black columnist Jonathan Capehart calls a "racial ambulance chaser," highlighted by a campaign against a white store owner in Harlem that culminated in an arson attack in which eight died. Although he denies any responsibility for violence, the formal slogan of Sharpton's National Action Network is menacing: "No justice, no peace." Sharpton's agenda has never been difficult to discern. NAN's homepage is graced with a photo of King, one of President Barack Obama, one of Trayvon Martin, and three of "Reverend Al." I have said that the Big Six were men who would never glorify themselves on the backs of their people; Sharpton, in contrast, never passes up an opportunity to do so. Nonetheless, the various reputable civil-rights groups, or rather their empty shells, as well as some labor unions and other organizations, fell in line behind Sharpton's call.
Thus continues the perverse appropriation of the memory of one of the greatest moments in American history-itself the culmination of one of the greatest episodes-when hundreds of thousands of black and white citizens came together peacefully and in dignity and succeeded in putting an end to the worst evil besides slavery that has ever blighted our land.
The list of invitees reflected the devolution of the movement into hucksters and Democratic party shills. For example, Caroline Kennedy was on the stage, though two years earlier she had released for publication her mother's taped interviews with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., made in 1964, a year after the march. In those tapes, Jacqueline referred to Martin Luther King, Jr. as "terrible," "tricky," and a "phony" and reported her outrage at hearing FBI tapes of King in which he'd made fun of her husband's funeral mass and its celebrant, Cardinal Richard Cushing.
But it's apparently in Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy's and the Democratic party's interests to pretend that the Kennedys and Kings were close and to downplay not only the distance between the two families, but as well that her father had only reluctantly added, after the successful March, the employment discrimination measures to the Civil Rights Bill.
As part of the myth of Democratic and Civil Rights solidarity forever, George Romney, who had strongly supported the movement, had no representative invited to the dais. Nor did the Reagans, though it was Ronald Reagan who, contra the movie The Butler, had always been sensitive to blacks and who had signed Martin Luther King Day into law.
It is amusing to compare and contrast the Washington Post account of Republicans not present at the commemoration, where you have to read through to the 20th graph to learn that the only black U.S. senator wasn't even invited, with Mona Charen's account in the National Review.
It seems that except for health reasons, the Bushes -- father and son -- would have appeared; that despite Martin Luther King III's plaint "that we didn't have bipartisanship," few Republicans were invited, and then mostly rather late after they'd made commitments to commemorate the event elsewhere.
Charen titled her review of the event "March on Republicans." She began by noting that the Washington Post had characterized this as a "Washington Entertainment -Political-Celebrity event" and that it was organized by largely leftist groups.
Along with the failure to invite Senator Scott, she observed that Supreme Court Justice Thomas was not invited, either. She chided Speaker Boehner for not rearranging his schedule to attend despite the tardy invitation.
Not having any prominent Black Republicans in attendance played into the myth that Republicans are hostile to black people, and without any conservatives speaking, there was no one to counter the lies perpetrated there that the Supreme Court's latest ruling on the Voting Rights Act -- a small and long overdue response to changing times -- went unanswered.
(Thomas Lipscomb on Facebook expressed strong agreement with that viewpoint: "If I'd been Tim Scott I would have GONE and told the press when I was arriving. Let them keep me out and explain why to the press. WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE? Not a lick of sense or political flare in any of them, If we don't keep the contest alive, we can't blame the progressofascists for winning.")
Mona was a bit less florid in her criticism:
Republicans should never miss an opportunity to respond to this defamation, not because they expect to win black votes, but simply because it is a lie. It libels not just Republicans but America. The achievements of the civil-rights movement were bipartisan (though more Republicans voted for the civil-rights laws than Democrats). Republicans and Democrats alike recognized the injustice of Jim Crow and racial discrimination and worked to bury them.
But while many Democrats have spent the last 50 years dining out on the glories of 1965 and attempting to throw figurative white sheets over the heads of Republicans, Republicans have been searching for solutions to the post-civil-rights-era problems plaguing black America. Who has been in the forefront of what many have called "the civil-rights issue of our time" - the schools? Republican governors like Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Mary Fallin, and Bob McDonnell have all championed some form of school-choice program for low-income students.
What does everybody think No Child Left Behind was all about? Hint: It wasn't aimed at suburban kids in decent schools.
Republican or conservative-leaning businessmen and foundations, from the late Ted Forstmann to the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, from John Walton to Richard DeVos, have devoted millions of their own fortunes to providing opportunities for mostly black, inner-city kids to get a decent education and a chance at a better life.
In 2004, one of the prime movers behind the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Fund was John A. Boehner. It provided funding for thousands of District children to attend private schools - a few even got into Sidwell Friends. In 2009, President Obama attempted to defund it. Working with then-senator Joe Lieberman, Boehner was able to force it back into the budget.
None of the speakers at the march mentioned that. None would.
It isn't possible to quote the entire powerful "I had a dream" speech King delivered half a century ago because his family, unaccountably enough, has copyrighted it, but in any event, as Nicholas Rosenkranz perceptively blogged, the most notable portion of it, the portion that energized the anti-discrimination push, would be challenged in court as unconstitutional today:
Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke these immortal words: "I have a dream that my four little 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." He would have been mystified, one imagines, by the question presented in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action: "Whether a state violates the Equal Protection Clause by amending its constitution to prohibit race- and sex-based discrimination or preferential treatment in public-university admissions decisions."
Colorblindness was an admirable goal in the 1960s, but nowadays it threatens an entire, lucrative, industry.