Thursday, August 29, 2013

Contra Leonard Pitts Jr., MLK's "Dream" is Akin to the Right, Not the Left

Among the many commentaries on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech is Living in a Time of Moral Cowardice by the Miami Herald's Leonard Pitts Jr. 

Pitts cites the obvious progress toward racial equality that has occurred but also laments those "white people — not all — [who] smugly but incorrectly pronounce all racial problems solved."

Pitts cites Rand Paul, who, after coming "under fire for questioning the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, . . . wanted it known that he’d have marched with King had he been of age. And he probably believes that."

Pitts derides Paul for his "fake courage," and goes on to say:

More galling, it is an era of such cognitive incoherence that conservatives — acolytes of the ideology against which King struggled all his life — now routinely claim ownership of his movement and kinship with his cause.

Exactly what "ideology against which King struggled all his life" is Pitts talking about? Pitt doesn't say, but he undoubtedly is referring to capitalism. But it is socialism, not capitalism, that is implicitly inconsistent with the essence of what King told America on August 28, 1963. 

King explicitly stated that his dream "is . . . deeply rooted in the American dream." Is there any doubt that the American dream is deeply rooted in the Declaration of Independence, a document in which King grounds his speech and from which he quotes the essence of? And what is the essence of free market capitalism, if not the principles stated in the Declaration of Independence?

True, King later turned to "democratic socialism," in direct opposition to his own stated reverence for the Declaration. But no such antipathy toward capitalism, implied or explicit, is evidenced in his Dream speech. I'm not a King scholar, but it's not at all obvious, judging from his speech, that King was a life-long anti-capitalist.

Pitts apparently forgets or evades the fact that King and most African-Americans 50 years ago were Republicans—a legacy of the GOP's abolitionist origins—and that racism resided mostly on the Democrat side. If any side has a right to "claim ownership of his movement and kinship with his cause," it is conservatives and/or the Right, at least in the movement's earlier incarnation as a fighter for equality before the law.

I left these comments, via Facebook:

Parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ARE unconstitutional—the parts in which the government overstepped its constitutional bounds and banned private discrimination. This violated the broader unalienable right to freedom of association.

Individual rights don't guarantee that every individual will act rationally. Rights do guarantee the freedom to fight back civilly and non-violently—to "organize, agitate, educate and work with fresh determination." Remove the laws that sanction and promote segregation and racial discrimination—as the 1964 Act also did—and racists and irrationalists can be defeated and marginalized through First Amendment activism, free economic competition, reason, and courage. Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickie proved that. They didn't need government's help, because government wasn't in the way to begin with.

King prominently and properly drew on the moral principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Founders because he knew that those ideals were not, any more than his dream, some "vague, airy vision." In fact, his dream embodied those ideals. Those ideals are relevant for all people at all times—they're always relevant in the here and now. We should protect those unalienable rights, even if—indeed especially if—it means protecting the rights of scoundrels. That's what "unalienable" means. When you fight for your rights by violating the rights of others, you negate your own fight and all rights. As King said, the rights of others are "inextricably bound to our freedom."

I refuse to believe King's reference to America's Founding principles was mere window dressing. 

Once you go down the path of violating rights to correct some wrong, the negative unintended consequences could be devastating. Regarding anti-discrimination laws targeted against the private sector,Title IX and Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act are examples of this.  Among the consequences;—the lowering of "discriminatory" residential lending standards, which contributed mightily to the sub-prime mortgage crisis and Great Recession; the unjust devastation of men's college sports under Title IX; and now the violation of religious freedom of wedding venue providers who are forced to hold gay weddings against their religious convictions.

It's easy to say your for rights in the abstract, since one probably has in mind virtuous people. But the real test of your commitment to rights is when you have to defend the worst practitioners of rights. Voltaire is said to have uttered: "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." This sentiment is relevant to all rights. We forget what "unalienable" means at our peril.

Despite King's turn away from individual rights in his later activism, Liberty lovers owe him a debt of gratitude for so strongly reaffirming the principles of the Declaration of Independence. Like the Declaration, King's words can never be erased, no matter how hard the Left tries to distort them. 

On some level, King recognized that the Declaration of Independence is the essence of America. Some day, King might be primarily remembered for revering America's promise  "that all men -- yes, black men as well as white men -- would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," rather than a promise of an eternal something for nothing.

Related Reading:

The Declaration of Independence

Rand Paul, Title 2, and the Importance of Principles

Property Rights and Title 2

Beneath the Title IX Contraversy

Obamanomics and the Ghost of Title 2

Title 2: Government vs. Private Action

Why Obama Administration Shouldn't Use Title IX to Balance Math Classes, by Kyle Smith

Title IX at 40: Looking for Another "National Crisis", by Vicki E. Alger

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