Ethan: Care to pass on any thoughts about what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has meant to you? Beyond his creating a more perfect union for those who were left out of our founders’ vision, his ability to inspire people to confront oppression is what I find so awe-inspiring.
Phil: For me, history continues to reveal King’s gift of unleashing the power of the human spirit. Remember, at the time of his greatest work, baby boomers were just becoming adults. Free love, drugs and anti-establishment demonstrators clashed daily with President Lyndon Johnson. Vietnam raged. The Cold War intensified. The Chicago riots erupted at the Democratic National Convention. In the midst of America coming to grips with itself, King separated himself from this chaos through his faith-based, peaceful approach, proving that one can overcome without destroying what is.
Ethan: Except that he did destroy. Thankfully, he destroyed a significant piece of America’s legal and systemic racism.
Phil: My point was that his accomplishments are more remarkable because he didn’t bomb, burn or blackmail. I wonder how he would look at our country today. Do you think he imagined seeing a black president in our life times?
Ethan: I expect he did. He was a visionary who wouldn’t let his dreams be compromised. If he were alive today, I believe he would be proud of our electing Barack Obama, but he would also see how much work still needs to be accomplished.
Phil: I believe he would be disturbed by the number of people oppressed by government. Alarmed that jobs where ordinary people could earn a decent living have been chased, regulated and legislated out of Maine and America.
Ethan: It sounds like you think MLK would be a Republican.
Phil: Certainly when it comes to taking ownership of your efforts, self-reliance and overcoming obstacles. You may not be old enough to remember, but it was your party that mostly stood in the way of civil rights for African-Americans.
Ethan: Well, it was southern Democrats who stood in the way. Northern Democrats were solidly pro-civil rights. But the anti-equality southern Democrats of 50 years ago are your anti-equality Republicans of today. For my money, there is no chance King would choose to belong to a party that is currently against LGBT rights and opposed to humane immigration policy and that has tolerated bigotry against an African-American president.
Phil: Why do you label the actions of a few as representative of all Republicans? It makes for great political contrast, but you know better.
Ethan: Is it incorrect to say that the Republican Party has not embraced LGBT rights? Is it incorrect to say Republicans are standing in the way of immigration reform? Is it incorrect to say they stood virtually silent in the face of xenophobic birther attacks trying to de-legitimize Obama’s presidency?
Phil: I can’t speak for others, but as a proud Republican I support equal marriage, believe in legal immigration, and am proud that America elected an African-American as our president (although I am deeply disappointed in how he has governed).
Ethan: As I have often said, you are one of the few reasonable Republicans left on the planet. But, unfortunately, you do not come close to reflecting the rest of your party.
Phil: You just latch on to the outliers as your example of all Republicans (such as Erick Bennett running against Sen. Susan Collins). But King would know better. He would stand up and speak up for the common person who just wants to go to work, raise a family and pull himself up by his own bootstraps — a true tenet of the Republican Party.
Ethan: As King said, “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” So, while King certainly agreed with self-help and self-reliance, he also understood the underbelly of capitalism and the need for government to intervene. This is something Republicans rarely acknowledge or act upon.
Phil: King believed in the content of character, not the color of skin. He believed in equal opportunity, not preferential treatment. He wanted government oppression, which he experienced firsthand, to get out of the way.
Ethan: Oh, please. King believed in the essential role that government must play in leveling the playing field. He spoke of the injustice of freeing slaves and providing nothing for them once the shackles were cut. He spoke of income inequality 50 years ago, and, sadly, he would still be speaking about it today.
Phil: For me, I look at his deeds. He skipped two years of high school and enrolled in college at 15. He won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 35, the youngest recipient ever. He even won a Grammy for his oratory skills. If he could accomplish these things in the era of oppression in which he lived, we can certainly have high expectations for everyone. That is certainly what most Republicans believe, and that is why I believe he would be a Republican.
Ethan: Well, I certainly don’t know if he would be a Democrat, as my party has failed on many fronts to embrace the radicalism of his message, but I am pretty sure your party is even further from that truth.