Sitting here listening to some right winger on the radio tell me what Martin Luther King would have really believed if he’d lived, I am reminded of the time I attended a young Republicans conference ten years ago or so. I had lunch at a table of very pleasant young people, one of whom explained to me in all earnestness that her father had been in law enforcement and had the inside story — the wiretapping and harassment of MLK wasn’t due to any disagreement anyone had with his message, it was due to the fact that outside agitators followed him around and caused all sorts of trouble. Law enforcement was simply trying to protect Dr. King.

Basically, Republicans will fight social progress tooth and nail until it becomes inevitable, then try to claim credit for it. In fifty years, when this nation inevitably has a single-payer health care system, health savings accounts will be long forgotten, and Sean Hannity’s progeny will be braincasting cherry-picked facts which “prove” that the Republican party supported single payer from the very start.

Anyway, if MLK had lived, do you really think the Republican party would embrace him quite so wholeheartedly? Imagine him as a guest on Hannity’s radio show:

HANNITY: Welcome to the show, Reverend. You’ve said some pretty outrageous things about the war in Iraq. Do you think America is a force for good in the world or for evil?

KING: Well, Sean, I think it’s more complicated than that–

HANNITY: Good or evil?? Which is it, Dr. King? Good–or EVIL?

KING: Sean, I–

HANNITY: I’m not going to let you change the subject! This is MY show! Now answer the question — is America good or evil?

KING: Sean, you can’t just–

HANNITY (to engineer): Pot him down — cut his mic. With all due respect, Reverend, I’m not going to let you dodge the question. Why won’t you just admit that you hate America? Why don’t you have the decency to admit that you hate this country and everything we stand for?

Etc., etc.

Update: a reader sends a link to this clip from last night’s Boondocks, with pretty much the same riff. (Just to be clear, I didn’t see the show — I was busy watching Jack Bauer’s latest exploits. That guy sure gets a lot done in the space of an hour, doesn’t he?)

…Rick Perlstein emails:

And wouldn’t you know it, at the time they blamed King for his own assassination.

Reagan after the King assassination: it was just the sort of “great tragedy that began when we began compromising with law and order, and people started choosing which laws they’d break.”

Strom Thurmond: “We are now witnessing the whirlwind sowed years ago when some preachers and teachers began telling people that each man could be his own judge in his own case.”

… Dennis Perrin is working the same beat:

As the British Labour leader Aneurin Bevan put it, reaction loves to wear the medals of its defeats; and you cannot move far in rightwing bloggoland without seeing puffy chests festooned with plastic medals and gaudy ribbon. Judging from some of the reactionary takes on King, you’d think that the late Civil Rights leader was always celebrated as a fine fellow, a decent American, and if the Heritage Foundation is to be believed, a conservative who would, had he lived, doubtless stump for the likes of Bush/Cheney. This is a collective effort of ideological ass-covering. The National Review at the time not only was hostile to King, it editorially supported state’s rights in the South when Civil Rights workers were being beaten and murdered. To much of the American right of the 1950s-60s, King was a commie race-mixing agitator who sought to undermine if not destroy the American system. And when King began speaking out against the Vietnam War and the capitalist assault on the poor, the Liberal Media, which patted King’s head after Selma, turned decidedly against him.