touched on King’s troubling associations. More damninglv, arnyoung black liberal journalist, Carl Rowan, had published anrnextended diatribe against King in Reader’s Digest in Septemberrn1967, which was widely discussed until King’s assassination inrnthe following year. According to Rowan, King had become anrnembarrassment to the civil rights cause. He was a figure with anrn”exaggerated appraisal” of his own abilities who seemed unwillingrnor unable to free himself from “subversives.” The vehemencernof his opposition to the Vietnam War came from hisrncommunist advisors, and the result of his increasingly radicalrnspeeches was King’s growing isolation from the political base hernwould need to succeed as a responsible black leader: “King hadrnbecome persona non grata to Lyndon Johnson and has alienatedrnmany of the Negro’s friends and armed his foes.” Rowan’srncaustic observations are particulariy noteworthy in view of thernleftward direction in which he later moved. Needless to say, thernvery mention of his objections about King’s character and careerrnwould today be condemned as vigorously on the right as onrnthe left.rnIndeed it might be argued that the respectable Americanrnright, consisting of neoconservatives and their dependents,rnhave praised King far more extravagantly than self-avowed liberals.rnWhile the liberal left has flitted from one black hero tornthe next, depending on its changing agenda, conservatives, byrncontrast, have stuck with King as their preferred icon. Theyrnhave associated him with the dream of equality evoked by Lincoln,rnthe Old Testament prophetic tradition of witnessingrnagainst injustice, and St. Paul’s ideal of a universal spiritualrncommunity. In one version of the King legacy offered by DanrnHimmelfarb in Commentary (May 1988), the slain civil rightsrnleader is made into the endpoint of the “Western liberal tradition.”rnThe ideas of Locke, Montesquieu, and Madison are allrnseen as flowing into King, while his critics are relegated to thernstatus of standing outside the dominant political tradition ofrnthe postmedieval West. For Kemp, Finn, Gingrich, and Jaffa,rnKing embodied the virtues of the original civil rights movement,rnbefore it descended into the advocacy of racial quotas.rnAll King supposedly wanted were federally enforced guaranteesrnfor a color-blind society. Once that was achieved, it was King’srnhope, we would all be judged by “the content of our character”rnand not by “the color of our skin.” The essential King, for hisrnconservative boosters, can be found in passages from the speechrnthat he gave during the March on Washington in August 1963rnand in the apparent references to natural law from his letterrnwritten in a I^irmingham jail earlier the same year. Allusions tornthese documents keep coming up among prominent conservativerncritics of contemporary educational fashion. Thus DineshrnD’Souza, Lynne Cheney, Roger Kimball, and Charles Sykes allrncite King as a profound Christian theologian, who would berndisappointed by our deviations from his vision of interracialrnbrotherhood. The contemporary left is accused of desecratingrnhis memory by formulating race-conscious policies and by acquiescingrnin black separatist demands.rnThe one trouble with this conservative exercise in revisionistrnhistory is its glaring counterfactualness. Unlike the descriptionsrnof King found in the work of his left-wing biographerrnDavid Carrow, those of the recent conservative movement havernno correspondence to reality. They exemplify the use of partial,rndecontextualized truth to create a desired image; a civil rightsrnmartyr who died for neoconservative values. In this fabricatedrnlegend King lived and died to justify that part of the civil rightsrnrevolution that today’s official right endorses, as opposed tornthat part it does not. The moderate legacy which some are intentrnon preserving consists of federal control of the franchise,rndemonization of the white South and its history, and social engineeringrnundertaken for the sake of a color-blind society.rnW’hat King, from this perspective, must not be allowed tornstand for are those positions that the civil rights movement supposedlvrncame to embrace afterward, that is, black separatismrnand racially based quotas. These are seen to be extraneous tornthe original struggle for black equality, as reflected in a morallyrnimmaculate leader. It was this idealized King who saw his workrnculminate in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting RightsrnAct of 1965. Both were allegedly roadmarks on the way to federallyrnenforced color-blindness.rnThis received account of contemporary history includesrncjuestionable assumptions, and this may explain why conservativernpowerbrokers do not want to delve too deeply into it. Insteadrnthey have gotten on with the job of turning King into arncult. While groups and institutions have changed their collectivernmind about particular historical figures, one must assumernthat among honest thinkers such a process would take generations.rnThus the Catholic Church went from burning Aristotle’srn(presumed) works to treating them as a pagan preparation forrnChristian revelation. But this reconsideration did not occurrnovernight: it took several centuries, up until the Councils ofrnTrent, before it was done. In the intervening time lively andrnprolonged debates took place about the texts and thinker inrnquestion. Of course modern political movements are not as intellectuallyrnscrupulous or as bound by defining worldviews.rnAnd so American movement conservatives, like Americanrncommunists who defended the Nazi-Soviet pact, came to believernor pretended to believe that what until recentiy they hadrn’iewed as demonic was not that at all.rnIn this fideistic fashion conservatives proceeded to reassessrnKing. During a period of weeks in 1983, all or most movementrnconservatives clustered around the Beltway had a timely changernof heart. They went from raging against King’s radical ideas torncelebrating him as the conscience of America. I still recall arnsyndicated column by Aram Bakshian, a former Nixon speechwriter,rnfrom October 1983, which enunciated the new wisdom,rnliakshian urged his fellow conservatives to rally to the celebrationrnof King, to testify to their faith “that America is now a betterrnplace than it used to be because of him.” This was alsornabout the time that conservatives began to entertain other secondrnthoughts, for example, about flying Confederate flags overrnSouthern statehouses or about having the government decoraterna Confederate monument in Washington. The operativernterm for those having these second thoughts was “staying in thernpolitical conversation.” Only those, it might be assumed, whornhad moved beyond Carl Rowan’s demurs of 1967 could remainrnor become respectable conservatives.rnFor the neoconservatives, who by 1983 were coming to controlrnAmerican conservatism financially and programmatically,rnthis new party line was second nature. Having brought withrnthem what James Burnham called a “leftist gestalt” into thernmovement they occupied, they went on speaking as they hadrndone before. As leftists they had admired King and the civilrnrights legislation of the mid-60’s. They continued to applaudrnboth after they had taken over the right, a process which wasrncompleted by the eariy 80’s. More importantly, the neoconservativesrngot others who had thought differently about King tornjoin their chorus of praise. Thus the figure whom today’s con-rn30/CHRONICLESrnrnrn