servative magazines extol as “Mr. Cultural Conservatism,” WilliamrnBennett, is a Great Society Democrat, albeit one who hasrnjoined the Republican Party. Not surprisingly, Bennett commendsrnto his followers the ‘”conserxatism” of Martin LutherrnKing.rnBut there is a hitch in playing too boldly with the facts: someonernmay notice even if forbidden to do so. Historical recordsrnarc there which can be set against politicall)^ motivated misrepresentationsrnof what people said and did. And there are thosernornerv enough to dredge up the past precisely to embarrassrnthose who abuse the truth. None of which is to say that earnestrnscholars cannot differ in their readings of events and personalities.rnIn The True and Only Heaven, for example, ChristopherrnLasch distinguishes between the eariy and late Martin LutherrnKing, the first being a traditional pastor ministering to his flockrnin the face of racial indignity and the second being a radicalrnwho tried to get the modern state to revolutionize society.rnThough these personae surely overlapped, Lasch’s portrait ofrnKing shows there was change taking place in his subject. AndrnLasch never recoils from biographical truths that Americanrnconservatives studiously avoid mentioning, that King madernhateful statements about whites and truckled to black advocatesrnof violence. It is also hard to ignore other traits in Kingrnthat any honest reckoning must take into account: his plagiarism,rnlechery, and political grandstanding will not disappearrnfrom the historical record, however frantically liberal journalistsrntalk about Southern racism and however desperately conservativernpublicists quote from King’s borrowed rhetoric. His iewsrnon preferential treatment for blacks were the same as those ofrnlater ci’il rights leaders. In a Playboy interview of 1965 (reprintedrnin the anthology Testament of Hope), and in his bookletrnWhere Do We Go from Here?, King demands reparations fromrnwhites and job quotas for blacks. King insisted on more exactingrncompensation for his race than even that which Bill Clinton’srnJustice Department is now demanding. In a town, hernexplains, where blacks are 30 percent of the total population,rnevery business and educational institution should have tornrecruit blacks in the same proportion.rnSuch opinions should not shock a careful student of recentrnAmerican history, and it was therefore inevitable that someonernshould notice the lack of congruit}- between conservative hagiographyrnand what King actually said. But the falsificationsrnabout King tell far more about their perpetrators than aboutrnthe one they are intended to grace. The American conservativernmovement is not simply fibbing about a personality whose ascendancyrnit saw as inevitable in 1983. This excuse, one I havernheard repeatedly from political observers, ignores the sad truthrnthat American conservatism has become tainted by lies. Its adherentsrnhave fallen victim to what Cicero called malum turpe, arntcndenc) to falsify which infects the practitioner. Today’s conservativesrnrush to reconstruct their history in order not to makernothers feel uncomfortable.rnTypical here is a tendency prevalent among older conservatirnes to obscure or hide their past observations which might berntermed racist. A case in point is a recent syndicated column byrnWilliam Rusher in the Washington Times (May 25, 1996),rnabout the “present state of affairs” with regard to preferentialrntreatment for minorities. This arose, or so we are told, fromrn”years of deliberate misinterpretations of the language of thernfederal Civil Rights Act of 1964,” the only purpose for whichrnwas “to bar discrimination against black Americans.” But thisrnwas not the way National Review, which Rusher published inrnthe 1960’s, interpreted the Civil Rights Act. In successive editorials,rnand most trenchantly on December I, 1964, NationalrnReview, and presumably its publisher, warned against the indeterminaternpowers given to federal bureaucrats under thernrecent civil rights legislation.rnUnlike the descriptions ofrnKing found in the work ofrnhis left-wing biographer DavidrnGarrow, those of the recentrnconservative movement have norncorrespondence to reality.rnAll of these warnings were justified. And in 1964 it was notrnonly conservative intellectuals but political celebrities, includingrnBarry Goldwater, George Bush, and Ronald Reagan, whornraised the same arguments against a looming legislative disaster.rnThat Southern warhorse Senator Richard Russell was rightrnwhen he observed that Title Seven of the proposed act wouldrnlead to the government’s imposition of quotas. This indeedrnhappened even before Lyndon Johnson left the presidency, andrnthe practice was continued and expanded under his Republicanrnsuccessor. Unlike Hubert Humphrey, who offered to eat his hatrnif the 1964 legislation resulted in quotas, conservatives knewrnthis would happen. They perceived not only the problematicrnphraseology in the Civil Rights Act, but even more significantlyrnthe dynamics of the civil rights movement and of the modernrnadministrative state. In the 1960’s, even garden-varietyrnconservatives had some sense of history and were principledrnenough to stand athwart what they saw as an institutionalizedrnrevolution.rnWhat we find today is a state of denial among those conservativesrnwho can recall a different past, about their own moralrnand intellectual accomplishments. Those postwar conservativesrnin our midst struggle to give the impression that they startedrnout as being more in today’s mainstream than was the case.rnSuch people ha’e not come to terms with their own past, evenrnthough their former critical stance now seems, in historical retrospect,rnmore defensible than ever before. Nor do the makernthe necessary distinction between saying “I told you so” andrnpretending they ne’er uttered a politically unfashionable warningrnthat turned out to be true. This ma- be analogous to the rejectionrnof another difference by contemporar- conservatives,rnthe one between recognizing Martin Luther King’s indisputablerncourage and ascribing to him qualities and views thatrnwere not his. The inability or unwillingness to make such distinctionsrnis symptomatic of Cicero’s malum turpe. The selfcontaminatingrnavoidance of truth begins with deliberate falsificationrnand ends with the liar’s inability to recall whateverrnknowledge of a subject he once had. Such an illness is clearlyrnravaging the American right. rernAPRIL 1997/31rnrnrn