Martin Luther King, Jr.,rnas Conservative Herornby Paul GottfriedrnIn Campus, a ncwslLlU-i ‘A ihe conservative IntercollegiaternStudies Institute, a letter last spring from a student subscriberrncjucstioned comments about Martin Luther King foundrnin the preceding issue’s feature essay, “A Rage for Merit.” Thisrnarticle portrayed King as a passionate critic of affirmative action,rnand this, according to the student, does not square withrnthe facts: “Toda’s civil rights left-wing establishment correctlyrnunderstands that King was a left-wing redistributionist and nornamount of revisionism will convince them that he was reallyrnClarence Thomas’s mentor.” Furthermore, “making MartinrnLuther King out to be a promoter of a color-blind society is likernputting a proverbial pig in a wedding gown—it fools no one andrnannoys the pig. The right should stop this bad faith exercisernand leave such games to the left.”rnThe “bad faith exercise” already has legions of practitionersrnidentified with the right. For more than a decade the “cult ofrnMLK,” to borrow the phrase of Samuel Francis, has flourishedrnamong conservatives and still has not been put on the road tornextinction. “Conservative” Republicans Newt Gingrich andrnJack Kemp were among the fervent sponsors of a King nationalrnholidav, and “cultural conservatives,” led by Bill Bennett, HarryrnJaffa, and the American Spectator, exalt King as the incarnationrnof the American “conservative” ideal of equality. In “CivingrnShape to Cultural Conservatism,” an essay published in thernAmerican Spectator (November 1986), chief educational advisorrnto the Reagan administration Chester Finn outlined a patrioticrncalendar built in large part around King and his civil rightsrnrevolution. Of the three national holidays intended to promoterncivic unity, only one focused on a particular historical figure,rnthe birthday of Martin Luther King. That figure, we are informed,rninstantiated by his life what Finn calls cultural conservatism.rnKing is also imagined to be of such overshadowing meritrnthat no sensible person would dispute his centrality in thernPaul Gottfried is a professor of humanities at ElizabethtownrnCollege in Pennsylvania.rnAmerican pantheon of heroes.rnSuch assertions were made by self-described conservativesrnonly three years after King’s birthday was established as a nationalrnholiday. As Theodore Pappas and David Garrow remindrnus from opposite ends of the political spectrum, the honor proposedrnfor King encountered stiff opposition when it came up inrnCongress. In 1983 a majority of Americans, according to nationalrnpolls, opposed the King holiday, and the Republican senatorsrnand congressmen dwelled on King’s ties to communistrnadvisors and documented sexual escapades. Among those harboringrnsuspicions about King’s character was the Presidentrnhimself. Then President Reagan almost vetoed the holiday, butrnwas persuaded to put aside his expressed reservations, for thernsake of racial reconciliation. In all likelihood Reagan still rememberedrnthe warnings about King that had once filled thernconservative press. Well into the 70’s, William F. Buckley hadrnstressed King’s socialist opinions and communist associations.rnAnd that Jewish commentator on Christian theology forrnNational Review, Will Hcrberg, had inveighed against Kingrnas a Marxist radical pretending to be a Christian. FromrnJuly 14 through September 8, 1964, in his most vitriolic prose,rnHcrberg mocked King’s claim to stand in the Christianrntradition of nonviolent resistance to tvranny. Hcrberg insistedrnthat King equated such Christian resistance with a “religiousrnright to violate law,” indeed any law that displeased him. Moreover,rnthe passive resistance championed by King was aimed atrngetting others to exercise force. By causing enough disturbance.rnKing hoped to bring into play federal power, whichrnwould overthrow the voting and social practices of Southernrnstates.rnThe brief gathered against King as a social radical manipulatedrnby communist advisors, such as his speechwriter StanleyrnLevison, was not entirely a product of the right. The New YorkrnTimes had treated these charges seriously in a feature article ofrnAugust 28, 1967, and in the essay accompanying its choice ofrnKing as Man of the Year for 1963, Time magazine had alsornAPRIL 1997/29rnrnrn