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Oh, Brother

January 18, 2011 ·

New Republican governors are rebuffing Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy.

Perhaps by now we are accustomed to the annual right-wing co-opting of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy. Over at FPIF, Mark Engler offers an instructive example from the Pentagon. He quotes DoD's general counsel Jeh C. Johnson: "I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation's military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack."

A cursory Google search of "MLK" and "Vietnam" would cast doubt on the notion that the Pentagon is somehow following in King's footsteps in Afghanistan. Such a remark is insidious and intellectually dishonest, but it nonetheless pays an odd sort of tribute to King's legacy, if only to co-opt it.

A truer sign of the times might be the boldness with which recently elected Republican governors have rebuffed the legacy itself. First there was Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who told the state NAACP they could "kiss my butt" after declining an invitation to appear at their MLK Day event. "If they want to play the race card, come to dinner and my son will talk to them," he added, playing the race card on his own adopted son, who is originally from Jamaica.

Now comes Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, who told a crowd in Birmingham, "I was elected as a Republican candidate. But once I became governor...I became the governor of all the people. I intend to live up to that. I am color blind." He then continued with this stirring addendum:

"Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."

It's a trifle odd that the governor would go out of his way to make this particular exclusion, not least given King's many statements on religious tolerance and his decidedly Gandhian approach to political activism.

A spokesperson was quick to add that Bentley "is the governor of all the people, Christians, non-Christians alike." Governor, maybe...Brother, no.