In today’s Times Reagan archivist Kiron K. Skinner takes the occasion of Martin Luther King Day to claim MLK as Reagan’s soulmate:

Dr. King invoked God-given and constitutional rights in defense of extending civil rights to every man. He believed in his country’s distinct ability to maintain a steadfast commitment to its values even when institutional realities pointed in other directions. Dr. King personified the American creed. That it was Ronald Reagan who bestowed on Dr. King the honor of a national holiday should no longer come as a surprise.

Skinner acknowledges that Reagan first came under the national radar pushing the explicitly anti-Civil Rights Goldwater candidacy, but argues that Reagan’s personal sympathetic behavior towards Blacks and his shared vocabulary of God, democracy, and constitution constitutes more common ground than division. It’s an absurd argument which depends on the falacious reasoning that

In the president’s mind, the values Dr. King championed trumped political differences.

The distinction between “politics” and “values” is always suspect, but few times has it been manipulated more cynically than here in arguing that whether or not Black men and women are to be systematically discriminated against in all spheres of life on account of race and poverty is a more superficial issue than whether the American constitution is suitable for appeals to political change.

Skinner obscures the historical Reagan, who kicked off his Presidential Campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where civil rights activists had been brutally murdered, with a call for “states’ rights” and an excoriation of “welfare queens.”

And Skinner obscures the historical King, the radical who deserves celebration today, who wrote:

I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about “Where do we go from here,” that we honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. It means that questions must be raised. You see, my friends, when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question, “Who owns the oil?” You begin to ask the question, “Who owns the iron ore?” You begin to ask the question, “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that is two-thirds water?” These are questions that must be asked.”

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Ever since Reagan signed MLK Day into law, Martin Luther King has, one suspects, made an annual habit of rolling in his grave, as politicians from both sides of the aisle scramble to repackage the ardent radical as a non-threatening role model who wanted to desegregate water fountains. This year, Bush has apparently made a last minute decision to take a trip to see Dr. King’s grave himself – followed by a $2,000 a plate fundraising dinner. The graveside visit, as the Center for American Progress points out, the graveside visit allows Bush to pass the trip’s costs back to the American people. And there’s more:

Because of all the tight security, access to a historic black church near the memorial site will be limited. The church will be the site of a civil rights symposium, and initially, the Secret Service told organizers they would have to cut it short. But after discussions and threats by black leaders to lock themselves in the church, the Secret Service agreed to keep the church open.

As King Associate Rev. James Orange observed:

I feel disrespected by the administration and the Secret Service. On Dr. King’s birthday last year, his administration initiated plans to gut affirmative action. Here we are a year later, and the same person who tried to turn back the clock on me wants to use Dr. King’s birthday because it’s an election year.

Republicans are now plotting to replace the dime’s likeness of FDR, who (for all his illiberal faults) presided over a historic expansion of the conception of government as a force for social justice, the end of a Depression, and a war against Nazism, with one of Reagan, who presided over historic government deficits, the expansion of the military-industrial complex, the erosion of civil liberties, and the turning of the government’s back on the suffering in society.

No surprise there.