In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Republican National Committee (RNC) put out a statement from chairman Michael Steele today honoring Dr. King’s “epic and historic fight for civil rights.” Yesterday, Sarah Palin also put up a Facebook message celebrating his “efforts against racial discrimination.” Both the RNC and Palin also tried to tie the conservative movement to King’s work:
RNC: “Though close to 50 years have come and gone since Dr. King delivered his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, the principles by which he lived and worked remain as true as the day he began his epic and historic fight for civil rights. The principles of freedom, faith, and opportunity for all people are truly timeless and will continue to influence America and the world for generations to come. As we celebrate his legacy, I’m reminded that his message is rooted in ideals and principles that the Republican Party has advocated since its inception. Today, our Party and the nation honors Dr. King’s dream by continuing his fight — the fight for all Americans to have an equal chance at the American Dream.”
Palin: “Please take a moment to tell your children about this great man. He fought for liberty and equality because he knew they were God-given and he knew that no government should be empowered to thwart our freedom. King summarized his mission when stating that no one should be judged based on skin color, but by the content of one’s character.”
King is best remembered for his work fighting racial discrimination. But King’s vision for equality extended beyond integrated schools and businesses. He was also a fierce champion for the labor movement and living wage laws. Additionally, King believed that universal health care was essential to ensuring true equality in America. In a speech to the Medical Committee for Human Rights in 1966, King famously said:
Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.
As the Kaiser Family Foundation has noted, the health reform bills being considered by Congress — which conservatives are opposing — would significantly benefit persons of color, who make up more than 50 percent of the uninsured (even though they comprise just one third of the U.S. population).
In September, Steele claimed that “Dr. King would be disappointed in the political leadership of this country for failing to address the least of us.” But as Richard Payne wrote in an April 2, 2006 op-ed in the Charlotte News and Observer, “Is there any doubt that King would have been on the forefront of arguments for payment of a living wage to the working poor, and that he would have advocated for universal health care?” Today in a speech at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in remembrance of King, Obama said of health reform legislation, “[U]nder the legislation I will sign into law, insurance companies won’t be able to drop you when you get sick, and more than 30 million people — our fellow Americans — will finally have insurance. … This will be a victory not for Democrats; this will be a victory for dignity and decency, for our common humanity. This will be a victory for the United States of America. “