Rebirth of Conservatism
Dr. Walter Greason
15 January 2013
In 1939, a Republican minister pledged to register thousands of voters in Atlanta, Georgia, with the support of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Reverend Michael King challenged the dominant ideas about African American suffrage and risked his life daily to assert the fundamental equality of all human beings. His work was a result of decades of education and service in the belly of the beast – the heart of southern Jim Crow segregation. On January 21, 2013, all Americans will celebrate the greatest fruit of his courage – the life of his son, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King, Sr. named his son, Michael, but Jr. changed his name to reflect his spiritual rebirth. Later, the father would follow the son’s example and change his name to Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr. As this year’s celebration unfolds, Republicans across the country have the opportunity to join the King family in reflection about their values, identity, and commitments. The most recent Presidential election revealed the failure of the path taken by a party following Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan. American conservatism needs to find better heroes in pursuit of political relevance in the twenty-first century.
Abraham Lincoln has surfaced as one beacon of this possible resurgence, but he remains anathema to many in the rural South – the base of the recent Republican Party. More inspiration might come from Theodore Roosevelt, even at the risk of alienating some of the radical free market thinkers. As fiscal and small government advocates gain ascendancy, more Republicans should revisit the legacy of Dwight Eisenhower to gain more credibility. Yet, Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr.’s journey from Republican to Democrat holds a special importance for today’s politics.
King, Sr. supported Jimmy Carter because the small government rhetoric of the 1970s cloaked the longstanding defense of inequality and segregation across the United States. It is this commitment that must be abandoned now. The Republican Party must speak as citizens committed to women’s equality, marriage equality, immigrant equality, and racial equality in the soaring language of its greatest historical leaders. All of these ideals have a place in a political philosophy that advocates local and state authority. When Atlanta, Georgia; Birmingham, Alabama; and Jackson, Mississippi, become exemplary communities of social and economic inclusion, conservatives will regain a legitimate public voice. When Boyertown, Pennsylvania; Marlboro, New Jersey; and Scarsdale, New York, open their schools, neighborhoods, and businesses to all people, a new Republican Party will compete for national prominence again.
The proof is in the performance. Small towns cannot rely on gerrymandered legislative districts to preserve political power. Only a rebirth of an open and true conservatism can save the Republican Party.
Dr. Walter Greason is the author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey.