Taylor Jones cartoon

(Taylor Jones cartoon / caglecartoons.com)

I’ve got to hand it to the Republican Party and a couple of centrist Democrats: They certainly know how to misinterpret and misrepresent the message of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in an effort to promote their retrograde agendas.

It never fails, almost like clockwork, some politician will echo — arrogantly and without shame — a select passage of the iconic speech that the late civil rights leader delivered during the March on Washington in 1963: “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

It was a profound comment to be sure. And, indeed, every morally requisite human being should adopt and unapologetically embrace its values.

The problem is many members in the two aforementioned categories fail to “practice what they preach,” choosing instead to engage in antics that embody the antithesis of such traits.

The most recent is newly inaugurated Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who shamelessly employed all sorts of disturbing sorts of dog whistles in his gubernatorial campaign.

The Republican perversely used King’s words to advocate for parent’s choice in public schools, issuing an executive order to justify his ban on critical race theory in K-12 education.

“We must equip our teachers to teach our students the entirety of our history — both good and bad … Only then will we realize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that our children ‘will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,’” his executive order states.

Several months earlier, it was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a much talked about potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, who incorrectly cited King.

DeSantis stood before his Legislature with a straight face and declared that his reason for invoking his STOP W.O.K.E. Act, an initiative that grants parents permission to sue teachers caught teaching critical race theory in Florida public schools, was “to honor the spirit and values of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

Yes, you read that correctly.

I wonder if King were alive today, would he have advocated to direct such hostility and disingenuous outrage toward any form of education that taught kids to learn about the history of its people regardless of whether the truth that emerged from such information turned out to be either good, bad or ugly?

You can’t make this stuff up! This is political theater of the obscene.

The gross misinterpretation of King’s message doesn’t end with Republicans. They have kindred spirits in the Democratic Party who enjoy playing similar games.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who has pretty much thumbed her nose at every segment of the progressive wing of her party, stated that the late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., for whom the Democrats’ new voting rights bill is named, along with King were her personal heroes. Go figure.

Perhaps she feels that the most effective and laudatory way to support the legacy of both men is to politically align herself with Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to protect the filibuster (a long-held relic of the Jim Crow Era) rather than pass legislation designed to protect the right to vote for black people.

It should not go without saying that in his landmark article, “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” King made it clear that he reserved the majority of his frustration with the white moderate.

The truth is that most Republican politicians would have likely mercilessly attacked King and everything he stood for tooth and nail had they been in Congress during his time on Earth.

He would have been lumped in with Black Lives Matter, a big government liberal, and referred to in other terms by this group of men and women to indicate their disdain for his progressive and humanitarian values.

The truth is King would have opposed virtually all the retrograde values these individuals embrace in his name.

Elwood Watson Ph.D. is a professor of history, black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. He is also an author and public speaker, and his column is syndicated through Cagle Cartoons. Click here for previous columns. Follow him on Twitter: @bleachbred. The opinions expressed are his own.