Commentary: Republicans Honoring King? Not Interested

The celebrations honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and his historic 1963 speech were apparently off-limits to the GOP.

Posted: 08/30/2013 02:18 PM EDT

The commemorative “Let Freedom Ring” ceremony in Washington, D.C., drew some of the most high-profile figures of recent political history. There was President Obama alongside predecessors Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. They were joined by the daughters of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

All were joined by members of Congress and elected officials from throughout the country, with the goal of honoring the original March on Washington and its chief orator, Martin Luther King Jr.

There was one group curiously absent from the memorializing: Republicans.

Not one GOP figure attended the event at the Lincoln Memorial. There was no sign of House Speaker John Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Absent, too, was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. There was not a Bush in sight, not even the politically ambitious Jeb. Not even the lone Black member of the Senate, Tim Scott of South Carolina, took the time to join the group on the mall to honor the Dr. King's legacy.

It's fascinating that the party that, in the aftermath of the 2012 president election, admitted the importance of reaching out to African-American and other non-white voters would essentially declare the King event off-limits.

After all, Dr. King was not the least bid steeped in the politics of his time: He sought to appeal to the moral conscience of Republicans as well as Democrats, having as much faith – and distrust – in each party. His widow maintained close relationships with the various presidents, irrespective of party. And it was, after all, Republican icon Ronald Reagan, who signed into law the official U.S. holiday known as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

At first, conservative pundits complained that the event was organized by left-wing radicals who had no interest in seeing Republican leaders at the King event. Bill O’Reilly complained that no Republican speakers had been invited to address the crowd. But O’Reilly later was compelled to apologize when he learned that the organizers had invited every prominent Republican figure on the political landscape – all of whom declined to attend.

It's a sign of the fact that the nation’s politics have come a long way since Reagan signed the King Holiday bill into law in 1983. For one, we now have an African-American president. But we also have a Republican Party with a powerful and vocal fringe that will do anything to undermine any initiative attached to President Obama. Being at the King event alongside a president whom they mistrust would be too unpalatable for their core of right-wing zealots back home.

But more importantly, the absence of Republicans reveals precisely where African-American citizens rank in the GOP pecking order. It reveals in stark clarity that they long less for ways to attract Black voters than they pine for an era where Black voters were irrelevant politically.

It was a missed opportunity to show solidarity with an important slice of America. But through their actions last Wednesday, they only went further to burnish their party’s image as a group uninterested seeking reconciliation than as the champions of voting rights obstruction, zero legislation on job creation and enemies of the Affordable Care Act. 

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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 (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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