McConnell and GOP hypocritically embrace King while they destroy voting rights
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wraps himself in the legacy of Dr. King, even as he works to destroy the democracy King fought so hard to preserve and expand. | Susan Walsh / AP

I suspect Congressman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., didn’t really expect anybody from the neo-Confederate/Copperhead party to take his MLK Day advice. But, hey, it was worth a shot.

“A lot of folks will claim to celebrate the great Martin Luther King, Jr. today while actively trying to reverse his life’s work,” Yarmuth posted on Facebook. “If you can’t honor Dr. King by supporting voting rights and the John Lewis Act, then at least do him the courtesy of shutting the hell up today.”

Of course, the Republicans shamelessly dissembled.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell led a parade of GOP luminaries who took time off to laud King while continuing to scheme the other 364 days of the year to destroy his legacy.

McConnell opposes the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Named for the Georgia Democratic congressman and veteran civil rights activist, the bill includes provisions that would overturn Republican-passed state laws aimed at restricting the vote of Black Americans and other minorities and restore fundamental elements of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, which the conservative-majority Supreme Court gutted.

Kentucky’s senior senator is swiping a page from the old segregationist Southern Democratic playbook by promising to filibuster the legislation and by braying “states’ rights,” the old code word Dixie defenders of slavery trotted out before the Civil War and resurrected afterwards to justify Jim Crow segregation and race discrimination.

McConnell tweeted: “Nearly 60 years since the March on Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message echoes as powerfully as it did that day. His legacy inspires us to celebrate and keep building upon the remarkable progress our great nation has made toward becoming a more perfect union.”

McConnell wasn’t the only Republican to offer up pretended paeans to the leader of the modern American civil rights movement. Rolling Stone‘s Patrick Reis quoted neo-Confederates McConnell and Govs. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Ron DeSantis of Florida, as well as neo-Copperhead former Vice President Mike Pence, a Hoosier, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who hails from California. (The original Copperheads were treasonous, pro-Confederate Northern Democrats during the Civil War.)

“The Republicans proclaiming their reverence Monday for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., make up an all-star roster in the effort to undermine voting rights, a denial of a civil right that disproportionately disenfranchises Black people in the United States,” Reis wrote. “As well as opposing voting rights, McCarthy—like the other Republicans listed above and many, many others tweeting about Monday’s holiday—is a willing participant in Republicans’ decades-old effort to roll back the social safety net.”

A slew of Democratic politicians, candidates, and others mauled McConnell and the GOP bigwigs for their brazen hypocrisy. McConnell’s chronic disingenuousness always reminds me of former First District Congressman Henry C. Burnett of Cadiz, Ky., an ardent Confederate and a frequent object of the staunchly Unionist Louisville Journal’s disaffection.

The Journal revised a quote from Shakespeare to suggest Burnett (McConnell) “may console himself with the reflection that no one can retort by calling him a dog, for he is ‘A creature/Whom ‘twere base flattery to call a dog.’”

Likewise, Burnett (McConnell) could “pride himself in the consciousness that although he may not wear a dog’s collar he has brass enough in his impudent forehead to furnish a brace of collars for all the dogs in creation.”

Congress expelled Burnett for the traitor he was.

Murray State University historian Brian Clardy echoed Yarmuth, suggesting that McConnell and the other oleaginous GOP bigwigs “need to have a big, tall glass of shut-the-hell-up.”

McConnell, Clardy pointed out, witnessed the King-led 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. He professed to admire King and the civil rights movement.

“But he is acting like Sen. James Eastland,” Clardy said. McConnell is indeed emulating “Big Jim,” the arch segregationist Mississippi Democrat who ferociously opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Eastland was also a filibuster fan.

“Since our founding, states—not the Federal government—have been entrusted with protecting and administering our elections,” McConnell replied to a constituent’s letter. (His native Alabama was one of 11 former Confederate states where “administering our elections” meant denying the vote to African Americans for 70-odd years.

Eastland, who said that Black Americans were inferior to whites and that the civil rights movement was communist-inspired, used the same line against the Voting Rights Act. “The constitutional rights and privileges of the people and the constitutions and laws of the states are to be nullified, abridged and supplanted, insofar as voter qualifications are concerned,” Eastland said in the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger.

“Mitch McConnell may claim to be a civil rights ally,” Clardy said. “But he’s an ally we don’t need.”

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Berry Craig
Berry Craig

Lifelong Kentuckian Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, recording secretary for the Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, webmaster-editor for the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, and a member of the state AFL-CIO Executive Board. His ninth book on the history of his state, “Kentuckians and Pearl Harbor: Stories from the Day of Infamy,” was published by the University Press of Kentucky in November 2020.