The yearly tradition of celebrating the life of civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr. has come, and with it the annual flood of lawmakers and pundits selectively distilling his complex and nuanced ideas into convenient quotes, divorced from context, that fit whatever agenda they hope to advance.
Washington Post political reporter Eugene Scott noted the phenomenon ahead of MLK day on Twitter.
“Bracing myself for a slew of MLK quotes Monday from folks who have spent nearly every other day fo the past year fighting against [Critical Race Theory],” he wrote.
It did not take long for Mr Scott’s prediction to come true, thanks to Republican Senator Marco Rubio.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio spent the better part of 2021 railing against “Critical Race Theory”, which is a study of history and politics that views societal forces and institutions through the lens of traditionally marginalised people, especially Black Americans.
Mr Rubio has backed legislation alongside extreme right-wing Senators Mike Braun and Kevin Cramer to “prohibit federal funding to promote divisive concepts, such as Critical Race Theory”.
CRT, when employed, is almost always part of higher education curriculum, but numerous Republican lawmakers and media figures have incorrectly claimed that CRT was being taught in public schools to young children, driving conservative parents into a frenzy. Angry parents descended on school board meetings to argue about CRT and coronavirus mitigation measures.
“‘When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.’ Dr. Martin Luther King (1963),” Mr Rubio wrote in a tweet on MLK day.
The quote comes from Dr King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, but a New York Times columnist pointed out that Mr Rubio conveniently ended the quote before it would undermine his political agenda.
“This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” NYT columnist Jamelle Bouie wrote in response to Mr Rubio, quoting the next line of the speech.
“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds’,” the quote, from Dr King’s speech, continued.
Thanks to legislation backed by lawmakers like Mr Rubio, angry parents could argue that any public school teaching the parts of Dr King’s speech that the senator chose not to quote would be in violation of the law and thus have their federal funding revoked.