Jesurgislac’s Journal

August 22, 2008

How conservatives even steal the dead

Charles Bird, who was once Obsidian Wing’s inhouse wingnut, wrote after Katrina: “Martin Luther King adopted a strategy that appealed across-the-board and across racial lines. Where is that today?” (The post, The Race Card and the Damage Done, was all about how modern black leaders – unlike Saint MLK – are nasty, complaining, racially biased creatures who keep complaining about racism just because they see black people being treated badly by white people – something Martin Luther King, at least the icon in Charles Bird’s chapel, never did.)

A few weeks ago, at a free concert sponsored by the Florida Republican Party, several hundred people heard John Rich claim, “Somebody’s got to walk the line in the country. They’ve got to walk it unapologetically. And I’m sure Johnnny Cash would have been a John McCain supporter if he was still around.” Then he launched into Walk the Line.

Roseanne Cash wrote: “It is appalling to me that people still want to invoke my father’s name, five years after his death, to ascribe beliefs, ideals, values and loyalties to him that cannot possibly be determined, and to try to further their own agendas by doing so. This is especially dangerous in the case of political affiliation. It is unfair and presumptuous to use him to bolster any platform.”

I’m a fan of Johnny Cash. Somehow I doubt the Man in Black (Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose, In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes, But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back, Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black) would have spoken up for John McCain if he’d been alive. (I wouldn’t argue thereby that he would have supported Obama or Clinton or Edwards, either: but I really doubt that he’d have cared much for John More troops to Iraq! McCain: any more than at least one fellow PoW and midshipman would vote for him.)

I’d be a fan of Johnny Cash’s mellow-thunder voice even if he was a Republican. (If you are ever in need of cheering up, watch Johnny Cash singing with Miss Piggy or Big Bird.) But no one who felt like Cash did about people in need could be a Republican (in fact, the last President I know Cash actively supported was Jimmy Carter: I don’t suppose Cash would have cared for the routine Republican jibes at Carter for winning the Nobel Peace Prize, either).

“So,” I say, “Are you still the Man in Black? Can you tell me why?”
He goes into the stock answer: quoting the song lyrics, about wearing black for the poor and the beaten down. But I know all that – I’m wondering if that’s still how he feels, 30 years later. “I mean, are you still doing it?” I ask. “For the same reasons?”
“Now?” he says gently. There’s a wry look in his eye. “Now more than ever… ” – 17th September 2003

Johnny Cash a John McCain supporter? Listen to Here Comes That Rainbow Again. Wonder if John Rich ever did…

Martin Luther King wasn’t an icon for Republicans to hang on the wall and feel self-approval about. He was a troublesome anti-war activist, who one can safely say (given the things Charles Bird has said about other opponents of Bush’s war and Bush’s crimes against humanity) Charles would hate if he were alive. But safely dead, he can be stolen and flattened out and cleaned up and hung on the wall.

So with Johnny Cash. Good for Roseanne. Stand up for your dad: don’t let him get hung on the wall.

Update: I can’t imagine why I didn’t think of posting this!


  1. Good post. I think it’s important to remember, though, that not only was King a troublesome anti-war activist, and a troublesome antipoverty activist, he was a troublesome activist against racism. This gets forgotten, sometimes using the tactical differences between King as (say) Malcolm X to try to position King as an Obama of the 1950s — a public black person who didn’t make white liberals feel threatened, or guilty. But while numbers of white people did get involved in the Civil Rights movement back then, not all of them did. And King was always willing to go just a little too far for white people’s comfort (You can’t change people’s minds overnight, you have to be patient, is The Negro really *ready* for his rights?).

    Comment by The Promiscuous Reader — August 22, 2008 @ 4:21 pm | Reply

  2. I’m proud to say i met Johnny Cash several times at recording sessions and video shoots ( I catered in Nashville). He was quiet and humble and warm every time. He’d sit in the kitchen while we worked and sip coffee, just easy to be around. He didn’t talk politics, but neither did we.

    Comment by becca — August 22, 2008 @ 6:43 pm | Reply

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