McCain on MLK Holiday

As the anniversary of King’s assassination approaches and the presidential race continues to simmer to a boil, these are about to converge in odd ways as John McCain is scheduled to visit Memphis. There’s a good bit of discussion around the blogosphere about McCain’s spotty record on support and non-support for the MLK Holiday. If you’re in a glass-half-full, people-can-change frame of mind, this is the key element you’ll want to pull from the story (from Jack Trapper @ ABC):

In December 1999 McCain told NBC’s Tim Russert, “on the Martin Luther King issue, we all learn, OK? We all learn. I will admit to learning, and I hope that the people that I represent appreciate that, too. I voted in 1983 against the recognition of Martin Luther King….I regret that vote.”

If, on the other hand, you doubt that people really do change, think some people never get a glass at all (half-full or otherwise), and suspect that his lack of support for the MLK Holiday reveals something more sinister, then you’ll be more interested in this (from Crooks and Liars):

“In 1983, McCain voted against passing a bill to designate the third Monday of every January as a federal holiday in honor of King. Four years later, then-Arizona Governor Evan Mecham rescinded Martin Luther King Day as a state holiday, saying it had been established through an illegal executive order by his Democratic predecessor.

McCain said he thought Mecham was correct in his decision.

Two years after that, McCain’s viewpoint began to change, but only gradually. In 1989, he urged lawmakers to make Martin Luther King Jr. day a state holiday, but said he was “still opposed to another federal holiday.”

I tend to see both sides of this. I do think McCain probably changed his mind and regrets that vote for a lot of reasons, some of them having to do with a personal commitment to civil rights, but mostly having to do with social pressures and political expediency. I also think that the fact that McCain didn’t get it, didn’t get it for like 30- years, didn’t grasp the significance and importance of a holiday honoring Dr. King reveals a mindset that’s deeply rooted in a white racial frame and firmly grounded in the worldview of his white, Arizona-Republican constituency.