Politics at a funeral? In this case, it's fitting


ATLANTA -- The controversy surrounding the funeral of Coretta Scott King is a fitting coda to the final chapter of her story. After all, her husband, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., spent his life generating controversy, something we conveniently forget when we commemorate a sepia-toned and softly lighted version of their lives.

Since the funeral, conservative commentators have been fueling the fires of partisan outrage over remarks made by former President Jimmy Carter - who, in a pointed allusion to modern-day government eavesdropping, noted that Dr. King was a victim of FBI surveillance - and the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, whose bad verse made valid points about an unjustified war and neglect of the poor.

In fact, those professing outrage at Mr. Carter and Mr. Lowery are using the same tactics of feigned anger that Muslim imams and autocrats are using to gin up fury over images of the prophet Muhammad, and they do so with equally slim justification.

It's hard to understand what Mr. Carter and Mr. Lowery did to deserve such attacks. Criticizing President Bush in his presence? He is the president of the world's leading democracy, not the emperor of Rome. Americans have a constitutional right to criticize their elected representatives without fear of imprisonment or death.

For his part, the president was cordial, even gracious, playfully hugging Mr. Lowery later on. He acted like a man who understood his role as the leader of a politically diverse nation.

But isn't it inappropriate to inject politics at a funeral? Dr. King didn't think so. Delivering the eulogy at the September 1963 funeral of four little girls killed when their Birmingham, Ala., church was firebombed, the civil rights leader was blatantly political, using the occasion to spread blame well beyond the small circle of white supremacists who planted the explosives.

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Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun. Her e-mail is cynthia@ajc.com.

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