In just a few hours from now, a travesty will happen. President Barack Obama will publicly begin his second term by taking the oath of office while placing his hand on the Reverend Martin Luther King’s Bible, and on the holiday that was set aside to honor the latter to boot. If such a thing as sympathetic magic or a wrathful God really existed, either the Bible or the President would burst into flame.
Dr King, you see, wasn’t just about achieving legal equality for his people, the black Americans, or Negros as they were called when he was alive. He was also all about eradicating poverty for all Americans, and, by extension, all human beings everywhere. Barack Obama does not share that vision, not at all, and chances are he won’t even mention it as he symbolically cloaks himself as the realization of Dr King’s dream.
Anyone who paid attention to the 2012 presidential election campaign, and anyone who turned on a TV in the “battleground” states knows that Obama and his campaign propagandists could hardly utter a sentence without mentioning the “middle class,” but “the poor” and “poverty” were seldom if ever mentioned. Dr King would have been horrified(all quotes from hereon are in the words of Dr King):
Middle-class values stress the importance of career and money. These were not the values which led to the civil rights movement; these are not the values which lead to positive social transformation.
What were these values? Every American schoolchild should know that legal equality was one of them, but economic equality was an equally important goal for Martin Luther King. For that reason, he was no fan of capitalism:
The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspires men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life.
The profit motive is the sole basis of our dominant economic system, and Barack Obama has proven himself to be one of its biggest supporters. He’s said that Americans should celebrate wealth, and compared the financial success of his investment banker friends on Wall Street to that of baseball players in an effort to make their obscene riches appear to be legitimate. Dr King would never have said any such thing.
Dr King knew that the society in which he lived was unjust, and he also knew that only a revolution could make it just:
The dispossessed of this nation — the poor, both white and Negro — live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty.
What did Dr King mean by “revolution?”
A social movement that only moves people is merely a revolt. A movement that changes both people and institutions is a revolution.
A movement that changes both people and institutions. It’s pretty clear to me that Obama has absolutely no intention of changing our institutions, and certainly not of doing anything to actually eradicate poverty. Hell, he doesn’t even mention it, and I’m willing to bet he will do no such thing in a few short hours during his second inaugural speech.
Dr King was all for Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, but totally against LBJ’s war in Vietnam. He saw military spending as inherently opposed to spending on those things that would actually help the American people:
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.
What, I wonder, would Dr King say about the wars Barack Obama has continued, the drone strikes he has authorized, the assassinations he has ordered, and the system of torture that he has institutionalized? Perhaps something like this, just substitute the county of your choice for “Vietnam:”
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.
We in the West must bear in mind that the poor countries are poor primarily because we have exploited them through political or economic colonialism.
It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch-anti-revolutionaries.
Substitute “terrorism” for “communism” and Dr King’s words are every bit as timely in respect to the Middle East of today as they were to the Southeast Asia of the 1960′s.
And, later today, a proven corporatist who has greatly assisted the wealthiest among us in accruing even more wealth at the expense of the rest of the American people will cloak himself in the righteousness of Dr Martin Luther King’s memory as he’s sworn into a second term to do more of the same.
Martin Luther King would rise out of his grave and give Barack Obama a righteous, blistering, verbal slap in the face if he could, but he can’t, while this aging barbarian would give him a good rhetorical slap in the face from the crowd if I could, but I can’t, so I humbly offer this diatribe from my keyboard.
Dr King, there are some of us who really do remember what you stood for, fought for, and died for. I am truly sorry that your memory is being exploited by a man who is in many ways the antithesis of your dream.
cross-posted on Voices on the Square
Public domain photo by Dick DeMarsico, New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection