Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Dream 50 Years On

Note: School has started, and the publication schedule for this blog has to change. Expect new posts on Thursday and Sunday for the Fall Semester.

Yesterday President Obama gave an interview to the PBS Newshour, and among the topics was the 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1963 March On Washington. While I don't agree with Mr. Obama on very much, he's clearly a very smart man. If you accept his premises and his values, then most of what he says makes sense. It's internally consistent.

Two remarks grated. First, he indirectly slandered Republicans. In an answer to a question as to why people oppose his policies, Mr. Obama cited a list. The first item is a criticism, which while I disagree with it, is an arguable point. The second item, on the other hand, impugns the motives of the people who disagree with him, presumably Republicans.
And I think the second element to that argument that has been made, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly, is that government has hurt middle-class families or hurt white working-class families, because, you know, pointy-headed bureaucrats in Washington are just trying to help out minorities or trying to give them something free.
I think this seriously misrepresents the Republican point of view, and Mr. Obama should know better.

The second grating item is when he was asked how he felt about being on the podium during the 50th Anniversary commemoration.
Well, there were a couple of things I was thinking. Certainly leading up to the speech, I was thinking that you generally should not try to follow one of the two greatest speeches in American history – (chuckles) – because it puts a little pressure on you.
Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but the man clearly thinks very highly of himself. It sounded like he thought he'd just given the third most important speech in American history. Much better is Lincoln's modesty, "the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here." Like Lincoln, Obama should have put himself to the side.

So the second half of the Newshour was about yesterday's commemoration, including Obama's oratory. I turned it off, went upstairs, and instead watched the original I Have A Dream clip on Youtube.

It is a magnificent speech, and it still brings tears to my eyes even after all these years. I was 11 years old at the time, though interested in politics even at that tender age. But my parents thought television was the devil's own, so I don't think I actually watched the speech until months or even years later. So the full power and import of MLK's words escaped me at the time. The speech is beautifully written, and delivered with flawless skill. The man definitely knew his way around a pulpit.

He draws on two sacred texts--the Declaration Of Independence, and the Old Testament. The first is the foundation of my political faith, as it is for millions of Americans. And regardless of one's religion, it is hard not to be moved by the verse (Amos 5:24) "but let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"

Fifty years on, it's not just the power of King's words that move. It is also his great courage, both moral and physical. Martin Luther King wasn't just an orator, but also a hero.

There is another story of heroism from that time that also moves me to tears whenever I think about it. Some years ago, on business, I spent a day on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University, a historically Black college in Greensboro. On that campus is a statue of four young men--they were freshmen in 1960--18 years old.

Those young men did not grow up in Hawaii, nor did they attend an elite, private high school. No--they were from the wrong side of the tracks--poorly educated, unread, untraveled, unpossessed of critical thinking skills. In those days polite people would have called them colored boys. Today we might call them ghetto kids.

So here's what those 18-year-old guys did not do. They didn't take a brick and heave it through the window of the local Woolworth's store. That would've been pretty satisfying and it surely is what most ghetto punks would've done. Indeed, that's more or less what my middle-class generation--ten years later--did in protest against the Vietnam war.

No, what they did instead was a miracle. They walked into Woolworth's, sat down at the lunch counter and each ordered a cup of coffee. They weren't allowed to be served at the Whites Only counter, so they sat there peacefully until the store closed, and then they left. Their act of courage was subsequently imitated across the South.

Imagine, instead, if they'd thrown the brick. Think of what would've followed--the riots, the pogroms, the relentless search for "terrorists." We wouldn't be commemorating MLK's speech today--we'd still be fighting that war. That dire outcome was prevented by the uncanny wisdom, stunning self-discipline, and enormous moral courage of four ghetto kids.

These four young men are heroes of highest order. America can be very proud, and very, very grateful. They deserve their statues, and much more besides.

The Greensboro 4 have gone on to lead honorable but undistinguished lives. One heroic act is enough for a lifetime--it's more than most of us can muster. I was a Trotskyist when I was 18--no heroism there. Like most of us, President Obama has never been a hero. Compared to Joe McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. (Jibreel Khazan), Franklin McCain and David Richmond, Mr. Obama is a moral pipsqueak. That's why I refused to listen to his speech.

Leftists accuse the Tea Party of hypocrisy when we claim Martin Luther King and the Greensboro boys as our own. But why? Like MLK, we draw inspiration from Thomas Jefferson's immortal words. Both MLK and the Greensboro boys demanded the right to be served at lunch counters, and in hotels and motels--in other words, the right to be consumers like the rest of us. If there is a more important free market principle, I certainly don't know what it is. This is a 100% Tea Party program.

But unlike MLK, or at least his latter-day heirs, the Tea Party also reads the second half of the Declaration of Independence. That's the boring part, containing the long litany of grievances against the Crown. While the emotional impact of that list has faded with time, the resolve to prevent tyranny on this continent is forever enshrined in the Constitution. Jim Crow was not so much an act of a racism (though it was that, too), but rather an act of unconstitutional government tyranny.

Of all people, Blacks should honor the Constitutional guarantees of individual rights and the protection of minorities. Many, like Herman Cain and Paul McKinley have gotten the message. The natural political home for Black people is, in fact, the Tea Party.

Please join us.

Further Reading:

1 comment:

  1. Certainly a social democrat like King would have many differences with the TEA Party. But you make a good point. If King can cite Jefferson on his good points, why cannot conservatives be legitimately inspired by King on the points they find inspiration.