Too often we hear people quoting lines from various speeches Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered, and they express their commitment to working to achieve and honor King’s legacy. Unfortunately, too many people who quote Dr. King’s lines are only paying lip service to his true legacy. Although King envisioned a day when America would have a Black President, he would be disappointed with President Obama’s economic record. The national unemployment rate for Black is 13.4%. In many major cities across the nation that are heavily Black, the unemployment rate is at least double what it is for Blacks nationally. While all of the blame cannot be placed on President Obama for his horrible economic record, most of the blame does have to fall squarely on his shoulders. This is the same President who said that he has the ability to bring people together across party lines to accomplish “change you can believe in.”
President Obama promised that he could come to Washington, D.C. and work across partisan divides, breaking political gridlock in Washington, D.C., to pass substantive legislation that would ameliorate Americans economically, socially, educationally, professionally, and personally. When is this going to happen? President Obama has had over four years to make significant progress toward making this happen.
Although many people desired to romanticize his speech about Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, the reality is President Obama has failed miserably in providing economic uplift for Blacks and the poor—the very people Dr. King gave his life for and the very people the March on Washington supported.
It’s time for more people to stop being mesmerized by those who employ Dr. King’s words, and start to hold them accountable for having deeds and records evincing a real commitment to fulfilling King’s dream. King was not a man who simply talked and gave speeches around the nation—he was a man of action. He had such a deep love for marginalized people that he found it necessary to risk his own life advocating for them. Dr. King was not interested in self-aggrandizement. He found it more essential to prioritize the collective good over any personal ambition.
Dr. King strongly opposed war, which is seen mostly clearly in his opposition to the Vietnam War. King warned America of the dangers of her rising militarism. On the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, President Obama expressed how great of an influence Dr. King had on his life. Unfortunately, this great influence is not materializing in his actions. President Obama is now asking Congress for authorization to use military force against Syria. As a candidate for President in 2008, President Obama said that he would always rely on diplomacy and talk with all world leaders, including those who are not friends of the United States. What a dramatic change: diplomacy advocate to warmonger. Would Dr. King be proud of him on foreign policy? No. Would Dr. King be proud of him on the economy? No.
For those who continue to support every action of President Obama, they’re no better than he is. You cannot be truly committed to the legacy of Dr. King and agree with every decision of President Obama, especially those economic and foreign policy decisions diametrically opposed to King’s economic and foreign policy positions. While this piece is not attempting to get you to discontinue your support of President Obama, it does call you to hold him accountable to aligning his actions with the words and actions of King.
Until President Obama gets legislation passed that truly advances King’s dream, he will continue to pay lip service to the dream and not be a foot soldier in the mission to help Americans fully experience the dream.
Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison
- On 50 Anniversary Of Martin Luther King’s ‘Dream’ Speech, Bells To Ring For Freedom (huffingtonpost.com)
- Tavis Smiley: Obama ‘dishonoring’ MLK with proposed action in Syria (thegrio.com)
- Would Martin Luther King support Obama’s foreign policies? (thegrio.com)
- Obama: My speech ‘won’t be as good’ as Dr. King’s (tv.msnbc.com)