Sunday, August 28, 2011

What would Martin Luther King Jr. say to President Obama?

From the Washington Post, Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis chimes in:

As a minister, never elected to any public office, Dr. King would tell this young leader that it is his moral obligation to use his power and influence to help those who have been left out and left behind. He would encourage him to get out of Washington, to break away from handlers and advisers and go visit the people where they live. He would urge him to meet the coal miners of West Virginia; to shake the hands of the working poor in our large urban centers, juggling multiple jobs to try to make ends meet; to go to the barrios of the Southwest; and to visit native Americans on their reservations. He would urge Obama to feel the hurt and pain of those without work, of mothers and their children who go to bed hungry at night, of the families living in shelters after losing their homes, and of the elderly who chose between buying medicine and paying the rent.

Dr. King would say that a Nobel Peace Prize winner can and must find a way to demonstrate that he is a man of peace, a man of love and non-violence. He would say it is time to bring an end to war and get our young men and women out of harm’s way. Dr. King would assert without hesi­ta­tion that war is obsolete, that it destroys the very soul of a nation, that it wastes human lives and natural resources.


He would say that righteous work makes its own way. There is no need to put a finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. There is no need to match each step to the latest opinion poll. The people of this country recognize when a leader is trying to do what is right. Take a stand, he would say. Go with your gut. Let the people of this country see that you are fighting for them and they will have your back.

More here.

Lewis nails it, of course. Indeed, these assumed suggestions are simply culled from MLK's rhetoric, that is, from the speeches and writings that don't get much airplay in January because they don't fit into the establishment's narrative. Actually, the stuff we hear and see in the mass media on MLK day is fairly sanitized, good vibes stuff about getting along, but none of the severe criticisms of our economic system, none of the scathing indictments of the American war machine. In this respect, and only this respect, is our President like the venerated civil rights leader: Obama's all about neutral positivity lacking teeth.

The really sad thing is that such recommendations are, by and large, impossible for most politicians today. They're too beholden to the wealthy organizations and citizens that fund their campaigns. They're too guided by consultants and strategists, who are always risk-averse. They watch too much cable news to really know what's going on out there. They're poll watchers. They're most concerned with being reelected, far, far, far more concerned than they are with doing the right thing.

I mean, it doesn't have to be that way. There are no rules that preclude our leaders from actually leading. But virtually all of them do it the way everybody else does. They follow, and the people our leaders follow are most definitely not the people of the United States.

So Obama, if he actually wanted, could do everything Lewis suggests above. He could throw caution to the wind and take this country in bold new directions. He could use the Oval Office's bully pulpit power and start a media war against the corporations which dominate the political system. He could appeal directly to the voters, standing with them, instead of with the special interests and the wealthy. He could change our culture. If he wanted.

Of course, that's not going to happen because President Obama's not a leader. He's a manager. And managers don't change the world. They keep it the same.