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MLK’s LEGACY January 22, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Human Rights, Terrorism Issues, US Politics.
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Yesterday the United States jointly commemorated Martin Luther King’s day and the inauguration of the President and Vice President. Obama will leave a historical footnote as the first African-American to be both elected and re-elected as President.

The real legacy, as distinct from empty rhetoric, will remain that of Dr King. For example, Glenn Greenwald perceptively observes:

The civil right achievements of Martin Luther King are quite justly the focus of the annual birthday commemoration of his legacy. But it is remarkable, as I’ve noted before on this holiday, how completely his vehement anti-war advocacy is ignored when commemorating his life (just as his economic views are). By King’s own description, his work against US violence and militarism, not only in Vietnam but generally, was central – indispensable – to his worldview and activism, yet it has been almost completely erased from how he is remembered.

King argued for the centrality of his anti-militarism advocacy most eloquently on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City – exactly one year before the day he was murdered. That extraordinary speech was devoted to answering his critics who had been complaining that his anti-war activism was distracting from his civil rights work (“Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask?”). King, citing seven independent reasons, was adamant that ending US militarism and imperialism was not merely a moral imperative in its own right, but a prerequisite to achieving any meaningful reforms in American domestic life.

Juan Cole has a different assessment suggesting that President Obama does not merely engage in empty talk, but has achievements that “expand our rights and remove oppressive practices”. He identifies ten. Juan Cole concludes:

The life’s work of Rev. King was aimed at expanding human opportunities and removing the shackles created by bigotry. He worked for individual dignity and for an expansion of civil and human rights, to encompass those left out of America’s Establishment rights regime. On this day it is worth stepping back from partisanship and cynicism to recognize that politics is the art of the possible, and under extremely difficult circumstances, Obama has in the above ways honored King’s values.

I disagree because I think that the role of presidential leadership, which gives it occupant a unique position, is draw on the collective voice and purposes of the people and so provide the focus for them to effect the necessary change. To that end, rhetoric is a major tool. A leader creates political reality. His or her role is to be transcend the established consensus on what is possible.

Perhaps details matter. Cornel West has an opinion on the use of Dr King’s bible in the inauguration:

Some wit suggested that President Obama pledge to uphold the Constitution was the first lie of his second term. So Dr King would be legally silenced:

The other purpose of rhetoric, empty or not, is to disguise the truth of social reality. Notwithstanding any reference to a wolf’s clothing, Barack Obama is not for turning. More of the same is a reasonable forecast, although it is encouraging that Climate Change was recognized.

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