150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the nation will witness the inauguration of President Barack Obama and celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We elected Barack Obama in 2008 and re-elected him in 2012. His election is not an anomaly. It is a sign of tremendous progress. Obama is the embodiment of our hopes and aspirations. We have advanced from enslavement to empowerment.
In Dr. King's I Have A Dream Speech, he stated:
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.In many ways, Dr. King's dream has been fulfilled. Jim Crow no longer exists. We no longer see for "Whites Only" signs. We can gain lodging in any hotel or motel that we can afford. Many of us are able to attend elite colleges and universities. Now, African Americans have the right to vote. In 2008 and 2012, historic numbers of African Americans voted for and helped elect the nation's first African American president, Barack Obama.
In many ways, Obama's election is the tangible manifestation of the dreams of Dr. King. Barack Obama stands on the shoulders of Dr. King, Medger Evers and all of the many, known and unknown martyrs who died for the right to vote. In that sense, linking Dr. King and President Obama is appropriate. In light of such history, it is suitable for Myrlie Evers to give the inaugural invocation.
However, in another sense, it is inappropriate to link Obama and King. Dr. King was a civil rights activist. He spoke truth to power without fear. He was not concerned about political imagery and calculations. He was not concerned about offending the powers that be. He used his eloquence and organizing skills to lead a movement for social justice. He lobbied the federal government. Dr. King was deeply committed to peace and ending poverty. He boldly condemned the three evils of "racism, economic exploitation and militarism."
Barack Obama is a brilliant politician. Obama is the government, "the powers that be". As such, most of his actions are well planned, political calculations, even his use of Dr. King's Bible for the inauguration. Unlike King, Obama avoids discussing race and poverty. Like most politicians, the President focuses primarily on the middle class. As Frederick H. Harris states in his New York Times article titled The Price of a Black President,
But as president, Mr. Obama has had little to say on concerns specific to blacks. His State of the Union address in 2011 was the first by any president since 1948 to not mention poverty or the poor. The political scientist Daniel Q. Gillion found that Mr. Obama, in his first two years in office, talked about race less than any Democratic president had since 1961. From racial profiling to mass incarceration to affirmative action, his comments have been sparse and halting.Nonetheless, Obama has enacted policies that benefit African Americans and the poor. That is why I voted for him in 2008 and 2012. However, the numbers prove that he has not done enough. According to several news reports, poverty is on track to reach the highest levels since 1965. The black unemployment rate is over 14 percent, nearly twice the white unemployment rate.
Although poverty and racial disparities are not the President's fault, he has a duty to address those problems, especially since an overwhelming majority of African Americans voted for him. Without the black vote, Obama probably would not have been re-elected. Hopefully, Obama will address black poverty and black unemployment during his second term. Furthermore, we cannot allow the President to negotiate away entitlements like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
Moreover, in contrast to Dr. King, Obama is not a man of peace. He is a war president. The Obama Administration has launched more drone attacks than the Bush Administration. As reported on CNN,
Covert drone strikes are one of President Obama's key national security policies. He has already authorized 283 strikes in Pakistan, six times more than the number during President George W. Bush's eight years in office.Too often, innocent women and children are killed as a result of those drone attacks. Additionally, he continues to preside over the Afghanistan war. He was responsible for military intervention in Libya and the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. The Obama Administration is helping France launch military operations in Mali.
As a result, the number of estimated deaths from the Obama administration's drone strikes is more than four times what it was during the Bush administration -- somewhere between 1,494 and 2,618.
In sum, Obama is not a King. In fact, no president will ever be like Dr. King. For those reasons, I am troubled by the constant comparisons drawn between Dr. King and President Obama. Such comparisons are unfair to both men.
This article is cross-posted on Jack and Jill Politics.