President Obama gave a nice speech on the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's famous speech. He always gives nice speeches.
He was right to talk about the gains that this country has made in ending formal discrimination, and to stress the unheralded people who were so instrumental in those gains.
He was right to say we haven't attained true racial equality yet, though he gave a gratuitous slap to African Americans themselves, as he is wont to do, echoing a rightwing criticism: "Legitimate grievances against police brutality tipped into excuse-making for criminal behavior. Racial politics could cut both ways, as the transformative message of unity and brotherhood was drowned out by the language of recrimination. And what had once been a call for equality of opportunity, the chance for all Americans to work hard and get ahead was too often framed as a mere desire for government support -- as if we had no agency in our own liberation, as if poverty was an excuse for not raising your child, and the bigotry of others was reason to give up on yourself."
Obama was right to stress that Dr. King had another vision, one of economic equality and fairness and security, which we still have not attained.
But this was not the totality of Dr. King's vision.
As Jesse Jackson noted so pointedly in the prepared remarks he wasn't allowed to finish delivering on Saturday, Dr. King's dream of 1963 was different than his dream of 1967 and 1968.
Jesse Jackson reminded us that King said, just a year to the day before he was assassinated, that a country "finding more security in bombs abroad than bread at home would lead to spiritual death."
Jesse Jackson reminded us that King saw the linkages so vividly that he described them as the "evil triplets of militarism, materialism, and racism."
And so Obama's words ring kind of hollow today, invoking King as he did, on the very day that he's making plans to go bomb Syria and after all the days he's dropped drones on people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.
As my friend Kevin Alexander Gray put it so pungently, "We've gone from I have a dream to I have a drone."
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story Bradley Manning's Unjust Sentence.
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