King’s Dream and Obama’s Reality.


Four years ago, when Inauguration Day fell and Barack Hussein Obama raised his right hand to take the Oath of Office it was a moment frozen in history.  My heart swelled with pride for my country and all that it had accomplished by electing the first African-American as President of the United States.   Four years ago it was all about Hope and Change.

Four years later, here we are at another Inauguration Day and once again it’s Obama raising his right hand, but while it is history, it’s history writ a little smaller than 2008.  Hope and Change has been superseded by Reality and Possibility.   Both Obama and the rest of the country have learned how hard it is to change the status quo of politics when it doesn’t want to be changed and while most of us are not yet cynical, we’re a bit less hopeful.

There is a powerful symmetry between the coincidence of Obama’s inauguration falling on the same day the nation observes the birthday of one of its greatest citizens, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   It is an error of rushing to premature judgment to say the election of Obama is the culmination of King’s Dream.  King was King and Obama is not King.  He is Obama and he is a politician, one of the best politicians of our age on par with his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton.  Whether he rises to the level of King remains to be seen.

The president makes it plain in his second inaugural address.

The president makes it plain in his second inaugural address.

King moved America forward, but it took his untimely death and decades of unworthy, would be successors trying and failing to pick up where King left off for his vision and wisdom to be fully appreciated.

Obama has another four years to build upon what he began four years ago.  Now he knows how wide the opposition is from the Republicans in Washington and deeply entrenched the desire of the Right wing everywhere else is for him to fail.

The difference for the 2013 version of Barack Obama is he understands he is the president and he is to whom the American people turn to for leadership and a unifying plan for the future.   The president seems ready to step up in his second term to offer that leadership:

Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free.  We made ourselves anew, and vowed to move forward together.

Together, we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers.

Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.

Together, we resolved that a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone.  Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.  For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias.  No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores.  Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.

This generation of Americans has been tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.  A decade of war is now ending.   An economic recovery has begun.  America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands:  youth and drive; diversity and openness; an endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.  My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it — so long as we seize it together.  

The Dream and The Hope.

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.  We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.  We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work; when the wages of honest labor liberate families from the brink of hardship.  We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American; she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.

I think King would have smiled broadly at the president’s speech.

What both King and Obama believe is government can be a tool for good, for social uplift, to provide for the general welfare, economic fairness and equality, and facilitate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all America, not just 53 percent of it.

This isn’t King’s Dream because King’s Dream was never a one size fits all aspiration.  My dreams are not your dreams and Obama’s dreams are not King’s.   President Obama is the continuation, not the culmination of Martin Luther King’s dream.

The second time around for Obama and Roberts.

The second time around for Obama and Roberts.