Obama and MLK

by jasondylan

I was reading Medea Benjamin’s article entitled, “Between Despair and Hope:MLK, Obama and War” and it helped to illuminate for me the reasons why President Obama would want to distance himself from the words and legacy of Dr Martin Luther King. Medea is one of the co-founders of the anti-war group Code Pink, which you can tell is a great organization because they get really bad press. By ‘press’, I mean the mainstream media which includes shows like “Meet The Press”, which should go by it’s more appropriate chiasmatic name, “Press the Meat”. They churn out a high quality sausage that only the title character from GW’s favorite book, “My Pet Goat” could fully digest.

Medea is not very mainstream and therefore the mainstream “media” do not like her very much.  But Medea continues to mediate the mediocrity in the media with immediacy anyway.  If her organization Code Pink ever got a positive foot hold in the American psyche then the corporate state would be in trouble. Only in the US would an organization like Code Pink, which consists mainly of women who hold up banners and chant loudly for peace be totally ostracized by the media. It seems as if the large talking heads have but ostrich sized brains.

From Medea’s article it would seem that Obama does not want to be known as an heir to Martin Luther King’s legacy or vision. She compares Obama’s words to MLK’s regarding the subject of war and US foreign policy. You will see from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech on December 9th, 2009 that Obama himself is a strong critic of MLK’s views of non-violence.

“We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: We will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”

From this statement you can see that Obama is somewhat of a pessimist when it comes to peace. The man of “Hope” now seems to be an apologist for war. “In our lifetimes” means that O does not believe that relative international peace is a realistic goal in the next 50 to 100 years. Why not? Now I understand his point, there are bad guys out there who will not respond to diplomacy but “necessary but morally justified” evokes Bush and Cheney’s rhetoric of morally justified and preemptive wars. This is a policy that creates scenarios in which Operation Iraqi Freedom is allowed to be implemented. Our emphasis on “moral justification” could be interpreted many ways, but with a strategic and aggressive foreign policy based on mainly economic concerns of the US government and it’s corporate allies, it will be interpreted broadly.

Obama’s pessimistic view seems to be saying one can’t be so naive to think that non-violent diplomacy would solve anything. He is saying this as if the US policy is to conduct actual diplomacy when we all know that the American Presidency has mostly been a bully pulpit for war. He is saying this as if the US policy is one of war as a last resort, instead of preemptive war against sovereign nations such as Iraq and a nebulously defined but aggressively sought war on terror.

This is also troubling because Obama admitted in his June 2009 speech from the Middle East last year that “mistakes were made” in relation to our foreign policy with Iran. He was speaking of course of Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq, the democratically elected leader of Iran who was overthrown in a US led coup back in 1953. “Mistake” dishonestly puts forth that coups d’etats are not an illustrious part of our past and present foreign policy. Of course Obama did apologize for it, which I am sure means alot to the Iranian people, who have now suffered under the Mullahs for 60 years. But of course Mossadeq was a leader that did not want to privatize his country and give it up to corporate control, so he was taken out.

These ‘mistakes’ have happened quite often, just ask Juan Baptiste Aristide of Haiti about it. The former Haitian Prime Minister is a political prisoner who is stranded in South Africa and unable to travel, due to an invalid passport. He was ousted in a US led coup d’etat twice in the last fifteen years. Aristide was a democratically elected leader who is popular with the Haitian people.  He would be a stabilizing force right now in Haiti but, he is not allowed to leave South Africa.

Obama spent most of his time defending the US position of of war and unilateralism during his Nobel Peace Prize speech but when he did mention Martin Luther King and his message of peace and non-violence, it was to spin into an idea of some far away ideal. Again with Medea’s quotes.

“Still, mindful that he was receiving a peace prize, Obama invoked King’s message of hope and love.

‘The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached-their fundamental faith in human progress-must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.’

Many wonder if Obama has lost his moral compass.”

Medea is right. According to Obama, Peace is some far off place that great men remind of us of from time to time, a cherished ideal. Peace is not for statesmen of his stature to consider seriously because “job one” for the president is to “protect the homeland”, as Bush would say, evoking fascist rhetoric. Even though the US foreign policy has been one of constant war and disruption all over the world, we are still to believe that Obama and the US is focused on some heavenly star  of peace? I guess he never heard the zen koan, “There is no way to Peace, Peace is the way.”

So Obama accepts the Nobel Peace Prize with all of it’s height and prestige but chooses to reiterate the Bush and Cheney view of foreign policy and war. The fact that the US is going to be policing the world with UN Peacekeeping Forces and US military personnel, and using the economic might of the corporate infrastructure laws to favor corporations and not people is an ok operation for the next 100 years.  He had a podium to preach for peace and instead he rationalized for war.

Why Obama would use that podium, a podium that Martin Luther King himself spoke at on December 10th, 1964 to basically belittle the notion of peace and the idea of non-violence as “non-practical” is beyond me. Why would Obama be using this rhetoric and distancing himself from MLK? Well if he is a corparatist, if he aligns himself with the corporate bottom line instead of with the will and values of the people, then MLK’s views would be perceived as not being in Obama’s or his benefactors interests, or even somewhat threatening.

There is good reason for Obama to reject MLK and his overall vision for America and the world if he is an elitist who is aligned with corporate interests. Martin Luther King started to use language that shined a harsh light on the systemic issues of poverty and violence and how it related to the US policy of never-ending war and aggression. And ending war and world wide police action might not be in US government and corporate interests. Again with Medea quotes:

“Martin Luther King, dealing with the military mindset of his time, called for a revolution of values. In his powerful April 4, 1967 speech outlining his opposition to the war in Vietnam, King put forward his vision:

‘A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: This way of settling differences is not just. This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.’

One wonders if his assassination a year later, to the day, was purposeful, but I suppose it is just a terrible coincidence.

Again from Medea:

”Obama would do well to examine the reasons that King turned his moral compass to opposing the Vietnam war, as the parallels with Afghanistan are striking: King saw President Johnson’s Poverty Program as a moment of real promise for the poor, both black and white.

‘Then came the build-up in Vietnam, and I watched the program broken as if it was some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money, like some demonic, destructive suction tube.’

Now you can definitely make an argument that Obama cannot align himself with such strong rhetoric, but how about this next paragraph from MLK.

I speak out against this war, not in anger, but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and, above all, with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as the moral example of the world. I speak out against this war because I am disappointed with America. And there can be no great disappointment where there is not great love.”

Could O have spoken of disappointment in America? Would it have jeopardized his standing in the world, as a leader and public figure? Could he have said that America let people down with the unpopular Iraq war? That he loved America so much that he wanted to steer it right again? I think the first Black POTUS riding on a wave of hope and good will could galvanize the entire world around a more peaceful and just foreign policy that adopted Diplomacy with a capital D. That did not look at war as ‘strategerie’, as his predecessor liked to call it, but strives more to be a beacon on a hill to other nations.

You will hear so much about the good Rev’s “I have a dream speech” but the MSMedia will not mention these other less famous, but not less important speeches. Much talk will be made around Obama and race, but I doubt that mention of MLK’s speeches against the military mindset and corporate greed that he so eloquently be made. We are not even allowed to discuss these things in the public arena. Obama cannot even touch upon these things for fear of upsetting Wall Street it seems. And I am not the only one disappointed in Obama. Most of the progressive black movement in this country is getting antsy as well. Tavis Smiley constantly expresses disappointment  in Obama’s unwillingness to talk race, to have as Tavis calls it, “teaching moments.”

I will finish up with someone who is not afraid of having teaching moments about race and who even wrote a whole book about it back in 1993. The author is Cornel West, the book is “Race Matters”, and the chapter is entitled “The Crisis of Black Leadership”. In it he accuses the black middle class of adopting capitalistic and even hedonistic tendencies:

“Well to do parents no longer sent their kids to Howard, Morehouse and Fisk to serve the race, but to Harvard, Yale and Princeton to get a high paying job.”

He goes on,“Without a vibrant tradition of resistance passed on to new generations, their can be no nurturing of a collective and critical consciousness, only professional conscientiousness survives. When no vital community to hold up precious ethical and religious ideals, there will be no coming to a moral commitment, only personal accomplishment is applauded. Without a credible sense of political struggle there can be no shouldering of a courageous engagement, only cautious adjustment is undertaken.”

Dr. West goes on to say, “The black dress suits with white shirts worn by Malcolm X and MLK  signified the seriousness of commitment to black freedom, where as today the expensive tailored suits of black politicians symbolize their personal success and individual achievement. Malcom and Martin called for the realization that black people are somebodies which America has to reckon with, whereas black politicians tend to call attention to their somebodiness owing to their making it in America.”

Then Cornel describes the Obama type of black leader in this way. “This type survives on sheer political savvy and thrives on personal diplomacy. This kind of candidate is the lesser of two evils in a political situation where the only other electorate choice is a conservative, usually white politician. Yet this type of leader tends to stem progressive development and silence the prophetic voices of the black community by casting the practical mainstream as the only game in town. “

Hope is a great thing, a needful thing. But when President Obama acts hopeless about the possibility of achievable peace in this century which has just begun, hope for all is dimmed. When President Obama, who rose to prominence on a such a big wave of hope and goodwill worldwide, uses the podium of his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to rationalize for more war and distance himself from Martin Luther King, a stunned and bewildered world glazes over with disbelief.

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