This week we celebrated MLK Day and President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Traditionally this is a time to remember civil rights leader Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and his dream for our country.
To read Dr. King’s famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered in Washington, one realizes that many of King’s dreams have come to fruition. America was a very different place in 1963. Plagued by racial strife, rioting and Jim Crow laws, King’s dream seemed almost unattainable. The country was divided and disillusioned. Much as it is now.
In a disturbing paradox, five decades later, minorities have more opportunity, more access to the American dream and the South is transformed. So, we wonder, why are blacks and many people of color still trapped in poverty, ignorance and crime-ridden neighborhoods? Why have we made so much progress in the pursuit of equal opportunity, but still can’t say we have fulfilled King’s vision?
An editorial in our sister paper, The Washington Examiner, aptly labeled President Obama “The Great Divider.” Although Obama’s 2009 election as the nation’s first black president was hailed as a symbol that America’s racial divide was behind her, that has not proved true. If anything, Obama’s presidency has brought us more division. Not only along racial lines, but in class and culture. He vilifies the rich, implying their success and comfort was taken from the middle class and the poor. He alienates patriotic, law-abiding gun owners. Most disturbing, the president enables dysfunction among America’s minorities and poor with entitlement agendas and rhetoric of entitlement and dependence. Young Americans aren’t expected by this president to treasure freedom and the need for achievement, two goals that King treasured. Just examine the key point of his 1968 sermon “The Drum Major Instinct.”
“ ‘Now brethren, I can’t give you greatness. And really, I can’t make you first.’ This is what Jesus said to James and John. ‘You must earn it. True greatness comes not by favoritism, but by fitness. And the right hand and the left are not mine to give, they belong to those who are prepared.’ ...It means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”
To be fair, Obama did not start the welfare state mentality. It began after the Great Depression, when the government created massive programs designed to aid hundreds of thousands who lived in dire financial straits. A succession of presidents since Franklin Delano Roosevelt sold Americans on a concept of government providence by redistribution. But Obama’s administration has done more to foster the entitlement mindset than any before him. Just consider this statement, from his second inaugural address, in which Obama credits the social safety net for the individual strength to succeed:
“The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
Except it doesn’t work that way. Innovation and inspiration are not forged through government ensured comfort and security. They are typically the byproducts of endeavors to overcome hardship and struggle.
So King would probably be as just perplexed as we are about what has happened to his legacy. How could most of his dream have become a reality, but that reality be so different than he and we imagined? According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, the number of Americans living in poverty has risen for the last four years. Poverty rates for blacks and Hispanics greatly exceed the national average of 15.1 percent. In 2010, 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Hispanics were poor, compared to 9.9 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 12.1 percent of Asians.
Too many in America remain, as King said, “on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.” But the harsher reality is, those on that island are often content to take advantage of the government programs that allow them not to work or worry. King said America had written African-Americans a bad check.
Well, the next two generations have cashed the check.
King envisioned a day when people of all colors and religions would be “free at last.” We can not say we are free. Not if we are controlled by divisive leadership that talks about entitlements and dependence rather than pursuits of greatness and the value of a servant’s heart.