NEW YORK, January 25, 2013 - When I submitted to editors last Sunday a set of hopes for the President’s Speech, I did not imagine Dr. Cornel R. West would count himself critic, using an ironically flawed premise.
In a piece for www.newsone.com entitled, “Cornel West: President Obama Doesn’t Deserve to be Sworn in with MLK’s Bible”, Kirsten West Savali notes, among other things, the following recent remarks by Dr. West:
“All of the blood, sweat and tears that went into producing a Martin Luther King, Jr. generated a brother of such high decency that you don’t use his prophetic fire for a moment of presidential pageantry. Without understanding the challenge he represents to all of those in power.”
Dr. West’s extended argument is captured in a video linked to the Savali piece where he makes his own case plain. Readers would do well to soak in his arguments. While they do not appear fully to indulge reason, nor experiment but land close to a conclusion I reach another way, from a different direction.
Dr. King’s message hangs intact from the rafters over humanity, tantalizing and still in plain sight for each to grasp. The central theme of the 1963 address and of Dr. King’s life is surely not that rage results in redemption or that violence soothes justifiably embittered souls. For Dr. King, like President Lincoln, was a “uniter” not a “divider”. An evident man of God, Dr. King fully appreciated each Commandment, including striking flaws in the last one:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
One wonders why an eminent “thought leader” such as Dr. West would instead sink to limiting his analysis of suffering and of progress through the prism of materialist, race-colored glasses when he could occupy moral high ground lodging with his professorial colleagues at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan.
There are many profound messages we should try to appreciate in the all too short life, historic 1963 address, manifest constructive deeds, and tragic assassination of Dr. King.
In America, as in few other nations on earth, each of us may choose to commune with higher power in our own way or reject this right. The relationship we enter is ours alone and bears deepest personal consequences.
How President Obama chooses to swear a solemn oath is up to him and to his conscience. I care most about whether he actually discharges the responsibilities he has twice sworn to uphold before God and this world. To paraphrase the author of religious freedom inside America, the provenance of bibles matters not: “…it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”
Last Monday was a moment gestating for more than fifty years with the promise of audacious hope.
Following four years of faltering false steps, President Obama did not, in the end, even approach the foothills of Dr, King’s mountaintop, nor did he fulfill the rich promise that ignited so many from 2004 through that January day in 2009 when he delivered his historic First Inaugural Address.
The President’s latest effort was definitely not a “King’s Speech” sequel.
As for the actual words President Obama uttered Monday, one thing is clear—if the same person who helped craft the 2004 national debut authored them, he or she lost touch with the spirit that sparked Barack Obama’s meteoric rise.
If not, pay any price Mr. President and bring back the magic before February 12, 2013 when you have one more precious chance to soar with eagles rather than slither in shop-worn, divisive and ineffective slogans that unite only to drive realistic hope out into the air.
America expects a full course intellectual meal from you, not a surfeit of noxious cotton candy.
Sadly, I am not holding my breath.
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