January 29, 2009

Henwood on Obama and King

I wanted to write a comment about Obama's inauguration. It fell by the wayside, mostly because of how trite it was, decent oratory, strong sentences, but so completely worn out, so out of touch with the challenge that we face, we the people who inhabit this planet. Every word was there to tackle the challenge Obama faced, the challenge the U.S. empire faced. That so many people who should know better cannot distinguish between what's good for the empire and what's good for the people is sad.

Here is Doug Henwood, writing the best commentary I've seen so far:

Speaking of the new administration, I was profoundly annoyed by all the facile comparisons of Barack Obama to Martin Luther King that have been floating around in recent days. You’d think that electing a black president solved all our racial problems! You’d almost conclude, from all the vigorous back self-patting, that the whole reason we had slavery and Jim Crow was just to transcend them someday, thereby proving our innate goodness.

think I’ll use the words of Obama and King themselves to refute the comparison. First, some excerpts from Obama’s inaugural address:

Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred…. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics… For us, they fought and died in places Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn… Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched… We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in itsdefense. And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, ‘Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.’ … [t]he selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours…. As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service: a
willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.
There, in 216 words, we hear someone still in the grip of orthodoxy:

subscribing to the master narrative of a war on terror, evoking some fanciful post-partisan world where interests and preferences aren’t in conflict, equating the Vietnam War to the struggles against the Confederacy and Nazi Germany, channeling Milton Friedman on the freedom-promoting powers of The Market, placing the burden of job preservation on self-sacrificing workers, echoing George Bush on our way of life, and reproducing the central message of the McCain campaign on the military as our highest calling.

Contrast that with this excerpt from King’s April 1967 speech against the Vietnam War delivered at Riverside Church, a year to the day before his assasination:

We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered… True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring…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 the veins of peoples 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.”

I’m afraid that’s too generous. We’re no longer approaching spiritual death; we’re on our spiritual deathbed. ( Doug Henwood)

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