Tomorrow President Obama plans a twofer, donning the mantle of two previous American giants:

President Barack Obama will make remarks on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28 as part of a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the demonstration best remembered for Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

The White House announced that Obama – the first African-American president of the United States — will speak at the “Let Freedom Ring” event, which will be held to recall the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

That civil rights movement demonstration drew some 250,000 people to the Lincoln Memorial, where King delivered his unforgettable remarks.

I would ordinarily consider it to be completely fitting for the first African-American president to make such a speech on such an occasion. But at this point in Obama’s presidency it seems to me to be the height of the exploitative hypocrisy in which he specializes—associating himself by pageantry with real American heroes such as Lincoln and King while working hard to counter some of what they stood for.

Let’s take a look at the words of King’s 50-year-old speech. It is very famous—and rightly so—for its inspirational “I have a dream” passage, although many people have since pointed out the irony of King saying “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” in light of the growth of race hucksterism in America.

But when I looked back at the entire speech, other words caught my attention, too:

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

I also noticed that, in quite a few of the somewhat condensed versions of King’s speech that appear online, that warning does not appear (for example, this site omits it). In fact, it was so often omitted in online versions that I began to wonder whether it only appeared in the published text and King had actually omitted it in his delivered remarks.

But no; you can hear it here, beginning at minute 7:37. The “bitterness” remark was also omitted from this shortened transcript, although the following similar passage is included:

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

And the marvelous new militarism which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers have evidenced by their presence here today that they have come to realize that their destiny is part of our destiny.

In his speech Martin Luther King expressed a dream of a colorblind society, not a society obsessed with color. I assume that he would have been very happy to see that a black man could be elected president, but he correctly foresaw the dangers of the bitterness and rage that has been the legacy of racial discrimination and the movement to redress it.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.