Commentary Magazine


Topic: Martin Luther King Jr.

1963 to 2013: Obama Was Judged By the Content of His Character

Today’s anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech will feature an address by President Obama. As such, we should have some sympathy for the president. Being asked to give a speech commemorating one of the most famous speeches in American history is an unenviable task. Like someone going to Gettysburg to honor Lincoln’s address, no matter what you say, you’re bound to come up short in comparison to the original. But no matter how pedestrian our current great orator’s words sound when placed in juxtaposition to King’s words, the president’s presence on the podium will have greater significance than anything he says. There is, after all, no more powerful argument about how different the America of 2013 is from that of 1963 than the fact that the president of the United States today is an African-American.

There is no small irony in this since the president, his supporters and, indeed, most of what is left of what we still call the civil-rights movement have spent the last several months attempting to argue that whatever progress has been made, racism is still endemic in American society. Though the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial was a confusing case involving a Hispanic man claiming self-defense, liberals seeking to recapture the ancient struggle for civil rights inflated it into a rerun of the Emmitt Till murder. Commonsense voter ID laws supported by most African-Americans have been branded by no less a figure than the attorney general of the United States (also now a black man) into a new version of the despicable Jim Crow laws that motivated the 1963 march. But the reality of the Obama presidency gives the lie to these false charges. Though contemporary America is neither perfect nor free of individual racists, Obama is the realization of King’s dream.

If there is one thing that we know about our country today it is that in November 2008 and November 2012, it judged a black man by the content of his character and not the color of his skin.

Read More

Today’s anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech will feature an address by President Obama. As such, we should have some sympathy for the president. Being asked to give a speech commemorating one of the most famous speeches in American history is an unenviable task. Like someone going to Gettysburg to honor Lincoln’s address, no matter what you say, you’re bound to come up short in comparison to the original. But no matter how pedestrian our current great orator’s words sound when placed in juxtaposition to King’s words, the president’s presence on the podium will have greater significance than anything he says. There is, after all, no more powerful argument about how different the America of 2013 is from that of 1963 than the fact that the president of the United States today is an African-American.

There is no small irony in this since the president, his supporters and, indeed, most of what is left of what we still call the civil-rights movement have spent the last several months attempting to argue that whatever progress has been made, racism is still endemic in American society. Though the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial was a confusing case involving a Hispanic man claiming self-defense, liberals seeking to recapture the ancient struggle for civil rights inflated it into a rerun of the Emmitt Till murder. Commonsense voter ID laws supported by most African-Americans have been branded by no less a figure than the attorney general of the United States (also now a black man) into a new version of the despicable Jim Crow laws that motivated the 1963 march. But the reality of the Obama presidency gives the lie to these false charges. Though contemporary America is neither perfect nor free of individual racists, Obama is the realization of King’s dream.

If there is one thing that we know about our country today it is that in November 2008 and November 2012, it judged a black man by the content of his character and not the color of his skin.

We may not have arrived at a completely color-blind utopia yet, but Obama’s election and his reelection demonstrated that Jim Crow is dead once and for all. Whites may have been prepared to tolerate blacks in the 1960s or even to give them equality. But in the last five years they have twice shown that they were willing to vote for one for president.

An intellectually bankrupt left and civil-rights groups that long ago lost their way may cling to the idea that little or nothing has changed. Their struggle should have been transformed into one that sought to address the breakdown of the black family and other social pathologies (fed in no small part by the growth of a well-intentioned welfare state in the wake of the passage of historic civil-rights laws) long ago. But instead they cling to the notion that white racism is the problem. In doing so they have perpetuated division rather than seeking to erase it.

One of the main reasons Obama was elected and then reelected in spite of a first term filled with failure was that his presence in the White House corrected a great historic injustice and made Americans feel good about themselves. This may be frustrating for Obama’s critics, but it is altogether understandable. It should also cause those speaking today at the Lincoln Memorial to ponder just how different America is today from the one where King dreamed such a thing might be possible. Instead of decrying America’s failings today, the president and others who speak should be celebrating just how much we have achieved. Barack Obama is the embodiment of American progress. Let us hope he spends today and the rest of his time in the White House fulfilling his promises to try and bring us together rather than working, as he has done, to keeping old, dead, and hurtful fights alive.

Read Less

The Descent From the March to Voter ID

This weekend the nation is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. The event is supposed to coincide with the completion of the memorial on the National Mall to Martin Luther King Jr. But what is left of the once great civil-rights movement has spent the summer preparing for the occasion by attempting to recapture the fervor of those bygone days of struggle by hyping new issues of concern. To listen to the racial hucksters that rail at us from their perches at MSNBC and other outposts of the liberal mainstream media, the difference between the America of 2013 and that of 1963 is merely superficial. They tell us that a country that could allow George Zimmerman to walk free in the killing of Trayvon Martin or that might ask citizens to produce a photo ID when voting is as racist as the racially segregated place that King and others denounced in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial five decades ago.

Demonstrating the utter falsity of this charge doesn’t require much effort. We can merely point to the fact that the America we live in has a black man as its president as well as its attorney general. Though it is not perfect or completely free of a variety of prejudices that still lurk in the hearts of some of us, it is a nation that has for the most part transcended its past. The basic rights demanded at the march have been granted. The south has changed, as has the north. Segregation is outlawed and blacks now freely vote in numbers that sometimes outpace that of whites. So it is a sign both of the enormous progress we have made in the last five decades as well as the bankruptcy of the groups that cling to the label of civil rights that the evidence of American racism is today reduced to arguments about a confusing case involving a Hispanic man claiming the right of self-defense and a voter integrity measure that is actually supported by most African-Americans. While it is fitting that the country should pause this week and remember the march as well as the heroism of those who struggled for civil rights, we do the memory of that effort no honor by confusing the genuine grievances it sought to redress with the trumped-up issues now put forward as evidence of official racism.

Read More

This weekend the nation is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. The event is supposed to coincide with the completion of the memorial on the National Mall to Martin Luther King Jr. But what is left of the once great civil-rights movement has spent the summer preparing for the occasion by attempting to recapture the fervor of those bygone days of struggle by hyping new issues of concern. To listen to the racial hucksters that rail at us from their perches at MSNBC and other outposts of the liberal mainstream media, the difference between the America of 2013 and that of 1963 is merely superficial. They tell us that a country that could allow George Zimmerman to walk free in the killing of Trayvon Martin or that might ask citizens to produce a photo ID when voting is as racist as the racially segregated place that King and others denounced in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial five decades ago.

Demonstrating the utter falsity of this charge doesn’t require much effort. We can merely point to the fact that the America we live in has a black man as its president as well as its attorney general. Though it is not perfect or completely free of a variety of prejudices that still lurk in the hearts of some of us, it is a nation that has for the most part transcended its past. The basic rights demanded at the march have been granted. The south has changed, as has the north. Segregation is outlawed and blacks now freely vote in numbers that sometimes outpace that of whites. So it is a sign both of the enormous progress we have made in the last five decades as well as the bankruptcy of the groups that cling to the label of civil rights that the evidence of American racism is today reduced to arguments about a confusing case involving a Hispanic man claiming the right of self-defense and a voter integrity measure that is actually supported by most African-Americans. While it is fitting that the country should pause this week and remember the march as well as the heroism of those who struggled for civil rights, we do the memory of that effort no honor by confusing the genuine grievances it sought to redress with the trumped-up issues now put forward as evidence of official racism.

It should be specified that the plight of a significant portion of the contemporary African-American community is such that we might well wonder how much progress has been made since King memorably dreamed of an America where his children would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” But the severe challenges of poverty, family breakdown, gangs, and a pervasive culture of violence that is part of the creation of a near-permanent underclass is largely the result of the social pathologies that grew out of the welfare state that arose in the aftermath of the march, not white racism. That these problems were the unintentional result of good intentions gone awry rather than prejudice is ironic but it is one that is largely lost on the race hucksters.

Martin’s death was the result of a confusing and violent struggle between two members of minority groups. It was taken out of context and is now routinely characterized by pop icons like Oprah Winfrey as a modern Emmitt Till case. That Martin’s death is not remotely comparable to Till’s murder was obvious to anyone who watched any of Zimmerman’s televised trial during which not a scintilla of proof was produced about Zimmerman’s racism.

But that is just as true of the attempts by the Department of Justice to treat voter ID laws as a rerun of Jim Crow. The vast majority of African-Americans, like every other segment of American society, thinks there’s nothing wrong with asking people to be able to identify themselves when they vote. Common sense voter integrity measures seem reasonable to people that know that, unlike in 1963, nowadays one needs a photo ID to bank, buy cold medicine, or travel, let alone make any transaction with the government. Only those afflicted by the bigotry of low expectations think blacks are more incapable than other Americans of obtaining a free government ID if they don’t have a driver’s license or a passport.

The myth propagated by the left, and echoed by the Obama administration, that voter ID laws are racist is an attempt to racialize an issue that has nothing to do with prejudice against African-Americans. Whereas once civil rights meant an effort to prevent white racists from stealing elections via laws that literally stopped all members of some groups from voting, now it seems to mean preventing any effort to protect the integrity of the votes of all citizens.

The inappropriate rhetoric employed by Obama, Attorney General Holder and those charlatans like Al Sharpton who purport now to speak in the name of the cause of civil rights have debased the coinage of the rhetoric of freedom that was so nobly advanced by King and others at the march. The descent of the civil rights movement from outrage at genuine discrimination to false flag issues like Martin or voter ID shows have far this nation has come. But it also illustrates the irrelevance of that movement to the genuine problems that are faced today by African-Americans.

Read Less

Martin Luther King Jr.

On this holiday honoring his birth, it is worth reminding ourselves why Martin Luther King Jr. deserves the place he holds in the American imagination.

Dr. King was — with Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln — our nation’s most effective advocate for the American ideal. How he became so is itself a fascinating story.

King graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 with a degree in sociology. He was unhappy with his major, however, complaining about the “apathetic fallacy of statistics.” While at Morehouse, King decided to change his field of study. He entered Crozer Theological Seminary, where he absorbed the writings of political philosophers “from Plato and Aristotle,” King wrote, “down to Rousseau, Hobbes, Bentham, Mill and Locke.”

In a beautiful tribute to King, delivered at Spellman College in 1986, then secretary of education William Bennett explained why King turned to the liberal arts. In Bennett’s words:

Martin Luther King turned to the greatest philosophers because he needed to know the answers to certain questions. What is justice? What should be loved? What deserves to be defended? What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope for? What is man? These questions are not simply intellectual diversions, but have engaged thoughtful human beings in all places and in all ages. As a result of the ways in which these questions have been answered, civilizations have emerged, nations have developed, wars have been fought, and people have lived contentedly or miserably. And as a result of the way in which Martin Luther King eventually answered these questions, Jim Crow was destroyed and American history was transformed.

In combating segregation, King could easily have gone in a different direction than he did (nonviolent civil disobedience). There were, after all, many competing philosophies within the black community about which way to go: Booker T. Washington’s gradualism, Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement, Malcolm X’s appeal to black nationalism, A. Philip Randolph’s direct-action campaigns, the NAACP’s legal strategy, and W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Talented Tenth” approach among them.

Dr. King’s liberal-arts education helps explain why he chose the path he did. And so, too, did his Christian faith.

While Malcolm X declared that nonviolence was the “philosophy of the fool,” in a sermon in 1956, King argued the opposite:

Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos. Read More

On this holiday honoring his birth, it is worth reminding ourselves why Martin Luther King Jr. deserves the place he holds in the American imagination.

Dr. King was — with Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln — our nation’s most effective advocate for the American ideal. How he became so is itself a fascinating story.

King graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 with a degree in sociology. He was unhappy with his major, however, complaining about the “apathetic fallacy of statistics.” While at Morehouse, King decided to change his field of study. He entered Crozer Theological Seminary, where he absorbed the writings of political philosophers “from Plato and Aristotle,” King wrote, “down to Rousseau, Hobbes, Bentham, Mill and Locke.”

In a beautiful tribute to King, delivered at Spellman College in 1986, then secretary of education William Bennett explained why King turned to the liberal arts. In Bennett’s words:

Martin Luther King turned to the greatest philosophers because he needed to know the answers to certain questions. What is justice? What should be loved? What deserves to be defended? What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope for? What is man? These questions are not simply intellectual diversions, but have engaged thoughtful human beings in all places and in all ages. As a result of the ways in which these questions have been answered, civilizations have emerged, nations have developed, wars have been fought, and people have lived contentedly or miserably. And as a result of the way in which Martin Luther King eventually answered these questions, Jim Crow was destroyed and American history was transformed.

In combating segregation, King could easily have gone in a different direction than he did (nonviolent civil disobedience). There were, after all, many competing philosophies within the black community about which way to go: Booker T. Washington’s gradualism, Marcus Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement, Malcolm X’s appeal to black nationalism, A. Philip Randolph’s direct-action campaigns, the NAACP’s legal strategy, and W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Talented Tenth” approach among them.

Dr. King’s liberal-arts education helps explain why he chose the path he did. And so, too, did his Christian faith.

While Malcolm X declared that nonviolence was the “philosophy of the fool,” in a sermon in 1956, King argued the opposite:

Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

King went on to say this:

In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself. Let him know that the festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. With this attitude you will be able to keep your struggle on high Christian standards.

King concluded his sermon this way:

I still believe that standing up for the truth of God is the greatest thing in the world. This is the end of life. The end of life is not to be happy. The end of life is not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.

I still believe that love is the most durable power in the world. Over the centuries men have sought to discover the highest good. This has been the chief quest of ethical philosophy. This has been one of the big questions of Greek philosophy. The Epicureans and the Stoics sought to answer it; Plato and Aristotle sought to answer it. What is the summum bonum of life? I think I have discovered the highest good. It is love. This principle stands at the center of the cosmos. As John says, “God is love.” He who loves is a participant in the being of God. He who hates does not know God.

One of the things we learn from Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, then, is that he saw great injustice and sought to confront it within the American tradition and his Christian faith rather than outside them. In that sense, King was very much like Lincoln, who consistently urged Americans to return to the truths of the Declaration of Independence and “take courage to renew the battle which [the founding] fathers began, so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land.”

We celebrate Dr. King’s birth because he was among the greatest men America ever produced, his words among the most powerful and evocative ever written. They changed the trajectory of American history for the better, and only a handful of others can make the same claim.

Read Less

Morning Commentary

The street riots in Tunisia could lead to a democratic revolution, but they could also lead to the rise of an extremist government, like the 1979 Islamic revolution did in Iran. In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum writes about the potential outcomes of Tunisia’s political transition: “A month ago, they turned to street protests. So far, this is not an Islamic revolution — but it isn’t a democratic revolution yet, either. Instead, we are witnessing a demographic revolution: the revolt of the frustrated young against their corrupt elders. Anyone who looked at the population numbers and job data could have guessed it might happen, and, as I say, many did.”

Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, Natan Sharansky, Alan Dershowitz, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and other Jewish leaders spoke out against the anti-Israel delegitimization movement at a south Florida summit on Sunday. While the boycott and divestment campaign hasn’t entered the mainstream in the U.S., it has been increasingly problematic in Europe: “‘When there is a boycott of Israeli products — buy them. When trade unions and universities want companies to divest of their holdings in Israeli companies — invest in them. When there is a speaker from Israel — attend the speech and make sure the speaker can be heard,’ Oren said. Most of all, ‘We must educate our community about BDS. We must unite actively to combat it,’ he said.”

Claudia Rosett wonders when Saudi Arabia is going to send Israel a thank-you note for Stuxnet. After all, if WikiLeaks has shown us anything, it’s that the Saudis fear a nuclear Iran almost as much as Israel and the U.S. do: “But if the broad picture painted by the Times is accurate (and there are gaps in the trail described), then surely there is another group of countries which for more wholesome reasons owe a profound thank you to Israel. Prominent among this crowd are the Middle East potentates, from the king of Saudi Arabia to the king of Bahrain to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, whose private pleadings — as made to U.S. officials and exposed by Wikileaks — were to do whatever it takes to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Stuxnet may be the first instance of cyberwarfare, writes Spencer Ackerman. But how far can these types of attacks go in helping us attain our national-security goals? “That also points to the downside. Just as strategic bombing doesn’t have a good track record of success, Stuxnet hasn’t taken down the Iranian nuclear program. Doctrine-writers may be tempted to view cyberwar as an alternative to a shooting war, but the evidence to date doesn’t suggest anything of the sort. Stuxnet just indicates that high-level cyberwarfare really is possible; it doesn’t indicate that it’s sufficient for achieving national objectives.”

Happy MLK Day. Foreign Policy’s Will Inboden asks President Obama to remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for human rights and justice when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao this week: “As my Shadow Government colleague Mike Green pointed out in his excellent preview of the Hu visit, China’s imprisonment of democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo means that the White House meeting this week will be ‘our first summit (indeed, our first state visit) between a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a world leader who is imprisoning another Nobel Peace Prize laureate.’ Martin Luther King Jr. also won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1964.”

The street riots in Tunisia could lead to a democratic revolution, but they could also lead to the rise of an extremist government, like the 1979 Islamic revolution did in Iran. In the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum writes about the potential outcomes of Tunisia’s political transition: “A month ago, they turned to street protests. So far, this is not an Islamic revolution — but it isn’t a democratic revolution yet, either. Instead, we are witnessing a demographic revolution: the revolt of the frustrated young against their corrupt elders. Anyone who looked at the population numbers and job data could have guessed it might happen, and, as I say, many did.”

Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, Natan Sharansky, Alan Dershowitz, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and other Jewish leaders spoke out against the anti-Israel delegitimization movement at a south Florida summit on Sunday. While the boycott and divestment campaign hasn’t entered the mainstream in the U.S., it has been increasingly problematic in Europe: “‘When there is a boycott of Israeli products — buy them. When trade unions and universities want companies to divest of their holdings in Israeli companies — invest in them. When there is a speaker from Israel — attend the speech and make sure the speaker can be heard,’ Oren said. Most of all, ‘We must educate our community about BDS. We must unite actively to combat it,’ he said.”

Claudia Rosett wonders when Saudi Arabia is going to send Israel a thank-you note for Stuxnet. After all, if WikiLeaks has shown us anything, it’s that the Saudis fear a nuclear Iran almost as much as Israel and the U.S. do: “But if the broad picture painted by the Times is accurate (and there are gaps in the trail described), then surely there is another group of countries which for more wholesome reasons owe a profound thank you to Israel. Prominent among this crowd are the Middle East potentates, from the king of Saudi Arabia to the king of Bahrain to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, whose private pleadings — as made to U.S. officials and exposed by Wikileaks — were to do whatever it takes to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Stuxnet may be the first instance of cyberwarfare, writes Spencer Ackerman. But how far can these types of attacks go in helping us attain our national-security goals? “That also points to the downside. Just as strategic bombing doesn’t have a good track record of success, Stuxnet hasn’t taken down the Iranian nuclear program. Doctrine-writers may be tempted to view cyberwar as an alternative to a shooting war, but the evidence to date doesn’t suggest anything of the sort. Stuxnet just indicates that high-level cyberwarfare really is possible; it doesn’t indicate that it’s sufficient for achieving national objectives.”

Happy MLK Day. Foreign Policy’s Will Inboden asks President Obama to remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for human rights and justice when he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao this week: “As my Shadow Government colleague Mike Green pointed out in his excellent preview of the Hu visit, China’s imprisonment of democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo means that the White House meeting this week will be ‘our first summit (indeed, our first state visit) between a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a world leader who is imprisoning another Nobel Peace Prize laureate.’ Martin Luther King Jr. also won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1964.”

Read Less

Time to Panic for Dems

That is the essence of the message from Obama’s closest political guru:

President Obama’s top political guru said Tuesday that he believes 70 House races and 15 Senate races are in play this fall. … Plouffe painted a picture of a dire electoral landscape in which, if Democrats were to lose the majority of those races, their losses would be massive.

Robert Gibbs’s admission in July that the House could be lost is now becoming conventional wisdom. The best Plouffe can do, it seems, is manage expectations.

But there is no spinning this one. There will be plenty of finger-pointing, but the Democrats who blindly followed the White House and their House and Senate leadership, pooh-poohed the Tea Party movement, ignored the polling on ObamaCare, and convinced themselves that the left’s time had come have no one to blame but themselves.

As for the White House, it will no doubt declare that, however severe the thumping in November, none of this is a reflection on Obama. It is a “tough environment” and the “economy is bad” — as if these were weather phenomena, unrelated to the president’s agenda and leadership. There may be some reshuffling of the White House team, but it remains to be seen whether there will be any self-reflection. Heck, this crew can’t even admit they got the quote on the White House rug wrong. Alas, they seem more unintelligible than usual:

President Barack Obama’s spokesman said Tuesday the White House was correct to attribute a famous quotation in the rug’s pattern to Martin Luther King Jr., even though the civil rights leader acknowledged being inspired by a 19th-century abolitionist, Thomas Parker. “It was not us that thought he said it, it was many people that believed — rightly so — that he said it,” press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

At some point the “Will Hillary run?” buzz will start. But only if she starts boosting her profile and making the case that her record is something to be proud of.

That is the essence of the message from Obama’s closest political guru:

President Obama’s top political guru said Tuesday that he believes 70 House races and 15 Senate races are in play this fall. … Plouffe painted a picture of a dire electoral landscape in which, if Democrats were to lose the majority of those races, their losses would be massive.

Robert Gibbs’s admission in July that the House could be lost is now becoming conventional wisdom. The best Plouffe can do, it seems, is manage expectations.

But there is no spinning this one. There will be plenty of finger-pointing, but the Democrats who blindly followed the White House and their House and Senate leadership, pooh-poohed the Tea Party movement, ignored the polling on ObamaCare, and convinced themselves that the left’s time had come have no one to blame but themselves.

As for the White House, it will no doubt declare that, however severe the thumping in November, none of this is a reflection on Obama. It is a “tough environment” and the “economy is bad” — as if these were weather phenomena, unrelated to the president’s agenda and leadership. There may be some reshuffling of the White House team, but it remains to be seen whether there will be any self-reflection. Heck, this crew can’t even admit they got the quote on the White House rug wrong. Alas, they seem more unintelligible than usual:

President Barack Obama’s spokesman said Tuesday the White House was correct to attribute a famous quotation in the rug’s pattern to Martin Luther King Jr., even though the civil rights leader acknowledged being inspired by a 19th-century abolitionist, Thomas Parker. “It was not us that thought he said it, it was many people that believed — rightly so — that he said it,” press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

At some point the “Will Hillary run?” buzz will start. But only if she starts boosting her profile and making the case that her record is something to be proud of.

Read Less

Brooks Cheers Beck — Honest!

David Brooks couldn’t find a bad word to say about the Glenn Beck rally. Really. In his conversation with Gail Collins, she certainly tried to drag something negative out of him. But he liked what he saw:

I have to confess I really enjoyed it. I’m no Beck fan obviously, but the spirit was really warm, generous and uplifting. The only bit of unpleasantness I found emanated from some liberal gatecrashers behaving offensively, carrying anti-Beck banners and hoping to get in some televised fights. … There, at Saturday’s rally, were the most conservative people in the country, lauding Martin Luther King Jr. There they were, in the midst of their dismay, lavishly celebrating the basic institutions of American government. I have no problem with that.

In fact, that is why the liberal punditocracy’s criticism was both muted and half-hearted. What was there to grip about? Well, there was all that, you know, religion stuff. Brooks is fine with it:

If there was a political message to the meeting, it was that many people think America’s peril is fundamentally spiritual, not economic. There has been some straying from the basic values and thrifty, industrious habits that built the country. I don’t agree with much of what this crowd wants, but I do agree with that.

Hmm, perhaps a spiritual revival that pushes back against the get-something-for-nothing me-ism of the 1960s and preaches delayed, not instant, gratification is socially beneficial. Next we’ll find out that stable two-parent households are the key to staying out of poverty.

But they are so angry. Not really. Brooks said “elite” was never mentioned at the rally. He explains: “There was a sense that the moral failings are in every home and town, and that what is needed is a moral awakening everywhere. … This was an affirmation of bourgeois values, but against a rot from within, not an assault from on high.”

What seems to have flummoxed the left is that the Beck rally demonstrated that the populist anti-Obama faction in the country (some might use the mundane phrase “majority”) isn’t composed of wackos. They actually understand better than elites that the economic problems are in large part a function of a collapse in values. Obama likes to rail against Wall Street. Well, that’s a location. The ralliers want to talk about what went wrong with the people who populate business and government. They would say we have lost touch with essential values — thrift, persistence, responsibility, modesty, and, yes, faith in something beyond self and self-indulgence. As Brooks put it, “Every society has to engird capitalism in a restraining value system, or else it turns nihilistic and out of control.”

The chattering class should stop chattering long enough to listen to what citizens are saying. Not only is it quite reasonable; it is profound.

David Brooks couldn’t find a bad word to say about the Glenn Beck rally. Really. In his conversation with Gail Collins, she certainly tried to drag something negative out of him. But he liked what he saw:

I have to confess I really enjoyed it. I’m no Beck fan obviously, but the spirit was really warm, generous and uplifting. The only bit of unpleasantness I found emanated from some liberal gatecrashers behaving offensively, carrying anti-Beck banners and hoping to get in some televised fights. … There, at Saturday’s rally, were the most conservative people in the country, lauding Martin Luther King Jr. There they were, in the midst of their dismay, lavishly celebrating the basic institutions of American government. I have no problem with that.

In fact, that is why the liberal punditocracy’s criticism was both muted and half-hearted. What was there to grip about? Well, there was all that, you know, religion stuff. Brooks is fine with it:

If there was a political message to the meeting, it was that many people think America’s peril is fundamentally spiritual, not economic. There has been some straying from the basic values and thrifty, industrious habits that built the country. I don’t agree with much of what this crowd wants, but I do agree with that.

Hmm, perhaps a spiritual revival that pushes back against the get-something-for-nothing me-ism of the 1960s and preaches delayed, not instant, gratification is socially beneficial. Next we’ll find out that stable two-parent households are the key to staying out of poverty.

But they are so angry. Not really. Brooks said “elite” was never mentioned at the rally. He explains: “There was a sense that the moral failings are in every home and town, and that what is needed is a moral awakening everywhere. … This was an affirmation of bourgeois values, but against a rot from within, not an assault from on high.”

What seems to have flummoxed the left is that the Beck rally demonstrated that the populist anti-Obama faction in the country (some might use the mundane phrase “majority”) isn’t composed of wackos. They actually understand better than elites that the economic problems are in large part a function of a collapse in values. Obama likes to rail against Wall Street. Well, that’s a location. The ralliers want to talk about what went wrong with the people who populate business and government. They would say we have lost touch with essential values — thrift, persistence, responsibility, modesty, and, yes, faith in something beyond self and self-indulgence. As Brooks put it, “Every society has to engird capitalism in a restraining value system, or else it turns nihilistic and out of control.”

The chattering class should stop chattering long enough to listen to what citizens are saying. Not only is it quite reasonable; it is profound.

Read Less

Back to Beck

I’ve been critical of Glenn Beck in the past, but it strikes me that James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal got it just about right when he wrote:

Pundits will debate whether the crowd at Glenn Beck’s Saturday rally in Washington was the largest in recent political history, but it was certainly among the most impressive. Mr. Beck is a television host and radio broadcaster with a checkered past and a penchant for incendiary remarks. But if he’s judged by the quality of people of all colors that he attracted to the Lincoln Memorial, his stock can’t help but rise. One would not be able to find a more polite crowd at a political convention, certainly not at a professional sporting event, probably not even at an opera.

What was politically smart was to use the rally not as a forum for anti-Obama anger but for expressions of gratitude to our military, to figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., and to God. I found Beck’s comments the next day on Fox about President Obama’s Christianity to be more troubling — but in terms of the rally itself, it was, from the coverage I saw, a fairly impressive display by Beck and, mostly, by those whom he was able to draw to Washington.

Critics were waiting to strike, but it turned out there was no target at which to aim. And so people like Bill Press were made to look like fools (see this takedown of Press by HotAir’s Ed Morrissey).

I’ve been critical of Glenn Beck in the past, but it strikes me that James Freeman of the Wall Street Journal got it just about right when he wrote:

Pundits will debate whether the crowd at Glenn Beck’s Saturday rally in Washington was the largest in recent political history, but it was certainly among the most impressive. Mr. Beck is a television host and radio broadcaster with a checkered past and a penchant for incendiary remarks. But if he’s judged by the quality of people of all colors that he attracted to the Lincoln Memorial, his stock can’t help but rise. One would not be able to find a more polite crowd at a political convention, certainly not at a professional sporting event, probably not even at an opera.

What was politically smart was to use the rally not as a forum for anti-Obama anger but for expressions of gratitude to our military, to figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., and to God. I found Beck’s comments the next day on Fox about President Obama’s Christianity to be more troubling — but in terms of the rally itself, it was, from the coverage I saw, a fairly impressive display by Beck and, mostly, by those whom he was able to draw to Washington.

Critics were waiting to strike, but it turned out there was no target at which to aim. And so people like Bill Press were made to look like fools (see this takedown of Press by HotAir’s Ed Morrissey).

Read Less

Bromide Obama’s Greatest Speech

David Brooks asserted yesterday in “Obama’s Christian Realism” that Barack Obama’s Oslo speech was “the most profound of his presidency, and maybe his life.”

Since Obama’s presidency is only 11 months old, and the Obama oeuvre is not large, this is actually faint praise. We all remember the great “Let Me Be Clear” speech at AIPAC, the emphatic “I Can No More Disown” Reverend Wright speech, the humble “Citizens of the World” address in Berlin, the stately “Greek Column” oration in Denver, the compelling “Unclench Your Fist” Inaugural, and the “Just Till July 2011” clarion call at West Point. There are really only about 10 lifetime speeches to be evaluated in terms of comparative profundity.

Brooks concludes that Obama’s Oslo speech is making his “doctrine” clear: a theological commitment to combat evil while avoiding righteousness. He quotes Obama’s 2007 remark on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s impact: “I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.”

Brooks originally reported that remark in a 2007 column entitled “Obama, Gospel and Verse,” in which he questioned whether Obama had “thought through a practical foreign policy doctrine of his own – a way to apply his Niebuhrian instincts.” Back then, Brooks was not certain he had:

When you ask about ways to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he talks grandly about marshaling a global alliance. But when you ask specifically if an Iranian bomb would be deterrable, he’s says yes: ”I think Iran is like North Korea. They see nuclear arms in defensive terms, as a way to prevent regime change.”

In other words, he has a tendency to go big and offer himself up as Bromide Obama, filled with grand but usually evasive eloquence about bringing people together and showing respect. Then, in a blink, he can go small and concrete, and sound more like a community organizer than George F. Kennan.

It’s nice that in his Oslo speech, Obama confirmed that evil “does exist in the world” and that he “cannot be guided by [Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Gandhi’s] examples alone.” It is good that he insists that Iran and North Korea not “game the system” and that sanctions must “exact a real price.”

But the real question about Obama’s “doctrine” is whether — after Iran declines to unclench its fist and sanctions fail (they have yet to succeed with Cuba or North Korea, and Saddam Hussein turned a profit from the “crippling” ones on him) — his Niebuhrian instincts call for any other option. Iran is likely to react to diplomacy in one fashion if it thinks the answer is yes, and another if it thinks the answer is no.

So far, Iran is acting as if it has read Brooks’s 2007 column and knows the answer. It appears untroubled by the most profound speech of Obama’s life.

David Brooks asserted yesterday in “Obama’s Christian Realism” that Barack Obama’s Oslo speech was “the most profound of his presidency, and maybe his life.”

Since Obama’s presidency is only 11 months old, and the Obama oeuvre is not large, this is actually faint praise. We all remember the great “Let Me Be Clear” speech at AIPAC, the emphatic “I Can No More Disown” Reverend Wright speech, the humble “Citizens of the World” address in Berlin, the stately “Greek Column” oration in Denver, the compelling “Unclench Your Fist” Inaugural, and the “Just Till July 2011” clarion call at West Point. There are really only about 10 lifetime speeches to be evaluated in terms of comparative profundity.

Brooks concludes that Obama’s Oslo speech is making his “doctrine” clear: a theological commitment to combat evil while avoiding righteousness. He quotes Obama’s 2007 remark on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s impact: “I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.”

Brooks originally reported that remark in a 2007 column entitled “Obama, Gospel and Verse,” in which he questioned whether Obama had “thought through a practical foreign policy doctrine of his own – a way to apply his Niebuhrian instincts.” Back then, Brooks was not certain he had:

When you ask about ways to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he talks grandly about marshaling a global alliance. But when you ask specifically if an Iranian bomb would be deterrable, he’s says yes: ”I think Iran is like North Korea. They see nuclear arms in defensive terms, as a way to prevent regime change.”

In other words, he has a tendency to go big and offer himself up as Bromide Obama, filled with grand but usually evasive eloquence about bringing people together and showing respect. Then, in a blink, he can go small and concrete, and sound more like a community organizer than George F. Kennan.

It’s nice that in his Oslo speech, Obama confirmed that evil “does exist in the world” and that he “cannot be guided by [Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Gandhi’s] examples alone.” It is good that he insists that Iran and North Korea not “game the system” and that sanctions must “exact a real price.”

But the real question about Obama’s “doctrine” is whether — after Iran declines to unclench its fist and sanctions fail (they have yet to succeed with Cuba or North Korea, and Saddam Hussein turned a profit from the “crippling” ones on him) — his Niebuhrian instincts call for any other option. Iran is likely to react to diplomacy in one fashion if it thinks the answer is yes, and another if it thinks the answer is no.

So far, Iran is acting as if it has read Brooks’s 2007 column and knows the answer. It appears untroubled by the most profound speech of Obama’s life.

Read Less

The Audacity of Anger

Today in Slate, Christopher Hitchens phoned in a piece on John McCain’s temper–a subject that could benefit from frank analysis. Hitchens merely uses the occasion to unload a barrage of comic euphemisms, but at least something of interest is touched upon. Hitchens writes:

About two decades ago, facing a group in his state GOP that resisted proclaiming a state holiday for Martin Luther King Jr., he shouted, “You will damn well do this” and rammed the idea home with other crisp and terse remarks.

Remember when, once in a while, politicians would lose their cool over a matter of principle? All we’ve seen this election go-round are tantrums in response to personal slights and manufactured anger designed to create the illusion of character. The problem for Democrats is that genuine outrage requires intolerance–and if there’s one thing the Left can’t stand, it’s intolerance.

Damning America? Unfortunate but tolerable. Engaging in domestic terrorist acts in the 70’s? Regrettable but tolerable. What, after all, was John Kerry’s national security goal? “[T]o get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance,” i.e., tolerable. And now that we’re at war? After five years of hard-won progress, we are supposed to understand that while letting Iraq slip into the hands of either Sunni or Shiite extremists would be perhaps a “nuisance,” it would be . . .tolerable. A nuclear Iran? Tolerable. And on, and on.

There’s something wrong with a leader who can’t muster a little justified outrage and even anger in response to the abominations of the enemy. Hoping is the easiest thing in the world. It’s getting mad in a multi-culti, PC world that demands audacity.

Today in Slate, Christopher Hitchens phoned in a piece on John McCain’s temper–a subject that could benefit from frank analysis. Hitchens merely uses the occasion to unload a barrage of comic euphemisms, but at least something of interest is touched upon. Hitchens writes:

About two decades ago, facing a group in his state GOP that resisted proclaiming a state holiday for Martin Luther King Jr., he shouted, “You will damn well do this” and rammed the idea home with other crisp and terse remarks.

Remember when, once in a while, politicians would lose their cool over a matter of principle? All we’ve seen this election go-round are tantrums in response to personal slights and manufactured anger designed to create the illusion of character. The problem for Democrats is that genuine outrage requires intolerance–and if there’s one thing the Left can’t stand, it’s intolerance.

Damning America? Unfortunate but tolerable. Engaging in domestic terrorist acts in the 70’s? Regrettable but tolerable. What, after all, was John Kerry’s national security goal? “[T]o get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance,” i.e., tolerable. And now that we’re at war? After five years of hard-won progress, we are supposed to understand that while letting Iraq slip into the hands of either Sunni or Shiite extremists would be perhaps a “nuisance,” it would be . . .tolerable. A nuclear Iran? Tolerable. And on, and on.

There’s something wrong with a leader who can’t muster a little justified outrage and even anger in response to the abominations of the enemy. Hoping is the easiest thing in the world. It’s getting mad in a multi-culti, PC world that demands audacity.

Read Less

Leave King out of It

In a statement on Sunday, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago defended the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, saying

nearly three weeks before the 40th commemorative anniversary of the murder of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s character is being assassinated in the public sphere because he has preached a social gospel on behalf of oppressed women, children and men in America and around the globe . . . It is an indictment of Dr. Wright’s ministerial legacy to present his global ministry within a 15- or 30-second sound bite.

I’m all in favor of seeing Dr. Wright’s “ministerial legacy” presented in more than a 30-second sound bite. More rather than less scrutiny on what Wright has said and done over the years is certainly welcome. I for one am eager to see Dr. Wright’s oeuvre. Whether that puts Reverend Wright in a better or worse light remains to be seen.

Beyond that, the comparison to Dr. King is not a good one for Reverend Wright. Dr. King, after all, spoke about the “magnificent words” of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, describing them as a “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” King spoke about the Emancipation Proclamation as a “momentous decree [that] came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.” And King said, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

The thrust of Dr. King’s teaching was that America was falling short of its promise, which it most surely was. But King understood that America, perhaps alone among nations, was the place where the promissory note could be fulfilled.

Reverend Wright is preaching a different message and a different social gospel than did King. Both speak about the liberation of the poor and the dispossessed. But King did not hate America and did not pray for its damnation. He did not celebrate in its wounds. He did not wish it harm. He did not propagate nutty conspiracy theories. And he did not drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred. It appears Reverend Wright does. That is why Barack Obama has a problem with his pastor-and why the comparison to Dr. King can only hurt both men.

In a statement on Sunday, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago defended the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, saying

nearly three weeks before the 40th commemorative anniversary of the murder of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s character is being assassinated in the public sphere because he has preached a social gospel on behalf of oppressed women, children and men in America and around the globe . . . It is an indictment of Dr. Wright’s ministerial legacy to present his global ministry within a 15- or 30-second sound bite.

I’m all in favor of seeing Dr. Wright’s “ministerial legacy” presented in more than a 30-second sound bite. More rather than less scrutiny on what Wright has said and done over the years is certainly welcome. I for one am eager to see Dr. Wright’s oeuvre. Whether that puts Reverend Wright in a better or worse light remains to be seen.

Beyond that, the comparison to Dr. King is not a good one for Reverend Wright. Dr. King, after all, spoke about the “magnificent words” of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, describing them as a “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” King spoke about the Emancipation Proclamation as a “momentous decree [that] came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.” And King said, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

The thrust of Dr. King’s teaching was that America was falling short of its promise, which it most surely was. But King understood that America, perhaps alone among nations, was the place where the promissory note could be fulfilled.

Reverend Wright is preaching a different message and a different social gospel than did King. Both speak about the liberation of the poor and the dispossessed. But King did not hate America and did not pray for its damnation. He did not celebrate in its wounds. He did not wish it harm. He did not propagate nutty conspiracy theories. And he did not drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred. It appears Reverend Wright does. That is why Barack Obama has a problem with his pastor-and why the comparison to Dr. King can only hurt both men.

Read Less

Dave Brubeck

On November 24, jazz pianist/composer Dave Brubeck and his quartet will perform at Manhattan’s Blue Note nightclub. At 86, Brubeck still gives around 80 concerts per year, although he has not played the Blue Note since 1994. Since his rhythmically cunning 1959 album Time Out, Brubeck has won accolades from fans (Clint Eastwood, a jazz addict, is producing a documentary about him), but he is not resting on his laurels.

This past summer, Brubeck released a new piano solo CD on Telarc, Indian Summer, with his characteristic blocky-sounding chords tempered by a gentle sweetness that has characterized his music-making for decades. I well recall a chat I had with the genial Brubeck a decade ago, focused on his studies with the French Jewish composer Darius Milhaud. Brubeck began working with Milhaud at California’s Mills College in 1946, entranced by the French composer’s use of jazz in his classical ballets Le Boeuf sur le Toit and La Création du monde. Brubeck, who named his eldest son Darius in homage to his teacher, told me that his favorite Milhaud work is the monumental choral symphony “Pacem in Terris,” settings of an encyclical by Pope John XXIII.

Brubeck recalled:

Milhaud’s abilities were amazing; his 15th and 16th string quartets can be played as individual pieces or together as an octet. He wrote them separately in two books and just remembered what was in each quartet. I don’t think any other composer could have done that, maybe not even Mozart. Milhaud used to write in ink like a demon and never proofread; I can’t compose a bar without erasing something. I think of him almost every day, even now. He kept me involved in jazz. “Bubu”—that’s what he’d call me—”Bubu, don’t give up something you do so well. In jazz you can travel everywhere and you’ll never have to attend a faculty meeting!”

Read More

On November 24, jazz pianist/composer Dave Brubeck and his quartet will perform at Manhattan’s Blue Note nightclub. At 86, Brubeck still gives around 80 concerts per year, although he has not played the Blue Note since 1994. Since his rhythmically cunning 1959 album Time Out, Brubeck has won accolades from fans (Clint Eastwood, a jazz addict, is producing a documentary about him), but he is not resting on his laurels.

This past summer, Brubeck released a new piano solo CD on Telarc, Indian Summer, with his characteristic blocky-sounding chords tempered by a gentle sweetness that has characterized his music-making for decades. I well recall a chat I had with the genial Brubeck a decade ago, focused on his studies with the French Jewish composer Darius Milhaud. Brubeck began working with Milhaud at California’s Mills College in 1946, entranced by the French composer’s use of jazz in his classical ballets Le Boeuf sur le Toit and La Création du monde. Brubeck, who named his eldest son Darius in homage to his teacher, told me that his favorite Milhaud work is the monumental choral symphony “Pacem in Terris,” settings of an encyclical by Pope John XXIII.

Brubeck recalled:

Milhaud’s abilities were amazing; his 15th and 16th string quartets can be played as individual pieces or together as an octet. He wrote them separately in two books and just remembered what was in each quartet. I don’t think any other composer could have done that, maybe not even Mozart. Milhaud used to write in ink like a demon and never proofread; I can’t compose a bar without erasing something. I think of him almost every day, even now. He kept me involved in jazz. “Bubu”—that’s what he’d call me—”Bubu, don’t give up something you do so well. In jazz you can travel everywhere and you’ll never have to attend a faculty meeting!”

Brubeck has avoided faculty meetings to this day, and his classically-influenced jazz has duly drawn some criticism from academic purists. His 1961 jazz musical The Real Ambassadors is a quintessential anti-purist work, involving collaboration with Louis Armstrong to address subjects from Civil Rights to the Cold War. Textual complexity makes The Real Ambassadors especially intriguing listening.

A more grandiose, four-square example of Brubeck’s mixing of genres is his 1969 cantata The Gates of Justice, which contains musical settings from the Old Testament, Hillel the Elder, and Martin Luther King Jr.. Rerecorded in 2001 for Naxos with a resonant tenor soloist, Alberto Mizrahi, who serves as Hazzan for Chicago’s Anshe Emet Synagogue, Brubeck’s Gates of Justice is no less than an attempt to reconcile African-Americans and Jews. Its 1960’s-era social ambitions may belong to a more idealistic age, but Gates of Justice’s kaleidoscopic range puts it in the category of good crossover music, like the best of Leonard Bernstein. When Brubeck performs, he does not tread lightly on the keyboard; yet in life, he always treads the path of righteousness.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.