American Dream

Today is, of course, the 45th anniversary of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Like so much of what King said, it is a remarkable piece of oratory – eloquent, evocative, and powerfully argued. Consider some of the lesser known parts of the speech:

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

King was correct in every respect. America had defaulted on its “promissory note” as it related to citizens of color. It was not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. And, importantly, King believed America’s bank of justice was not bankrupt. Like Lincoln before him, King rooted his argument in returning, again and again, to the Declaration of Independence and America’s founding creed.

In his speech tonight, Barack Obama would be wise and right to pay homage to the America he has lived in and risen in. The United States has traveled an enormous distance since Dr. King spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial–and while we remain an imperfect nation, over the decades our country has, in the main, been lifted from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

The philosopher Allan Bloom wrote in The Closing of the American Mind, “America tells one story: the unbroken ineluctable progress of freedom and equality.” Just so. And when Barack Obama formally accepts the nomination of his party tonight, it will be a tribute not only to him, but to the country he seeks to lead.