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Bush Insults King's Legacy Again
Chicago Sun Times January 20, 2004
Monday marked what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King's 75th birthday. And once more, President Bush chose the occasion to issue a cold and calculated insult to African Americans and Dr. King's memory.
Last year, the president chose Dr. King's birthday to announce his decision to ask the Supreme Court to overturn our civil rights laws by challenging the University of Michigan's affirmative action program. Despite its conservative majority, even this Supreme Court found that too offensive to constitutional guarantees of equal rights, and ruled against the president's case.
This year, the president took time from his big-donor fund-raising to lay a wreath at Dr. King's grave and call for racial reconciliation. Then after collecting $2.4 million from wealthy beneficiaries of his tax cuts, he announced he would make a recess appointment of Judge Charles Pickering.
Bush renominated him when Republicans took over, but Pickering's views are so extreme that Democrats made him one of only six judges they have blocked. Now the president chooses Dr. King's holiday to announce his symbolic appointment to the bench. From Willy Horton to Charles Pickering, the Bush family has shown a remarkable cynicism about playing racial politics.
Dr. King called on America to measure itself from the bottom up, not the top down. As the Bible taught, we should be judged on how we treat the "least of these," not how we cater to the most powerful.
Even many of Bush's supporters acknowledge he is the reverse: His policies are designed to reward the wealthy and serve the corporate interests that pay for his party. On his watch, we've mortgaged the store to lavish tax breaks on the wealthy, even as support for the poor has been cut, and working people have been abandoned.
Dr. King devoted his life to fighting against poverty, for peace; against racism, for equal opportunity. In the midst of the Vietnam War, he courageously challenged America's wrongheaded intervention, and warned of the moral poverty of a country that spent more on its military than on its people.
Dr. King's politics came from his deep and abiding faith. Bush's faith seems defined by his politics. King spoke in pulpit after pulpit challenging the faithful to join the movement for social change. Bush, at his best, goes to churches to preach social service, urging the congregation to accept the status quo and help minister to its victims. Like Moses, King led his people out of oppression. Like Pharaoh, Bush urges people to adjust to their condition.
Dr. King's legacy is as important today as at his death because things haven't gotten much better. A report by United for a Fair Economy shows racial inequities in unemployment, family income, imprisonment, average wealth and infant mortality have gotten worse since he died. And progress in areas like poverty, homeownership, education, and life expectancy has been so slow it will take literally centuries to close the gap.
As Americans celebrate Dr. King's birthday and listen to President Bush's State of the Union address tonight, we must remember King's warning of the moral peril of a nation that fails to create opportunity for all of its people.
No longer do we hear of a War on Poverty, which as Dr. King noted was "barely a skirmish" before abandoned for war abroad. Instead, as Dedrick Muhammad, author of the UFE report, observed: We are left with a "compassionate conservatism, which has been very conservative in its compassion."
Copyright © 2004, Chicago Sun-Times. All rights reserved.
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