King and Obama: Today's convergence highlights an uneasy contrast
Share with others:
President Barack Obama will be sworn in to his second term using two Bibles. One belonged to President Abraham Lincoln, the other to Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a poignant accident of the calendar that today's swearing-in comes on the day set aside by the nation to honor the great civil rights leader.
The president counts himself among those who benefited from the civil rights movement in general and King in particular. Like King, Mr. Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, an honor that came early in his first term.
Whereas King evolved into a tireless critic of the Vietnam war, the military-industrial complex and economic inequality after receiving his Nobel, Mr. Obama has made accommodations with the military and many of its tactics that would scandalize King. The reverend would be dismayed to see his "I Have a Dream" mantra stand in contrast to Obama policies that could be labeled "I Have a Drone."
Today, Mr. Obama presides over a drone weapons program that leaves much death and destruction in its wake in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. The man who will be sworn into office with King's bible personally signs off on every "kill list" of suspected terrorists. Those eliminated in the company of targeted militants are always assumed to be associates, not innocent bystanders.
The fact that drone strikes are conducted almost daily under a cloud of secrecy deprives Americans of an opportunity to weigh in on the morality of the program and its collateral costs. There is always a price to be paid when hundreds of people are killed each year in drone strikes, whether the public acknowledges it or not.
Because of his office, Mr. Obama shoulders responsibilities that King never imagined. That doesn't exempt him from the moral implications of his actions. By taking the oath of office on a bible belonging to a slain peacemaker, he's inviting comparisons he may regret. It is up to history to judge whether Barack Obama does justice to Martin Luther King's legacy.
First Published January 21, 2013 12:00 am