Wednesday, August 5, 2009

King, Obama, and the Great American Dialogue

I found this very good essay at American Heritage on the impact of the King legacy on Obama. One of the many interesting points that Clayborne Carson makes is,

Obama’s understanding of American history parallels King’s, but the new president is less willing than King to see social conflict as an inevitable part of the struggle for justice. Lincoln rather than Jefferson serves as his dominant point of reference.

Here is Obama reading Goodwin's Team of Rivals.


  1. GREAT article! Thanks. I particularly appreciate this, which often gets overlooked when discussing King's legacy:

    As Obama charts a course for the nation, he might well remember the great speeches King gave after 1963, as when he advocated in 1967 “a radical revolution of values” that would transform the nation “from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society” King’s elation over Obama’s election would be balanced against his conviction that the United States must recapture its “revolutionary spirit” and “go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

    Here's an interesting overlap with my life -- I worked at a meeting with Robert Moses a few years ago. He has gone on to advocate for educating poor southern black students through his algebra project to ensure that the "math wall" isn't used to keep students out of college. Brilliant man.

  2. I thought you would enjoy that essay. I do see Obama as Lincolnesque in his convictions. He knows how to balance his statements, and his strategy to this point has been to feel out the public and see just how far he can take an issue. He has made great use of his website in conveying his message and eliciting grass roots support. Something, I think the Republicans greatly envy. Also, it is so refreshing to once again have an intelligent President in the White House who understands the complexity of his role and doesn't see everything in Manichean terms.

  3. The author makes the point that while King was a moral leader, Obama sees himself as a political leader. That's also the strength I see in Lincoln.

    I'm Obama's biggest supporter, which is why I feel like I can be his biggest critic as well. Or at least a critic of some of his choices. We are so lucky as a nation to have him at this time in our history.

  4. Obama is coming to Montana next week for a town hall at the airport....

    Interesting to read in Lears that Wilson came to Montana, too, when out selling his League idea.

    I hope Obama's health care doesn't meet a similar fate.