Barry Graham's Blog

Against Pragmatism: King and Obama Are Polar Opposites

Today is Martin Luther King Day, and the United States has a President who, though black, would most likely have opposed the Civil Rights Act.

I’ve been saying for some time now that Obama’s supporters have battered wife syndrome. As he makes it compulsory for everyone to buy the wares of health insurance companies, demands the right to assassinate anyone he wants to, and, most recently, approves indefinite detention without access to counsel for U.S. citizens, there are those who still insist that it’s not his fault.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who suggested that Obama is “pragmatic,” and has done as much as he realistically could so far.

Obama was elected with a mandate to govern based upon the progressive platform he ran on. He abandoned all of it, and has served his corporate masters while taking George W. Bush’s policies even further than Bush managed to. I don’t see that as pragmatism. But, even if it were, pragmatism is too easy an excuse for cowardice and greed.

It could have been argued that, while slavery was awful, to try to abolish it would not be pragmatic.

It could have been argued that, while women ought to have the right to vote, to make such changes to the law would not be pragmatic.

It could have been argued that, while segregation was awful, to try to abolish it would not be pragmatic.

Dr. Martin Luther King didn’t make such excuses. He said:

On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.
 King did not what was pragmatic or easy, but what was right. Lyndon Johnson did the same, and signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Barack Obama would have been more likely to try to reach a bipartisan agreement with the Ku Klux Klan.

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