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Barack Obama; Martin Luther King, Jr.; and the rest of us

[A slightly different version of this post appears at Heidi Li’s Potpourri.]

I was asked today if I did not think I should be happy about President-elect Obama’s election because he will be our first black president. My questioner was somebody who clearly is happy about President-elect Obama’s presidency for precisely this reason. According to him Martin Luther King, Jr. would be similarly pleased. Furthermore, according to my questioner, it is insulting to Dr. King’s memory that I regard Dr. King as a teacher in my own quest to resist peer pressure, mobocracy, and authoritarianism in my own small, nascent efforts to seriously fight for the full civic and social standing of women in America and elsewhere.

In my conversation, I explained that I am extremely happy for those people of color, particularly black Americans, who feel more fully validated as Americans by living in a country led by a black person. (This post – just like the conversation – does not present an occasion to debate who counts as black or a person of color; such distinctions were out of order in the conversation.  They would have been insulting to my questioner, who is black and would rightly point out that in most of this country most people have no problem saying who counts as such, despite the complex ways that individuals come to be seen as black or brown or white or whatever. I mean that: please do not use this post as an occasion to debate what it means to be black.) I then explained that beyond this very great happiness, the color of Mr. Obama’s skin has nothing to do with whether the prospect of his presidency pleases me or dismays me.  That was all that time permitted in this brief interlude of discussion during the day. But I have thought further on the matter.

With regard to Martin Luther King, Jr. I would not presume to surmise how he would have reacted to Mr. Obama. Dr. King was sometimes critical of other black leaders and nothing in his writings suggests that all black people are superior to all white people. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of a type of equality, a society in which the color of one’s skin was neither cause for shame or pride and where people, including his own children, were judged by the content of their character. As Dr. King so famously noted this dream is an American dream, not a black dream or a white dream.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

To the extent that  Barack Obama’s election represents the realization of  Dr. King’s dream, his election is an awesome, mighty event.

Yet Dr. King was, as we all are, a person of his time. So in this speech, given in 1963, he does not single out women as  group separate from men who need to be included in the new age of equality that he envisioned. He refers over and over to men, not to people, but that again was the language of his time. Confusing language, but the language of the time. King knew of hatred between black men and white men, between Jews and Gentiles, and between Protestants and Catholics, knew all too well how this hatred was so often used to justify inegalitarian treatment by one group toward the other. King rejected the hatred that drove such inegalitarianism.

I share with King a delight in the idea of a day when people will be judged by the content of their characters. I dream of a day that may come as more people come to realize that nobody yet has championed the cause of full civic and social standing for women in the face of hatred against them,  a day when people are judged by the content of the their character rather than the kind of genitalia they possess.

In 2008, I saw a man stand idly by en route to his winning the White House while his supporters called women who ran against him or on a ticket against him, “ho” and “c*nt”. He stood idly by while members of the press intimated that the adult daughter of one his opponents was prostituting herself by campaigning for her mother. That he stood by so idly had nothing to with the color of his skin. Plenty of white men in positions of political power or prestige also stood idly by while this went on. Some women of all colors stood idly by as well.

I have gone on to see the man who won the White House include in his inauguration another man, one who preaches hatred of gay people, the doctrine of wifely submission, and the comparison of the exercise of a woman’s Constitutional right to an abortion to an act of Nazism. I have seen him refuse to disassociate himself from a speechwriter who, however stupidly, evidently had a great time pretending to cop a feel of the future Secretary of State – something he would not have done, I suspect, were she a man whose cardboard cutout just happened to be at the party he was attending.  Both the preacher and the speechwriter are men, white men, so skin color does not come into the hatred  and disrespect of women indicated by either man’s words or gestures.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was, as we all are, a person of his time. So I do not presume to know what he would make of a man who stood idly by while women who ran against him or his ticket were exposed to hate speech; or what he would make of the inclusion of a woman-bashing preacher in a Presidential inauguration; or the retention of a sophomorically sexist speechwriter on a President’s staff. But I find nothing in King’s life or writing that suggests I as a woman am in any way disrespecting him when I take him as a model of a person who staunchly refused to accept arbitrary inegalitarianism and saw it as an obstacle to liberty, particularly liberty as understood in the American tradition.  So far, I have not seen from Barack Obama a commitment to the elimination of the arbitrary inegalitarianism in the way men and women, boys and girls, are treated in America or indeed the world today. Unlike Martin Luther King, Jr. Barack Obama has not made the cornerstone of his life or his political career the elimination of arbitrary inegalitarianism of the sort that makes the legitimate pursuit of liberty impossible. So Barack Obama does not provide me with a model for how to fight the fights I think need fighting: the overcoming of hatred of women, the effort to have people see women as people deserving of their full and rightful place in American society and around the world.

Martin Luther King, Jr. does.

Repost: Interview With Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Part I

Our lovely blogmother, Riverdaughter, has requested that I repost this interview with one of the possible contenders for Hillary Clinton’s Senate Seat, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.

Doesn’t this woman seem just an eensy, weensy bit more qualified than Princess Caroline?

You Said It, Sister!
You Said It, Sister!

And speaking of “uneducated old women…” The following is Part I of my email interview with the gracious, intelligent, fiery and fabulous feminist, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, after reading her book: “Rumours of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.” Part II will be posted tomorrow.

MadamaB: Your path to politics was far from direct. Could you share some of that journey?

CM: When I was growing up, I never dreamed of going to Congress. The options for women were very limited. I thought I would be a teacher, librarian or a nurse. Politics wasn’t even a possibility. I can remember reading an interview in Life Magazine with Margaret Chase Smith, Senator from Maine, that illustrates the thinking of women in politics when I was growing up. The interviewer asked Senator Smith what she would do if she woke up in the White House one day. She answered: “I’d apologize to Bess Truman immediately and leave.” It just shows how self-effacing a female politician had to be in those days – the idea that she might want to run for higher office was just too threatening. If you asked Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi what they would do, they’d have a list. It just shows how far we’ve come but, as I show in my book, not enough.

When I left college, I came to New York and became a teacher, teaching English as a second language to immigrant women in upper Manhattan. Within a year after I started, my program lost its funding. I was nominated by my colleagues to lobby the legislature to get the funding restored. I was successful, and my success got me noticed by the Department of Education, which hired me as a lobbyist. I soon realized that you can accomplish a lot more good by working for the legislature, so I became a staffer, first for the New York State Assembly and later for the New York State Senate. While I accomplished a lot as a member of staff, it soon became clear to me that you really have power only when you actually have a seat at the table as the elected official. So I ran for the City Council in 1982.

MadamaB: You have been a Congresswoman in New York since 1992. What prompted you to write this book now?

CM: During the years of Bush I saw a rollback, a stalling of progress on women’s issues, and in many instances an effort to roll back gains we had achieved in the ‘70s. I wanted to bring attention to the problems we continue to face and the danger that we might lose some of the civil rights protections we had struggled so hard to achieve – and more than that, I wanted to get women involved, to give them ideas of how they can work for change in their own communities. I wanted the book to serve as a wake up call, to galvanize women and like-minded men to take action to address some of the problems I talk about in the book.

MadamaB: The candidacy of Senator Hillary Clinton seems to have brought out an awareness that misogyny is far from dead in our society. Yet the press, and many national figures, refuse to admit it exists at all. Is that what inspired the title of your book?

CM: Conventional wisdom about how far women have come far exceeds how far we actually have come. 2008 will go down in history as the year we finally came face to face with the level of misogyny that still persists in American society. While it was awe-inspiring to see Hillary Clinton as a major party candidate, the number of attacks on her for being a woman was simply astonishing. It came from every direction – from the hecklers at rallies who held up signs saying “Iron My Shirt” to the netroots who created a website “Make Me A Sandwich” to the politicians who compared her to the villain in the movie Fatal Attraction and vilified her for not giving up her run for the White House. Most of all, it came from the media who treated us to a nightly attack: Her supporters were called castratos in the eunich chorus; one commentator said she was scary, castrating and that he involuntarily crossed his legs when she came into the room; another said that when she spoke, men heard “Take out the garbage.” If that’s what they thought about someone as accomplished, intelligent and gracious as Hillary Clinton, what must they be thinking of us?

When I started writing the book, some people said that Hillary’s ability to run as a serious candidate would make the book seem out of touch with reality. How could I say that our progress was exaggerated when one woman was Speaker of the House and another could be the Democratic Presidential nominee? Well, not every woman is a Nancy Pelosi or a Hillary Clinton, and most women I meet are struggling because of laws that do not support work/life balance, because they do not have health care, because they’re not paid the same as their male colleagues; or because they’ve spent a lifetime with a wage gap and now have to live in old age on social security and pensions that perpetuate that gap. I wrote the book for all those struggling women – and hopefully to inspire the next Hillary Clinton to throw her hat into the ring and join me in trying to change all that.

Continue reading

A Wrench in the Kennedy Machine

Hillary is 44 is following the labyrinthine maze that is the Caroline Kennedy for Senate campaign in NY and has turned up some very interesting connections.  Like, does anyone know why Charles O’Byrne, Gov. Paterson’s former right hand man, resigned about a week before the November election?

Charles J. OByrne (Source- NY Times)

Charles J. O'Byrne (Source- NY Times)

And who recently paid O’Byrne’s enormous back tax fines and does he have to pay taxes on it, seeing as it’s sorta like income?  (Hint: the Smith branch of the Kennedy family makes an appearance)

Curiouser and curiouser…

Just go read it all.  As Lambert would say, it’s full of “linky goodness”.

One more thing:  Alegre says another possible candidate for Hillary’s seat is Leecia Eve, one of Hillary Clinton’s former advisors on Homeland Security.  She is quite an accomplished woman, seems to have the blessing of party stalwarts like Charles Rangel and she’s African-American. She tried to line up support for a shot at Lieutenant governor of NY in 2006 but was told to take an old cold tater and wait while Paterson was nominated instead.  Hmmm, I wonder if that’s a move that will pay off for her now?

Leecia Eve, center, with supporters David Dinkins (L) and Charles Rangel (R)

Tuesday: Liberal Great Expectations

Jesse Jackson Sr. wrote a somewhat cryptic column in the Chicago Sun-Times today called Who Will Speak for America’s Poor?.  He gems nicely with the sentiments of Paul Krugman, who yesterday wrote in Fifty Herbert Hoovers, that one of the best ways of stimulating the economy is to start at the state level and keep former state workers from slipping into poverty.  If you get the state to keep employment up with new infrastructure projects, there will be money going to other businesses and tax revenue as well.

Jackson’s column is a bit sly.  Does anyone recall the controversy that erupted during the primaries when Hillary said that Martin Luther King’s dream of Civil Right’s legislation wasn’t enough and that President Johnson was needed to make the dream possible?  Hoo-buy, she might as well have said she was going to go bleach her sheets and chop a cross down.  Hillary never minces words when it comes to inflammatory rhetoric.  She goes right for the jugular, she does.  I know how angry *I* was when she turned out to be the grandmaster of her KKK cell.

That’s why I’m a bit puzzled by Jackson today.  It seems like he might actually be, um, *agreeing* with her but this time he is talking about the war on poverty:

When Barack Obama takes office, he will usher in the greatest period of reform in America since Lyndon Johnson in 1965-66. In a few extraordinary months, Johnson pushed through the Voting Rights Act, immigration reform and Medicare, and launched the War on Poverty. That effort was an early casualty of the war in Vietnam, but by the end of Johnson’s presidency poverty had been dramatically reduced.

Yet Johnson is seldom invoked as a great president. In part that is because his administration was itself a casualty of the Vietnam War. In part that is because his reforms sparked a reaction, with conservatives running against affirmative action, crime and welfare, profiting from the race-baiting politics of division. By the end of the Reagan era, poverty was no longer fit for political debate. Now politicians in both parties compete to appeal to the middle class and ignore the poor.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last campaign was the poor people’s campaign. He wanted to bring poor people from across the country, across racial and religious divides, to Washington to demand action. He was taken from us in Memphis, helping low-paid sanitation workers to organize, before his plans could be completed.

Now 40 years later, Obama will be inaugurated one day after the holiday celebrating’s King’s birth and life.

He will come with a mandate to get the economy moving, to put people back to work. And across the country, the weakest and most vulnerable Americans will be hoping that he takes up LBJ’s war on poverty, and King’s poor people’s campaign.

Yikes!  It sounds like Jackson is expecting Obama to act like a liberal.  Either that or Jesse Jackson has joined the ranks of the racists.  That almost doesn’t seem possible except that the same thing happened to Hillary.

Anyway, here is another one of those pre-post-partisan pols who isn’t grasping the whole hopey-changey message wherein Barack Obama gets to say he likes Reagan while he’s channeling Lincoln and protecting the people who profited from Bush.  Get with the program, Jesse.  He’s new!  He’s fresh!  Just because he’ll have the wind at his back, nearly a filibuster proof majority and mobs of angry citizens ready to scalp the Republicans who oppose him doesn’t mean Obama has to act like a liberal, Keynesian, anti-poverty, LBJ, FDR type of Democrat.  Heck, he didn’t even campaign as a Democrat most of the time.  Besides, where would be the payoff for the Whole Foods types?

Obama and his bloggy droogs have been very busy lowering expectations and here Jesse Jackson is sticking a jack under the bus.  He’s saying that now is the time for Barack Obama to fulfill Martin Luther King’s dream and Obama, the great African-American change agent, won’t have any excuses.

Damn him and his rainbow ponies.

On another note: The Confluence has been nominated as a finalist for Best Liberal Weblog for the 2008 WeblogAwards.  I’d like to thank everyone who nominated us.  It is truly an honor to be included on the list with other wonderful bloggers.  It’s also our privilege to be representing the rest of the PUMA community.  We wouldn’t be here without you.

I’d like to thank the posters who make it possible with quality content and witty prose.  The Confluence is now my favorite place on the blog.  I never know what to expect but I know it will be good.  Thanks especially to:

RonKSeattle, Katiebird, BostonBoomer, LadyBoomerNYC, Madamab, GaryinChapelHill, Mawminc, Shtuey, myiq2xu, Regency, Stateofdisbelief, Dakinikat, SM77, HeidiLipotpourri, Taggles and all of the other posters who have made this year such a success.

Thanks also to our friends who have featured us on their pages, murphy at pumapac, Alegre, Anglachel, Correntewire, Cannonfire, Heidi Li’s Potpourri, edgeoforever to name a few.  And thanks to the commenters who have created a vibrant ongoing cocktail party with humor, intelligence and biting snarkasm.

It’s hard to believe that we aren’t even a year old yet.  We’ve come a long way, baby!

Now, let’s beat the pants off of Josh Marshall.

The Confluence nominated as Best Liberal Blog

Check it out. Thank you, Riverdaughter, for creating a community that has earned this recognition.