August 29, 2013

The recent sentencing of Chelsea Manning highlights just how distant from MLK's vision Barack Obama is, and which other figure of that time he's got stronger similarities to, as I explore in my latest AJE op-ed:

Obama is closer to Nixon than to MLK
The US president's militaristic foreign policy shows how far removed he is from the civil rights leader's ideas.

Because Barack Obama is the United States' first black president, there are many who still automatically associate him with Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. And with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, it's virtually a knee-jerk reaction to associate his presidency with the fulfillment of King's dream.

But, as the almost-simultaneous sentencing of Chelsea nee Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison should remind us, a more accurate historical comparison to that time would link Obama to Richard Nixon, rather than King. Nixon, after all, tried to have Daniel Ellsberg jailed for revealing the Pentagon Papers, and Ellsberg himself has said, "I'm sure that President Obama would have sought a life sentence in my case."

Elaborating further, Ellsberg said, "Various things that were counted as unconstitutional then have been put in the president's hands now. He's become an elected monarch. Nixon's slogan, 'when the president does it, it's not illegal', is pretty much endorsed now. Meaning not only Obama but the people who come after him will have powers that no previous president had."

It's telling that Manning's 35-year sentence is longer than those of five people convicted of actual terrorist activity, while the "harm" Manning is charged with causing is entirely speculative, and is arguably far outweighed by the good. More on that below.

If raising the issue of Manning's sentence seems out of place alongside the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and King's "I Have A Dream" speech, it's because most people have no idea who the real Martin Luther King, Jr. was. But there's good reason for such widespread ignorance - which is very much the flip side of why that speech has become so famous, as Gary Younge, author of The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Dream, recently explained:

    [A]s America casts a way to remember him and that period, they can't remember him as the guy who campaigns against the Vietnam War and American militarism because that's still happening. They can't remember him as a the guy who rallied against poverty and called for government intervention because that's still going on. But to remember him as that man who articulated that great moment where America decided to get rid of codified segregation, well he articulated that moment like nobody else had, and that's a very convenient way to remember him.

Read the whole piece here.

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