Sunday, September 04, 2011

Demagoguing Dr. King's Dream Deferred

Last week’s storm postponed the Martin Luther King Memorial dedication in Washington, but Labor Day brings a sobering commentary on his life and work in a nation with 16.8 percent unemployment for African-Americans, 11.3 for Latinos and 8.2 for whites.

Half a century after the “I have a dream speech” with a bi-racial President in the White House, median household net worth is now under $6500 for minorities and over $113,000 for whites, with the percentage of families with no wealth at all twice as high and the disparity widening.

As Barack Obama’s would-be successors demagogue the jobs issue, the pain of recession is being felt disproportionately by the poor rather than a posturing Tea Party middle class yowling about possible tax increases.

Yet, with Dr. King long gone and Barack Obama tied in political knots, who speaks now for millions of Americans out of work or struggling with falling income from low-paying jobs?

Certainly not the media. A century ago, the axiom was that the job of newspapers was to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” But in the Internet era, the comfortable have much more access to computers, and the celebrity journalists of cable TV are more interested in the celebrity politicians who share their privileged lives, if not always their views on issues.

What the President might have said about poverty at the King Memorial dedication is overshadowed by his pleading in today’s Weekly Address to have Congress extend a routine transportation bill:

“At the end of September, if Congress doesn’t act, funding for our roads and bridges will expire. This would put a stop to highway construction, bridge repair, mass transit system...And it would affect thousands of construction workers...

“Usually, renewing this transportation bill is a no-brainer. In fact, Congress has renewed it seven times over the last two years. But thanks to political posturing in Washington, they haven’t been able to extend it this time--and the clock is running out.

“Allowing this bill to expire would be a disaster for our infrastructure and our economy. Right away, over 4,000 workers would be furloughed without pay. If it’s delayed for just 10 days, we will lose nearly $1 billion in highway funding that we can never get back. And if we wait even longer, almost 1 million workers could be in danger of losing their jobs over the next year.”

But with the Tea Party freshman class, “no-brainer” has taken on an entirely new meaning and, while their antics distract the body politic, who will keep alive Dr. King’s dream for all Americans and his passion for “the fierce urgency of Now?”

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