"...in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope". Those are the words that Barack Obama used in his now famous speech after the New Hampshire primary and it illustrates perfectly his connection with the man whose birthday we celebrate as a nation today. Hope is the tie that binds Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama. The hope and the belief that America can do and must do better. Obama's speech not only made the point that the destinies of all Americans are intertwined, but that people must have hope in order to make a better world. MLK's most famous speech was all about hope. It spoke of a nation that didn't exist. It spoke of the dreams of an America where someone like Barack Obama can reach the highest position in the land. They share the dream of a better America. Whether it is an America where people are judged by the "content of their character", or an America where we strive to build "a more perfect union", their goals were the same.
There has been a lot of talk about whether Obama's election is the culmination of MLK's dream. It is clearly a part of what he hoped for, but it is not the end of what he hoped for. Before his death, he was working on organizing another march on Washington. This one was going to be a poverty march. He looked across the country and realized that the underclass had no one to speak for them. He realized that the poor had no voice and no power to change their situation. His dream had expanded to include the poor of all colors. Whites in Appalachia, Hispanics in California, Native Americans in Oklahoma, they all became part of the dream. Injustice will always exist, that is why the dream will never be fulfilled. It is a moving target, as is Barack Obama's dream to build a more perfect union. Obama's words imply that the union can never be perfected, but we must always strive to make it better.
MLK led the greatest moral campaign that this country has ever known. He led a generation of people who were willing to put their lives on the line to make this country a better place. Tom Brokaw wrote a book about the WWII generation entitled "The Greatest Generation", however I think that designation should go to those who worked and fought and died so that the dream of America could be shared by all Americans. It is somewhat easier to make those sacrifices when the entire country agrees with you, but when you are faced with the opposition of the majority of the citizens of this country, it takes an extraordinary type of intestinal fortitude to persevere. Barack Obama is not the successor to MLK. As President, his moral compass will not be as consistent as MLK's was. His goals will not be as single minded as MLK's were. They can't be. The job of President is much more complicated and Obama is not just the representative of some of us, he is the representative of all of us. Those who have expectations that Obama will lead a moral revolution on the scale of MLK will be disappointed.
MLK was the leader of a movement that changed this nation forever. Barack Obama is about to become the leader of the country and his election has changed this nation forever. They will always be inexorably linked. The fact that Obama will be inaugurated on the day after this nation celebrates the birthday of MLK would lead many to invoke the term, poetic justice. MLK's dream is alive in Barack Obama as it is in every person who strives to make this world a better place. The Dream and the Perfect Union remain out of reach, but it is in the striving for those things that we tap into the better angels of our nature. It is our willingness to try, regardless of the obstacles in our way, that keeps the Dream alive. MLK would most likely be very proud of Barack Obama, not only because of what he represents, but because Obama is still challenging the nation to be better. Indeed that is ultimately what links them. We can be better, we just need someone to show us the way.