Is Martin Luther King Jr. Smiling Down on President Obama's Second Inauguration?
But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men - yes, black men as well as white men - would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.
No one could offer those truth-telling statements and be elected President. This is especially true given the status of Black Americans as contingent citizens whose inalienable rights are forever suspect: no Black American with serious desires to be President (or any other high office), could ever utter such words, or give comfort to similar thoughts in public (or even in private) and be successful.
President Obama is just a man. He is not a black superhero. President Obama is a President who happens to be black. He is not a Black President. President Obama is not the living embodiment of Dr. King or Brother Malcolm.
He is not our shining black manhood as deftly spoken to by Ossie Davis during his funereal oratory for Malcolm X.
Some of you knew this. Others had to be told of its truth.
Barack Obama has demonstrated the veracity of a fundamental belief held by those who study the American Presidency: he is bounded by precedent and the decisions made by those who came before him; Obama will leverage those said happenings to the degree possible in order to advance his agenda; he will not concede power or the expanded understanding of what the office allows he or she who is President to do. And yes, that includes the unitary executive, the imperial presidency, drone strikes, and kill lists.
As he is sworn in a second time, President Obama is a paradox of sorts. He is a President who happens to be black who was reelected because of the overwhelming support of black and brown voters. The (twice) arrival of Barack Obama also heralds the end of Black Politics.
I am unsure if the the ways in which President Barack Obama navigates the political realities of post civil rights era America, with its insincere colorblindness, in the face of vicious and racist opposition by conservatives, is evidence of his genius (or not). As a supporter of Barack Obama, I lean towards the affirmative. Obama is playing a game that is not designed for a man who looks like him; somehow he plays it pretty damn well...whatever you/we/us think of the policy outcomes.