Today’s ceremonial  inauguration (the real one took place in private yesterday) takes on an added layer of meaning because the nation’s first black president will give his speech on Martin Luther King Day. I’m sure the networks will point this out if they haven’t already.

Last year I wrote a piece pointing out that MLK Day is the nation’s annual exercise in self-deception. We pat ourselves on the backs in this country for having come so far in race relations, thereby fulfilling MLK’s “dream”.

The man taking the Oath of Office today will certainly occupy a special place in American history. However, when his term is up in four years prompting journalists (and later, historians) to perform the post-mortem on the two Obama Administrations it will be a mixed legacy at best.

On the one hand you have the man who brought us universal healthcare and killed Bin Laden all while working with an intractable (and not just a little racist) opposition. On the other hand you have a man who has reinforced a system of inequality that serves to oppress the very people for which MLK fought, especially towards the end of his life.

I’m thinking mainly of Obama’s Race to the Top initiative that has wreaked havoc in the states that have adopted it, including here in NY. Not only has RTTT helped along the proliferation of charter schools that benefit private interests and shut out the neediest children, but it has been a boon to the billion-dollar edu industry. Now, thanks to the failure of RTTT in NYC, New York State threatens to withhold millions in Title I money which are funds reserved for the poorest children.

Martin Luther King fought for a totally inclusive society, one where the most powerless would have fair access to opportunity. But the programs that Obama has supported have left the most powerless behind. On Diane Ravitch’s blog is a quote in defense of charter schools that essentially concedes what charter school critics have said all along: charters in fact do not serve the neediest students. This after years of charter school defenders telling us that charters don’t get to “cherry pick” students and are subject to the same laws as all other schools.

And when we look at the rest of the national scene with its rising inequality, proliferation of low-wage jobs (the so-called economic “recovery”) and increase in food stamp applications, there would be very little for Martin Luther King to celebrate.

King once said something along the lines of “the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice”.

Are we bending towards justice now?


  1. Michael Fiorillo

    While the ramifications of Obamacare are yet to play out, I’d draw a distinction between mandatory universal (for-profit) health insurance and universal health care.

    Given that Obama has largely been The Great Imposter for progressive causes, I’ll retain my skepticism.

    • Indeed. He backed away from the public option when he felt the heat and went whole hog towards Romney-care, which fails to curb outrageous healthcare costs. His plan amounts to a bonanza for Big Pharma.

      No Republican could get away with the the type of corporatizing Obama has done.

  2. School segregation is worse now than it was in the 90’s – and it’s only getting worse as charters proliferate.

    Ironic that the first black president is exacerbating school segregation with his pro-charter policies. But that’s what he’s doing.

    • Definitely. Obama is a post-King :”civil rights” leader: corporate-friendly and moderate. Moderation in this day and age means plain old conservatism, which is what we see in Obama. The worst type of corporate, unaccountable, unequal conservatism.

  3. Obama is the co-opting of the civil rights movement rather than the culmination of it. In Glen Ford’s words he is also the “more effective evil”.

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