King's Prophetic Vision

When people accuse disgruntled Obama supporters of not really paying attention to his actual campaign speeches circa 2008, this is what they mean:

The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King's prophetic legacy. Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable. 

As the talk show host Tavis Smiley and I have said in our national tour against poverty, the recent budget deal is only the latest phase of a 30-year, top-down, one-sided war against the poor and working people in the name of a morally bankrupt policy of deregulating markets, lowering taxes and cutting spending for those already socially neglected and economically abandoned. Our two main political parties, each beholden to big money, offer merely alternative versions of oligarchic rule.

I don't really understand how Cornel West, in good conscience, ever supported Barack Obama. I don't really see how anyone thought Obama would ever articulate "a radical democratic vision."

The piece ends with a prescription to support incumbent progressives like Bernie Sanders. Fine advice. But much harder is helping to orchestrate a more liberal-leaning Congress. That involves the uncomfortable work of making a progressive case to people in districts where many of the voters, themselves, envy "oligarchs," more than they resent them.

This is the aspect of Martin Luther King which radicals are hesitant to embrace. Even as a radical activist, King didn't restrict himself to people who agreed with him. Perhaps his most enduring legacy is that he made America less racist, that he didn't simply expose evil, but he lured people away from evil. 

To do that takes more than anger, personal umbrage, and thin deployments of affection of the "my dear brother" variety.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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