As the nation prepares to honor Dr. Martin Luther King today, pundits mull what the famed civil rights leader might have to say about our moment in history were he still around to celebrate his 81st birthday:
How fitting that many King celebrations across the country have become opportunities to fundraise for Haitian relief efforts, writes Mary Sanchez for The Kansas City Star. “King spoke of the U.S. living in ‘the world house,’” she writes. “One of his visions was a Marshall Plan of sorts for Asia, Africa and South America. Wealthy nations would unite in the aid of poor ones, to undercut poverty and the extremism it breeds.”
"Martin Luther King was not a man asking people to go around the campfire singing 'Kumbaya,'” former Pennsylvania Sen. Harris Wofford tells The Washington Post. Wofford, the co-author of legislation that created the King holiday as a national day of service, said King “would want this to be a day of all races and faiths and sectors working together, having the experience of serving alongside people of very different backgrounds."
If King was alive today, he’d be leading the opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, argues civil rights lawyer and professor James C. Harrington. Harrington writes in an op-ed for the Houston Chronicle that America’s leaders have focused “on the ‘safe’ part of King’s life, not his prophetic voice against war and poverty...As a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, King surely would have found it unbelievable and shocking that another recipient of that award, President Barack Obama, would use the Nobel podium to defend those wars,” he writes.
President Obama and MLK actually share quite a lot in common, especially their pragmatic streak, counters Melissa Harris-Lacewell for The Nation. “We must remember that Martin Luther King was no earthbound deity, fearlessly pursuing an uncompromising agenda; he was a strategic political leader,” Lacewell writes for the journal of liberal opinion. Like Obama, King “was a realist whose choices were often upsetting and unpalatable to those on his left.” King once marginalized an ally who was gay and socialist in order to advance the greater civil rights movement, and he also fell short of advancing women’s rights, she points out. “I see King in Obama: a leader who is imperfectly, but wholeheartedly groping toward better and fairer solutions for our nation,” she writes.
King would demand a “more just, wise and equitable” health bill, writes health analyst and consultant Richard (RJ) Eskow for The Huffington Post. King once said: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane," Eskow notes. “It's hard to imagine that Dr. King would be satisfied with mandating Americans to purchase inadequate insurance from for-profit companies, or with the Senate bill's harsh treatment of some Americans at the lowest end of the income scale.”
MLK would be disappointed and saddened by the high levels of segregation that remain in Georgia’s urban schools, writes Maureen Downey for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Downer points to two schools with more than 90 percent African-American enrollment just a few miles from where King was honored over the weekend. King would also find it unacceptable that the University of Georgia ranked last on a recent survey of the country’s flagship public schools for access to low-income and underrepresented minority students.