Monday, Jan. 16, is the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, the annual recognition of a man whose message was simple and to the point: a beloved community, where all of us can live in brotherhood and sisterhood, realizing that we are all wrapped in the same garment of destiny.
In that same vein, the GOP candidates running for the presidency will also honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by either taking a break from the campaign stretch or offer heartfelt words about King’s good deeds in the media.
Since it will make for a great sound bite, we’ll hear their take on race relations, America’s strides toward greater equality, and anything that moves us away from discrimination.
Some of them might even talk about how King’s work has personally transformed their views around the notions of justice and equity, as well as their positions on those ideas.
But beyond the expected sound bites about the grandeur of King’s legacy, the GOP presidential candidates need to match their words with action.
Unfortunately, none of the candidates — Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Ron Paul and John Huntsman — have offered anything in their plan to address inherent issues around race and gender discrimination in the nation.
In fact, throughout the campaign issues involving racial and gender disparity have been swept under the rug and only mentioned in passing.
Because these are explosive subjects with the potential to drown any candidate’s campaign based on how they approach the subject, they’ve left it alone. But this is the cornerstone of the legacy of the man they’ll talk about or honor next week.
King did not drag his feet on issues. He forced us to confront our own shortcomings and offered what he saw as a prescription to the maladies of race and gender inequality.
As the New South flexes its political muscles in this Republican primary ahead of the King Holiday, let it be clear that it was King, not any Republican president, who helped to create this New South after the Civil Rights Movement achieved the right to vote for African Americans. Though the Deep South still bears elements — in significant measure — of the past, it has come a long way including helping to put an African American, Barack Obama, in the White House.
Toward the end of his life, and in his defining book. “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” King sought to offer an economic vision that was based on the simple principle of equality for all. Some of the GOP candidates call that vision “socialism” in their bid to discredit President Obama.
But the reality is that the candidates cannot talk from both sides of their mouths in an era where race and gender discrimination and economic inequality offer proof that the nation still has to a long way to go with regard to full equity for all.
If we are to realize King’s dream, it is imperative that these candidates offer solution-oriented plans in line with the vision of the man they will speak so respectfully of next week.
You can’t say you are supportive of King’s dream when your plan for building America does not help advance African Americans and other people of color.
You can’t talk about your reverence for King and his equality message when you are mute on gender discrimination, with women getting paid less in the workplace.
You can’t tell the media King was an example for you growing up when your idea of an ideal society is one that excludes his message about the unfinished business of guaranteeing that every child has the basic necessities of life, including an empowering education in cites like Detroit. It’s one thing to codify those necessities to the notions of rugged individualism — often the nicely coined technical phrase — used frequently by some who want to abdicate social responsibility or others who want to show we each have individual strengths.
Regardless of what position you take on the notion of rugged individualism, we each have a responsibility and a legacy to create in our community.
King said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
And so do the candidates running for president of the world’s largest democracy. These individuals who are vying to occupy the White House cannot avoid questions that speak to the rapidly growing rainbow nation we are quickly becoming.
Anyone who dares to become president certainly has an obligation that goes beyond the political fanfare in Iowa and New Hampshire.
They must speak to the economic climate in Detroit and the rest of the hinterland. Every segment that makes up this democratic experience called America is important.
That is why in King’s honor, we owe it an obligation to those who are cut out of the social and economic engines of society, including children, to work for a fair society and guarantee them a meaningful future. And those who dare to lead and want to lead have no excuse but to do just that. They cannot call themselves leaders when they are ignorant of the basic rudiments of leadership: step up when others will not.
So far, the candidates in the GOP primary have offered nothing but titillating sound bites and a hate-filled and anger- driven rhetoric.
Maybe someone with a more rational view will emerge to advance the presidential cause of the GOP and at the same time speak to King’s dreams as we prepare to pay tribute to him.
King preached love. He accepted people of all stripe and never spoke ill of or talked down to them. He had the hallmarks of a leader. He said “a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus, but a molder of consensus.”
It’s hard to find in this GOP primary who among the candidates can mold consensus.
They shouldn’t just talk about King to get political points. Rather, they should help fulfill his dream.
Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle and the author of a six-part series on the Obama presidency, including “Obama and Black Loyalty,” published last year. His latest book is “Obama and Christian Loyalty” with an epilogue written by Bob Weiner, former White House spokesman. His upcoming books in 2012 are “Obama and Jewish Loyalty” and “Obama and Business Loyalty.” Listen to him every Thursday, 11:30 a.m., on WDET 101.9 FM Detroit and every Sunday, 9 to 10 p.m. on the Obama Watch program on WLIB 1190 AM-New York. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.