Martin Luther King, Jr., Barack Obama and the State of the Union

At the 41st Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast in Boston, Melissa Harris-Perry asked us to remember the picture of King with President Lyndon Johnson and to superimpose President Obama on one of the men.  After a brief pause to let us think about it, she said that if we had made King Obama we had picked the wrong person, that Obama was President just as Johnson had been. 

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Rev. Dr. Marti...

Image via Wikipedia

While, as Harris-Perry pointed out there are a number of parallels that can be drawn between King and Obama.   “Both men are brilliant orators, both had a unique ability to capture the American political imagination … and both endured harsh criticism.”  And I will add, both are Nobel Peace Prize winners.

Using King’s book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, she pointed out

It was a period of backlash,” she said. “We were being told it was all moving too fast.

It is easy to behave as if Martin King was beloved in a bipartisan manner across races and communities — but that is not the reality of Dr. King..

But the primary difference is the King was an activist seeking change from the outside while Obama is the President who has to govern the country as a whole while still trying to move us toward a more progressive society and trying stay above the chaos.

Meanwhile we have the shootings in Arizona, Michelle Bachman giving a Tea Party response to the State of the Union Address (in addition to the Republican resonse), and new Tea Party Republicans pushing the more moderate Republicans in Congress into taking up legislation that I feel certain that Speaker Boehner does not view as in the parties best interest.  We can only hope that the chaos remains in the Republican Party and that incidents like Arizona do not spread.  Maybe the Republicans will lose the Tea Party Republicans to a third party.  Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Nate Silver posted a response to the recent polls the other day on Fivethirtyeight,

With the Democrats still in control of the Senate and Barack Obama in the White House, there is little that the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives can do before 2013 to enact legislation. The health care overhaul will not be repealed, and social welfare programs will not be cut — at least, not unless Mr. Obama wants them to be, or until a Republican occupies the White House.

What the Republicans can do now, though, is use their leverage over the budget process. On spending matters, Congress is compelled to act every year merely to maintain the status quo. Sooner or later — perhaps over raising the federal debt ceiling, perhaps over authorizing funds to put Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul into effect — there is likely to be a showdown between the House Republican leaders and the president.

The most recent precedent is a favorable one for Mr. Obama: the 1995 government shutdown. The public largely blamed Republicans for the mess rather than Bill Clinton, whose standing rose as a result; he went on to win re-election the following year.

He goes on the point out the parallels in the polls while remaining cautious about 2012.

Mr. Obama’s approval rating has risen a few points in recent weeks, and is now at roughly 50 percent in the average poll. Mr. Clinton’s approval rating was at 54 percent in November 1995, just before the shutdown began, according to both Gallup and Washington Post surveys.

A Pew poll conducted in October 1995, meanwhile, found that 36 percent of respondents approved of the job that Republican leaders in Congress were doing. The figure right now is the same, according to an AP-GfK poll, or a bit lower at 30 percent, according to Quinnipiac; both surveys were released last week.

Surveys conducted before the 1995 shutdown found that the public largely viewed Mr. Clinton as capable of compromise, but not the Republicans. Similarly, in this week’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 55 percent said they expected the Republicans to be too inflexible in negotiations with President Obama, but only 26 percent said they expected that of Mr. Obama.

We have to remember, however, that President Obama is not Bill Clinton.  While we may have chacterized President Clinton as “the first Black President”, he was still a white man.  His alleged crimes were sexual, not racial.  We have to remember that a segment of the country will never accept Barack Obama as president because of his skin color.

President Obama’s recent moves have been toward the center, toward business, with the hope of creating enough jobs to win re-election.  I understand why he is not pushing more of a social agenda right now.  I think he did that, and did it well during the recent lame duck session.  He needs to put himself and the Democratic Party in a position to keep the Senate and the Presidency and to take back the House.  We need to remember, as Melissa Harris-Perry reminded us that the man in the picture is the President and not the activist.