For the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic “I have a dream” speech, a lot of people, including the current and former presidents, were invited to speak. Featured appearances by Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and President Obama were listed on the website officialmlkdream50.com, in addition to many other current and former politicians who were extended a request to join the celebration of this historic occasion.
If you look at who showed up and who didn’t, it is kind of telling about who knew they were welcome there and who wasn’t. In fact, it gives a crystal clear representation of who has been working to keep Dr. King’s dream alive, and who has been fighting to leave it eternally unfulfilled.
To be fair, George W. Bush declined, citing a recent heart surgery procedure. I’ll cut the guy some slack; that’s a legitimate reason to not attend and he did release the following statement on his Facebook page, probably through a staffer:
Office of George W. Bush
August 28, 2013
STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
Laura and I are proud to join our fellow Americans in commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
When Reverend King came to Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1963, his purpose was to hold our Nation to the standards spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. He called all of us to live up to that document’s fundamental promise and the underpinning of our founding – that all of us are created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, with thousands gathered around him, Dr. King looked out over the American capital and uttered simple, powerful words that changed the hearts of millions. The dream he had spread a message of hope, justice, and brotherhood that took hold in the hearts of men and women around the world.
Our country has come a long way since that bright afternoon 50 years ago; yet our journey to justice is not complete. Just to the East of the Lincoln Memorial, where President Obama will speak on Wednesday, stands the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. There on the National Mall our President, whose story reflects the promise of America, will help us honor the man who inspired millions to redeem that promise.
Dr. King was on this Earth just 39 years, but the ideals that guided his life of conscience and purpose are eternal. Honoring him requires the commitment of every one of us. There’s still a need for every American to help hasten the day when Dr. King’s vision is made real in every community – when what truly matters is not the color of a person’s skin, but the content of their character.
Laura and I thank the King family and all who work to carry on the legacy of a great man and the promise of a great Nation. May we continue to march toward the day when the dignity and humanity of every person is respected. And may God continue to bless America.
But what about other members of the GOP, specifically those currently holding office? I’m going to single out Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor here. Last time I checked they were in good health, and even though they’re on August recess, I’m pretty sure they could have taken time out of their schedules to attend. In fact, Eric Cantor’s district is only about an hour outside of Washington, DC – depending on what time of the day you decide to drive in.
So why were they and the rest of the prominent members of the GOP noticeably absent? Other than posting some incredibly laughable photos on Facebook (seen here and here) with short statements about how they supported equality for all Americans, they declined to attend. Perhaps they knew that they would have struggled to give their speeches through a chorus of boos, or maybe they knew how incredibly hypocritical it would be for them to show up considering their party’s current opposition to pretty much everything Dr. King stood for.
A lot of people like to say that “both parties are the same,” but when you have all of the high-profile members of one party completely absent from the 50th anniversary celebration of one of the biggest events in United States history, I think it illustrates that there are indeed some very stark differences between the two.
When you have politicians paying lip service to a man they would oppose if he was preaching his message today, while quietly working to undo everything he fought for, that is the epitome of hypocrisy. While they post Facebook messages like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did today, ironically praising a man who died while in Memphis to support the right of public workers to unionize, you can’t help but think Dr. King would be spinning in his grave.
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