There was a rare instance of unfettered presidential honesty in George W. Bush’s State of the Union speech last night. Take note and be grateful because it doesn’t happen often anymore. To his credit, Bush refused to be restrained by political spin artists and in no uncertain terms came from the very center of his soul when he addressed the deadly carnage inflicted on New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. He never mentioned it.
Bush is a reminder that racism and classicism are alive and well, that the poorer you are, the darker your skin, the more disabled you are, the less you count. He is a reminder us that the struggle for civil rights in our country is, sadly, far from over.
Tragically, Bush is a reminder that far too many of us have forgotten the dream so majestically set forth by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
To be fair though, many business and political leaders have their own dreams. For instance, they have dreams rooted in greed, dreams rooted in the lust for power, dreams whose success rests on a willingness to send the poor and socially vulnerable off to fight and die. While we might not use suicide bombers, we have a society designed in a way that assures that the military is largely comprised of the economically less fortunateand most vulnerable. Were there even an iota of honesty in Bush’s we-must-fight-the-terrorists-or-we-will-all-die scenario, then why aren’t his daughters actively involved in the fight? If not in the military, why not in some volunteer effort to support the troops? Mary Todd Lincoln made it a point to visit wounded Civil War veterans on a regular basis.
The dream pursued by Bush is absent the presence of equality for all. It is absent the basic tenet that all members of the human family have the right to be who they are safely in the world around them. In truth, the Bush dream is missing one key element: the American Dream.
If New Orleans had fewer people mired in the merciless grip of poverty, the government’s assistance response would have been faster, more comprehensive and far more effective. If there had been more whites and less blacks and Hispanics when a category 3 hurricane (with a storm surge of a category 5 hurricane) ripped into New Orleans on August 29, 2005 flooding 80 percent of the city, the response would have been better. On April 18, 2006 the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals reported 1,464 people had died. Thousands lost their homes and livelihoods. Bloated bodies of the dead were seen floating everywhere. Yet not so much as a syllable in the Bush speech.
Now I would be hard pressed to say anything about Dr. King that has not been said before. He has been a member of my heart since I was a small boy. Yet, as a boy, and later as a young man, I was disconnected from King’s accurate recognition that the power of love combined with non-violence required a form of intellectual, emotional and spiritual strength that not enough of us aspire to.
Now I am certainly no choir boy and have never been in the same room as perfection. Even though as a boy I intellectually and even emotionally believed and understood King was right, I wounded others with emotional and physical violence and dishonesty. Even though it has been many years since violence has had a home in my character, the memories of the pain I caused others can halt me in my tracks and fill me with pain and heartbreak.
It takes strength to turn the “ship” around for a person or for a country. It takes strength to step into the light of honesty and tell the truth. It takes strength to apologize, to admit you are wrong or made a mistake. There is no shame in doing this. In fact, there is a kind healing that takes place in the gentle glory and sweet joy to be found in world of honesty. But it takes strength to get there. All too often we get the message that admitting a wrong or a mistake or apologizing are acts of weakness. Well, if they are, then why are they so hard for so many to do?
If we let King’s accurate view of the human character die, we ought to be ashamed. King dreamed of the day when his children would be “judged by the content of the character, not the color of their skin.” But the dream does not end there. The dream believes in the possibility of a day when we are judged by the content of our character, not whether we are rich or poor; by the content of our character, not whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist; by the content of our character, not whether our country or any country has oil; by the content of our character, not whether we are male or female; by the content of our character, not whether we are gay, lesbian, straight or bi-sexual; by the content of our character, because society has learned that our value is in our humanity, and nowhere else.
Keep the dream alive.