We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt…

(crossposted from Progressive Commons)

Listening to Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream" speech this morning, I was struck by how much has changed in public discourse. In recent years, no political figure has commanded the language as masterfully as King, and the net result is that we fail to persuade, we fail to inspire. We fail to move our own hearts, and rely instead on logic and argument, by which we convince only those with whom we already agree. Today, on Martin Luther King Day, it’s worth listening to the words that have inspired us in the past, and think about how we might recover our ability to inspire, as an essential precondition to recovering our ability to lead.

King’s "I Have a Dream" has more famous passages, of course, by my favorite is:

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Written, of course, in the context of our nation’s great struggle over civil rights and racial equality, King’s words are increasingly applicable to all Americans. As the effects of post-WWII prosperity wane, as the income disparities between Americans grow, as millions lack or lose basic health insurance, we need to reflect upon what "cashing the check" written by the Founders will mean in our generation. Such a vision, and the ability to articulate that vision in words that stir the heart, is essential to opposing a new and rising orthodoxy which depicts intolerance and inequality as essentially American.

Progressives refuse to believe that intolerance and savage inequality are inherently American. We refuse to believe, along with Dr. King, that the bank of justice is bankrupt.

(MLK: I Have A Dream mp3)

Comments

23 Comments so far. Comments are closed.
  1. Investment Banking: Eastwick, Andrew Maurice Jr., 90, Of Treasure Island

    Latest

  2. MP3 Download Archive. Find Your Favorite MP3s

    We Offer 150000 mp3 Downloads from an Archive to browse from. Download songs, download full albums, download MTV charts, lyrics. Updated Daily.

  3. Protesters Demand Better Security in Iraq (AP)

    in full-length black abayas, rallied Monday outside the Green Zone to demand that U.S. and Iraqi forces do more to stop attacks

  4. One News Organization, Two Views Of Ethanol

    quote from the piece, from Pine Lake Processing Plant board member Polly Granzow: “Ethanol has been one of the best-kept secrets

  5. Probe into Co Carlow crash continuing

    to investigate this morning’s two-car collision in Co Carlow which left three men dead.

  6. India – Bhatkal: Controversial JSC Report: Time to wake up now

    both published within a span of three months in two leading newspapers of the south…

  7. 3 Fatal Gator Attacks in 1 Week Worry Fla. (AP)

    four nuisance alligator calls each day, but he is getting 15 now, after an unprecedented burst of three deadly gator attacks on people

  8. Rep. Waxman Questions HHS For Allegedly Allowing Change In Content Of CDC Conference Panel On STIs, Abstinence Education

    in the 2006 National STD Prevention Conference in Jacksonville, Fla., the

  9. Australian PM raises Timor issue with US leaders (AFP)

    John Howard has discussed the violence in East Timor with top US officials.

  10. Schoening: What Went Wrong in Sac

    Sacramento, there are several areas to ponder, but the aggressiveness the Kings have shown on the boards is one area that is quite

  11. Jailed rapist seeking freedom

    the State is vigorously defending the continued detention of a 41-year-old man, jailed for the unlawful carnal knowledge of a 12-year-old child.

  12. Raptors Look at Italian 7-Footer as Possible Pick

    STAR reports, The one thing the Raptors need to find out most about Andrea Bargnani is

  13. Diop’s Presence Disrupts Diaw, Suns

    the Mavericks’ Senegal-born center, and Boris Diaw, the French-born center for the Suns whose father, a former Senegalese

  14. Just 3 Sugas, Please…

    emember Siobhan Donaghy? Good! That’s the way the ‘Babes want it.

  15. India – PUCL on demolition of Fatehpura dargah in Gujarat

    the way the Mayor, the Police Commissioner and Municipal Commissioner of the city handled…

  16. Heat Must Stop Nowitzki, Howard

    of the spotlight. He doesn’t like talking about himself. But this time he couldn’t refuse.

  17. Flesh-Eating Bacteria Kills College Football Player

    ggressive Strep Infections May Be on the Rise, Experts Say

  18. POLL: Top story to take away from J.D. Power Associates 2006 Initial Quality Survey

    Toyota and Lexus top 11 of 19 categories

  19. Tropical Storm Alberto fizzles over eastern US (AFP)

    the first Atlantic tropical storm of the year, fizzled out one day after its landfall

  20. Call to speaker for Paris “Forum PHP 2006”

    day, with case studies and examples of successful projects. Date and location: the “Forum PHP 2006” will take place

  21. While spelinking, I wondered into your site. Your statement about the lack of content in modern speeches is something that I have been pondering for some time. It is easier for me to remember quotes from dead presidents or political figures like King than the cultural figures that have graced the podium in the last 30 years. “I have a Dream” was replaced with “I am not a crook”. “Ask not what your country can do for you, etc …” is now “I did not have sexual relation with that woman”. How can they preach moral justice when they are the product of our current culture? Have we not faced the hardship that drove the thoughts and inspiring words of decades past?

  22. Glad the speech moved you as well. King was an incredible speaker, in addition to his other qualities. I spent some time this morning listening to FDR, King, and others at http://www.americanrhetoric.com, and it underscored what I wrote earlier…we lack leadership that can inspire, leadership that can persuade.

    Focusing solely on the Democrats, because I’m still not able to fairly look at the President and judge his rhetorical skills (though I suspect even a fair analysis wouldn’t be favorable), we’re lacking political figures who can command our respect because they inspire our loyalty.

    In the 2004 elections, the only speech I heard that truly moved me…that I come back to even today, because of its inspirational rhetoric, is Barack Obama’s keynote at the DNC. The last 10 minutes or so are almost worthy of mention along with FDR and King.

  23. David Airth,

    I heard your favorite passage from King’s speech on CBC radio today. It is the first time I heard it and I found it as incredible and inspiring as you did. I don’t remember King’s birthday being as poignant as this year. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, that so many who dismissed him are in power and our noticing a general retreat from his vision. He still is a magnificent lightening rod for many of us.