Barack Obama and Martin Luther King: An Unfit Comparison

There are some things that only history can decide.  It may very well turn out that the contributions of Barack Obama to the good of the American society will equal or surpass those of Martin Luther King.  Yet, if there is one thing, more than any other, that I am unequivocally clear about, it is that no one should invite the comparison between Obama and King unless as a matter of fact Obama has delivered such a level of moral excellence to the American society.

It is thus irresponsible on the part of the Left to treat Obama as the next Martin Luther King.  Indeed, it is utterly fulsome to do so.  Worse, it trivializes the life King.  Thus, I find the tendency on the part of the Left to invite this comparison fulsome and unforgivable.

Now, I cannot help but think that if Barack Obama did not want this comparison, then it would not be in the air at all.  What bothers me to no end is that there is every indication that Barack Obama has acted, and continues to act, in ways that invite this comparison.  And this amounts to none other a form of insufferable arrogance on Obama’s part.

I hold that King’s legacy is sui generis—that is, utterly unique.  In a like manner, I hold that Elie Wiesel’s legacy is sui generis.  The circumstances that give rise to either individual are unique.  What is more, it is simply impossible to know in advance whether there shall be a comparable set of circumstances.  And for precisely that reason, it is impossible to know in advance whether any black shall be the next Martin Luther King or whether any Jew shall be the next Elie Wiesel.

Blacks are quick to point out that racism still exists in America.  Needless to say, I would not deny this.  But Obama is proof par excellence that the racism that exist today is not at all parallel to the depth of racism that existed during the MLK era.  And this truth gives the lie to the very idea that Obama is the next King.

Obama’s success sits upon the foundation of equality laid in place by King.  Obama is a long ways from doing anything comparable for blacks.  Being the first presidential candidate of a major political party is obviously wonderful.  But Obama is in that position because of the foundation laid by King—not in spite of it.

Now, there is another reason why I have come to resent the Left in allowing the King comparison with Obama.

I invite anyone to read King’s speeches.  You will notice that through it all King was never unseemly in his behavior or his remarks.  While he was more than willing to stand up to people, he did not do so by mischaracterizing innocent whites.  Thus, although King was unmistakably clear that there were stiff-necked white racists, he never claimed that all whites were racist or had racist tendencies.  That line of thought was simply not associated with King’s struggle for civil rights.  Even in his letter from the Birmingham jail, King never confused the just with the unjust.

In this regard, Martin Luther King and Elie Wiesel were very much alike.  I shall always remember Wiesel’s remarks to an audience here at Syracuse University: “No human being should hate another”, Wiesel exclaimed.  And as one black student observed: If a man who survived the Holocaust could make that claim, then surely hatred is wrong.

I do not see that Obama has yet displayed this level of moral excellence.  He is too busy playing politics; and in playing politics, he is more than willing to confuse the just with the unjust when this is to his advantage.  And that is why I know that the very idea that Obama harbors the thought that he is the next Martin Luther King is nothing but an egomaniacal mindset on his part.  And the thought that the Left is more than willing to entertain this thought indicates just how delusional the Left is.

It is also a form of despicable politics.  For by definition, as it were, King is right and those who disagree with him are wrong.  So if Barack Obama is the next Martin Luther King, then those who disagree with Obama are wrong.

Even with King, this line of thought, if holds at all, only holds in connection with racial justice.  King’s economic views are a different matter, entirely.  When it comes to the ideal of racial equality, alas it still turns out that Obama is too busy playing politics to be mentioned in the same breath as King.

This is why I have come to despise Barack Obama.  He is too intelligent not grasp what he is doing.  And the very idea that he is rightly suited to be seen as the next Martin Luther King is so disingenuous as to be countenanced as none other than a form of evil.  Not evil at its worse, but evil nonetheless.  An upright person distances herself or himself in every way from certain comparisons.  Modesty and decency requires just that.

About Laurence Thomas

Laurence Thomas is Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Department of Philosophy at Syracuse University. His most recent book is The Family and the Political Self and his most recent article in French is "Juifs et Noirs: Au-delà du Mal" in Trigano (ed.) Juifs et Noirs: du Mythe à la Réalité. Thomas has published numerous essays on the topic of friendship. The essay "The Character of Friendship" has appeared in volume on friendship, entitled Thinking About Friendship, edited by Damian Caluori and the essay "Friendship in the Shadow of Technology" has appeared in the anthology Moral and Moral Controversies edited by Steven Scalet and John Arthur. His most recent essay--entitled "Being Moral and Handling the Truth"--is about circumstances under which it is morally permissible to lie. Indeed, an example is given in Section IV of a lie being morally virtuous.
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2 Responses to Barack Obama and Martin Luther King: An Unfit Comparison

  1. DIGID says:

    King unique? ever heard of Gandhi?

    King improved civil rights; Gandhi stopped an all-out civil war.

    While Obama and King are very different and shouldn’t be compared, you can’t prevent people from trying to compare them. And while they are not overall similar, some similarities do exist. For example, both spent many years of their life working for communities. Obama was a community organizer and King organized African-American communities in protest of racial segregation.

  2. CCCA says:

    How can you spot an obama supporter? By the low level way they communicate.
    The previous 2 posters support exactly the comparison you made so sweetly.
    They are the true “ists” that are undermining this land.

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