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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: President Obama Weighs in

posted by Ethan Nichtern

Martin Luther King Jr has always had a powerful spot in my personal “lineage,” which is a crucial concept in Buddhism. Having attended a school founded directly on MLK‘s beliefs —Manhattan Country School, a small amazing “private school with a public mission,” as school founder Gus Trowbridge put it–my early childhood and middle school education was all about living the dream of compassion, equality, and interdependence

The Buddhist idea of lineage is that one draws both confidence and humility from the past, while at the same time grounding attention firmly in the present moment, thus creating powerful aspirations to benefit ourselves and others in the future.
As an interdependent thinker, I posted my favorite of all the amazing Martin Luther King jr quotes on Friday, his actual (81st) birthday.
Obama’s was a great speech, worth sitting with in entirety (below), and it reminded me personally that despite my growing disappointment with many of his actions, I do indeed admire and respect our 44th President as a person. 

However, he gave his speech at a time when it looks like his political party is in a load of trouble. In the Massachusetts Senate special election (Scott Brown vs Martha Coakley) to be held tomorrow, signs point to huge trouble for Democrats in a hugely democratic state (even if Coakley somehow wins), and therefore big trouble for a health care bill that many conservatives do not support, and many interdependistas and progressives believe is too watered down to actually provide health care more easily to those in need.

I think one reason there is so much anger from both sides at the Democratic majority is more psychological and spiritual than anything policy-based. It occurs to me that Dr. King’s main inspiration on a visceral, intuitive level comes from an unwavering belief in the compassionate principles he professed, and a life lived without faltering on those principals. It is this unwavering quality which truly inspires.
It may be a deeply unpopular belief among Buddhists, but I believe that George W. Bush achieved success because he also projected an unwavering gut-level strength in his principles, carried through in actions, which is what gave him the power to be elected twice.
Perhaps I am naive. In fact, I’m sure I am. But I can’t shake the feeling that if we who profess interdependence as a guiding principle (whatever your personal politics) had a bit more of Dr. King’s indestructible satyagraha (truth force), and a bit less of a politician’s waffling rhetoric, our political system would be a much more inspiring thing to behold. 

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posted January 18, 2010 at 11:19 am

Well said, Ethan. I agree with your point about Bush. Even though I disagreed with his politics, one quality he had was he was very straight forward and committed to a very easy to understand agenda. That’s great if you see the world in black and white, as he did. Obama is more a shades of gray guy which is more difficult for people on the extreme to get behind.

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Jerry K

posted January 18, 2010 at 2:45 pm

to generalize broadly – which is what happens in a society driven largely by soundbites,
conservatives are very good at :
A) being angry at liberals and articulating their anger
B) clearly enunciating their own strategy and agenda
liberals are very good at:
A) being angry at conservatives and articulating their anger
but not so good at clearly stating their own strategy and agenda.

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posted January 18, 2010 at 9:02 pm

The Democrats and Republicans are both bankrupt when it comes to spiritual or any form of leadership in my opinion. Bush was re-elected because the Democrats put up a candidate that was just a tad more pathetic than Bush himself. Very few elected members of either one of these parties have been able, in recent history, to break from the military-industrial complex which has placed profits for the wealthy, warfare, and privatization at the center of nearly every major policy they pass. Too many people in this nation don’t really know much about politics, or are single issue voters who are swayed by nice sounding speeches like those given by President Obama. I, personally, don’t find Mr. Obama’s rhetoric inspiring at all. He rarely steps outside of a carefully tailored, middle of the road framework, and has shown nothing of the guts, spiritual determination, and social justice oriented action that Dr. King displayed throughout his life. The faster we abandon the false hope of either major political party the better.

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