Opinion: MLK memory brings attention to Obama’s legacy

Kevin Griffin

Kevin Griffin

Kevin GriffinThis week saw what many would say was a fitting coincidence: the second inauguration of the United States’ first black  president and the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

To further highlight the symbolic associations this unique event carries, President Barack Obama took his public oath on the bible of King, as well as President Abraham Lincoln’s bible.

This occasion gives us a chance to consider the important question of what degree Obama embodies the legacy and ideals of King.

I’m sure the fact that Americans had made enough progress that a black man was taking the presidential oath would have pleased King, and he likely would have approved of Obama’s statements supportive of equal gay rights in his inaugural address.

However, the actions of Obama up to this point seem to contrast in some ways strongly with the legacy that King leaves behind.

Under Obama’s governance, the U.S. has increased its use of drone strikes, a practice that has been shown to be inefficient in killing terrorists and costly to civilians. CNN reported in September 2012 that 474 to 881 civilians had been killed in drone strikes and the percentage of “‘high level’ targets” killed is 2 percent of casualties.

I don’t see King, a well-known practitioner of non-violence and critic of the Vietnam War, viewing this favorably.

One of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most lauded qualities was his personal strength in standing up to powerful interests. Obama’s first term does not show the president to quite have the spine that King did.

After the debt ceiling of 2011, House Speaker John Boehner claimed in a CBS interview that he had gotten “98 percent” of what he wanted in negotiations with the president.

This is one of several occasions that Obama has shown his willingness to sacrifice much more than necessary, and budge easily on key principles.

I do not know what Obama’s second term will bring. Perhaps he will make good on his promises for equality, stand up more forcefully for what is important and rethink aspects of his foreign policy.

Right now, however, the balance is not in his favor.

Griffin, a freshman journalism major from Madison, is the opinion editor.