Fifty years ago, in his “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In a sense we’ve 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.”
That same year, in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King wrote:
“Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ Was not Amos an extremist for justice: ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.’ Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’…And Thomas Jefferson: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...’ So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be….In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime — the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality….The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness…” (Emphasis added).
Elsewhere in that famous letter, King objects to “the strangely irrational notion” — captured in the progressives’ mantra about “being on the right side of history” — “that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills.” He writes, “Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively.”
Near the end of his letter, King again invokes “those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”
Forty-three years later, The Audacity of Hope (2006) was published. “Implicit…in the very idea of ordered liberty,” writes President Obama in those pages, is “a rejection of absolute truth.”
As Obama is inaugurated on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, it is worth reflecting on how profound the differences are between the two men.