Monthly Archives: January 2013

Remembering Doctor King on Inauguration Day

The Inauguration Day for Obama’s second term fell  on the same day previously set  to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. This was not entirely a coincidence. To comply with constitutional requirements the oath of office was actually taken on Sunday, January 20, the day BEFORE the public swearing and speech making. In other words the President deliberately avoided celebrating the renewal of his presidency on the Sunday which actually began his new term. He chose instead to put all dramatic attention for the event on the day the country  observed the birthday of Doctor King. Why? The choice has not been explained by any public statement I have seen or heard.   Rather the best explanations may come from looking thoughtfully at the president as a person and as a leader. A good explanation may also provide insight  about what the President intends for his future and for ours.

The reader may be media conscious enough to suspect that the big event was planned with Sunday’s competing football games in mind. Surely Obama the politician planned his inauguration with the viewership of the masses, especially the President’s supporters, as the central concern. But I remind such a reader that the games came much later than the midday inauguration, and that many of Obama’s most faithful followers were surely drawn from  live coverage of the inauguration by their participation in MLK Jr parades on Monday. Television viewership might  have been much greater if the President had kept the public inauguration on the day of the private one, Sunday the 6th. In short I believe the President did not make his plans based on the size of the audience but on the content of the message he would deliver.

Picture in your mind the clearest image you have of Martin Luther King Jr, the man whose birthday was honored in the choice of inauguration day. Got it? I am betting your image is that of the prophet with his back to the Lincoln Memorial and his face looking up the Mall towards the Capitol Hill at the Mall’s opposite end. Your image is of him speaking on the August day when his Dream speech became the dramatic centerpiece for the Civil Rights Movement. That speech also became the most famous American expression of the philosophy of nonviolence, and it remains the most beloved articulation of the liberal ideal  John Lewis has referred to as “the beloved community”. Doctor King’s life was to be cut short by an assassin’s bullet only a few years later. Since then his dream has remained the holy grail of several generations. All the struggle and failure of our pedestrian living has not extinguished the challenge of Doctor King’s dream. On January 7th an African American President with a full term of largely unfulfilled efforts gave himself an opportunity that millions had made possible with their votes, their campaigning and their tolerance for  the difficulty of their task. This time the speaker spoke symbolically from the other end of the Mall. Doctor King had spoken TO power. As the President  of the nation and standing on the Capitol Barach Obama spoke WITH the power of the American people. The plain symbolism of the moment said with the action of words that the dream was no longer an offering of a few to a hostile nation. It had become the dream of the nation Doctor King had loved and challenged a half century before.


Inauguration Day

In these United States we inaugurate our chiefs of state and principal executive officers on January 20.  These roles merge in the single office of the presidency, and our corporate charter, the U.S. Constitution, requires the swearing of the oath of office on that date once every four years. That ceremony has happened on time since 1790. the longest continual tradition of leadership inauguration in world history. We Americans should be very proud to be a people of such regular habits–regular at least when it comes to executive power. We also have a very long tradition of inaugurating only presidents who have been duly elected through a complex but generally fair and democratic process. Self congratulation is again appropriate.

But until recently that tradition gave us only caucasion males. In a nation composed of more females than males, and including large minorities of people of color, this tradition bespoke a narrowness of spirit and a diminuation of our professed democratic faith. On this January 20 we affirm that our way of life will be more open to those who have too often been marginalized. The second inauguration of Barach Obama makes clear that a previously marginalized ethnic group may not only break the racial barrier to these high posts, but what is much more important, that the American people are prepared to be led by persons who previously were not even permitted to hope for such high office. The first election of Obama in the middle of a collapsing economy showed the depth of our desperation for new hope. The re-election of the same man after four years clearly demonstrates that our future will no longer be led by bigotry and exclusion. In Lincoln’s historic words we have truly begun to experienc a NEW birth of freedom. Thank God.

A Thought About Practing Law and Being a Lawyer

At seventy years of age I am probably old enough to retire from practicing law without need to apologize. But I have less than no inclination to retire. I was less eager than some to get started. In 1967 I graduated from a wonderful small law school, but did not get around to taking the state bar exam for about a year. More than another year passed before I availed myself of the fact that I passed the exam. Many more years followed before I began actually making my living by setting up a law practice in a small town. During the late sixties practicing law seemed to me to be what that generation referred to as a “copout”, meaning an escape from the available opportunities to make my work “relevent” to the challenges of those times. Oliver Wendell Holmes,Jr. had said that a man must become part of the action and passion of his times at penalty of being judged not to have lived. I had believed him, and I had no intention of being judged not to have lived. Forty three years after becoming a member of the bar, I finally see that this profession can be an escape from the temptation to retire to non-passion and inaction. Lawyering can, and for some of us it must, be a means of being fully relevant to the needs of the people and the world we have tried to love. Only love gives meaning to anything that we can do with our lives. Being seventy is not a reason to diminish what I do, only a confession of the long education that now is at hand to motivate and inform my present efforts to love.