One reason I watched the Democratic National Convention last week, even though I am not a Democrat, is that I wanted to see who from the African-American community would speak, especially in prime time slots, and what message they would present. I also wanted to see if there were any rising stars in the party who might be willing to move away from the current Black leadership. While one speaker, Barack Obama, a lawyer and state senator from the Chicago area, hit some good notes, over all I was seriously disappointed. I was especially dismayed by the prominence given to Al Sharpton and his platform of racial politics.
It seems as if the whole of the Black liberal establishment has forgotten Martin Luther King. I don’t mean his name or the ability to evoke his image for propaganda purposes. No, I mean the substance of the man and his message. [Note: I should say right here that some will dismiss my argument since I am a white, protestant conservative and therefore am not allowed an opinion on such matters. Well too bad; as a citizen and Christian I have one.] One thing that continues to get lost in the noise of the rhetoric is the central tenant of King’s philosophy, the crux of his “I have a dream” speech: that he wanted America to be a color-blind society, without privileged classes, with a level playing field for everyone. Let’s examine three passages from that speech that emphasize this basic premise (emphasis added).
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
With those statements as a foundation, I believe that it is toxic to both the character and hopes of a nation for matters of race to become central to matters of policy other than to demand that race should never be a matter of policy. Conservatives and especially Black conservatives are being attacked because they have resisted or seek to end systems of preferences built into the law and social structure of our nation. That is because those preferences currently favor African-Americans. Once a system of preferences existed, it is argued, for white protestant males. That was attacked by illogically setting up a system of preferences for African-Americans and women (double winner if you are both). One apparent evil was attacked by substituting another. How can one be wrong and the other right?
However, this attempt at social engineering has proven destructive for the pursuit of excellence in all its contexts and the current efforts to repeal these preferential constructs only go to prove that they are nigh unto impossible to extricate despite the fact that they are fundamentally destructive to the goals they claim to foster. They create a sense of entitlement where non should exist in a society of equally created persons. They substitute one prejudice for another, one evil for another.
We should always endeavor to level the playing field for all individuals, but we can’t distort the rules, lower the standards, or hobble some of the players and remain true to Martin’s dream or the dream of our forefathers whom Martin appealed to. You don’t address evil with evil, but attack evil with good. You don’t create equality by imposing inequality. You can never guarantee outcomes, only opportunities. Remediation is preparatory in nature, and should be supported with all our energy, so the formerly unprepared can compete, but how well they compete is up to them. That course looks to the nature and nobility of a person’s character and it is on the character of its citizens that a nation rises or falls.
Yes, compassion should exist, and we should extend it for some will always need it, but compassion is by its nature an act of character. As such, it can never be codified into fixed formulae or law, since character, and as a result compassion, springs from the substance of individual persons. It is in the choices that we as individuals make. On the larger plane, the character of a nation is bound by the character of its individual citizens, not apart from them.
I too have a dream and that dream is that all men, who have been created equal by their creator, would become people of character and as a result treat their fellow men with equality, expecting only a level playing field on which to expend their efforts. If that were true, then I believe both Martin and I would be satisfied that the dream that began as America would be on the road to becoming what its founders intended, instead of floundering on the dirty side streets it has been detoured into.