If Barack Obama had been anyone else except the president of the United States speaking Wednesday at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, his speech might have been considered good.
Like former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Obama spoke to the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial of the 1963 march and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, which inspired the nation and the world toward new laws, more equality and greater freedoms. They all talked about King’s dream having pushed the nation to do more and be better for all of its citizens, but the dream remains unfulfilled.
Obama’s speech, however, fell woefully short by not defining for people what he — as the president and the most powerful person in the world — planned to do to help create more jobs and businesses in long-neglected urban communities; improve public education; fix the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which the Supreme Court this year gutted; end gun violence; repeal “Stand Your Ground” laws so no more Trayvon Martins are racially profiled and killed; make communities safer; lift people out of poverty; and stabilize the sinking middle class.
It was as if the first African-American president told people you’re on your own when he should have defined what his office administratively planned to do and what laws it would seek through Congress to forge more voting rights, equality and opportunities for the country’s most under-served, voiceless citizens.
Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the Voting Rights Act in 1965 and fair housing laws in part because of the March on Washington in 1963, the sacrifices of civil rights soldiers and the inspiration that civil rights leaders at that time provided. They were passionate and unyielding in prodding lawmakers to act.
President John F. Kennedy stayed at the White House during the march 50 years ago. Because he didn’t really say anything substantive, perhaps Obama should have stayed home, too.
Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of The Kansas City Star’s Editorial Board. Email: [email protected]