For MLK, Obama pushes diversity as GOP pushes color-blind policies

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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GOP leaders are highlighting Rev. Martin Luther King’s popular call for color-blind attitudes and policies Wednesday, while progressives are using public sympathy for that message to promote their policies of government-directed diversity that unites their varying interest groups.

Between President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and King’s 1963 speech “lie chapters of struggle by ordinary Americans committed to the promise that ‘all men are created equal,'” according to a short speech due for delivery Wednesday by House Speaker John Boehner.

Rev. King “called all of us to live up to that document’s fundamental promise and the underpinning of our founding — that all of us are created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights,” said a statement from former president George W. Bush.

“There’s still a need for every American to help hasten the day when Dr. King’s vision is made real in every community — when what truly matters is not the color of a person’s skin, but the content of their character,” said Bush’s statement.

In contrast, Democrats and progressives are using King’s popularity — gained in large part from his “content of their character” message — to promote policies favored by disparate elements of their diverse coalition.

Their statements also downplay the dismal economic record of the progressives’ post-1963 policies, which have failed to close the economic and jobs gaps between whites and African-Americans, amid trillions of dollars in federal spending.

“We have work to do on voting rights, on jobs, on equality of opportunity in this country,” said a statement from President Barack Obama’s domestic affair chief, Cecilia Munoz.

The president will talk Wednesday about the “need to pass an immigration reform measure,” she said.

Until 1965, “our immigration laws were based on the ‘racial’ notion that some Europeans were superior to others. Think about what that meant to the rest of us,” she wrote in her statement.

“We have come too far to give up now. Adelante. Or together, Si Se Puede!,” ended Munoz, who previously headed the primary Latino advocacy group in Washington, La Raza.

Obama wrapped his progressive agenda around King’s speech during an interview with Tom Joyner, a black radio host.

“Dr. King would be amazed in many ways about the progress that we’ve made. … We have a large thriving Congressional Black Caucus, and that, as a consequence of some of the doors that he and others helped kick down, Latinos and women and Asians and the disabled and gays and lesbians, that they all also suddenly found a seat at the table,” Obama said in the Tuesday broadcast.

He also outlined his broad economic goals.

“When it comes to the economy, when it comes to inequality, when it comes to wealth, when it comes to the challenges that inner cities experience, he would say that we have not made as much progress as the civil and social progress that we’ve made,” Obama told Joyner.

White House officials also promoted their diversity agenda in targeted leaks to sympathetic outlets, including The Washington Post and Politico.

The Washington Post’s headline said “Obama seeks to redefine rights struggle.”

Politico’s article, titled “Obama, race and class,” declared that Obama will “leverag[e] an event most Americans view as strictly racial milestone into something bigger — and more useful to a struggling president: A rationale for his second-term agenda.”

According to Politico, “Obama likely will tie King’s goals with Obama’s first-term achievements (health care reform, infrastructure investment, the Lilly Ledbetter pay equity act) with his second-term agenda (hiking taxes on the wealthiest taxpayers, passing immigration reform, cutting the cost of college, funding some kind of infrastructure and jobs bill).”

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