I have the utmost respect for Cynthia Jardon, the editor of the editorial page of The Town Talk, but her most recent Sunday editorial regarding Senator Barack Obama misses the mark so severely that I am compelled to respond. Ms. Jardon begins her editorial:

Does Barack Obama really want you to have a piece of the American dream? Have you noticed that he doesn’t much reference Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

No, Ms. Jardon. I have not noticed that. In fact, when Senator Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for the Presidency, it was on the 45th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a fact that was repeated over and over. Two of Dr. King’s children both delivered powerful speeches that day.

Indeed, Senator Obama spent the final moments of his historic acceptance speech paying tribute to Dr. King. To suggest Senator Obama hasn’t referenced Dr. King much is, with all due respect, to admit that you’re simply not paying much attention, and it appears as if this claim is only being made in order to propound a very tenuous argument about Senator Obama’s intentions and prerogatives.

Dr. King never once suggested that African Americans were unable or unwilling to reach for the brass ring. He never hinted that perhaps African Americans would be better off if they just sat back and took government handouts.

Obama wants us less-than-average Joes to believe we are entitled to money we haven’t earned. That’s about as un-American as you can get.

This is simply irresponsible: An attempt to distort the legacy of Dr. King in order to advance the false assertion that Obama is “un-American” and believes “we are entitled to money we haven’t earned.”

Furthermore, it suggests that Obama’s tax plan, which would simply reinstate the structures under Reagan and Clinton, is somehow exclusively intended to address some type of African-American entitlement agenda, comparing his plan to sweeping “government handouts.”

Why are we entitled to wealth others have earned? Does Obama believe we aren’t ambitious enough, smart enough, strong enough or in any other way capable of taking care of ourselves? If he can grab his piece of the American dream, why can’t we?

Because he would like us to give up. He would like to convince us that the American dream is dead.

Frankly, I have no idea what Ms. Jardon is talking about. As someone who has religiously followed this election, I can’t understand how any journalist could possibly believe that Senator Obama thinks the “American dream is dead.” Honestly, I find such language to be absurdly and rancorously partisan.

Ms. Jardon hopes Americans will believe that Senator Obama is “as un-American as you get” and that he also thinks the “American dream is dead.”

I guess it is, if the American spirit is so weak that it cannot see that his “change” will only bring us to new lows. We are to aspire to mediocrity because, in his world, without government handouts, we will not survive.

Until this morning, I have never heard of anyone speak of Obama’s tax plan as a “hand-out” plan, and I find it to be an astoundingly ignorant interpretation.

What is it about America that has changed so much that you cannot reach for the stars?

The opportunities still abound for a person, no matter what his origins, no matter what his family or socio-economic class, to get his or her piece of the dream. All it takes is ambition, education, dedication, a willingness to work and commitment.

In fact, ironically, Barack Obama is the perfect example of a man who is living the American dream.

How, exactly, is this ironic?

Yet he believes you can’t do it without him. He wants us all to believe that this country’s rich are tyrants. Obama wants you to believe that the rich, because they are rich, deserve to be punished.

Why? They got rich the same way anyone else can — dedication, hard work, education, ambition, etc.

In Obama’s economic plan, he’d like you to believe that 95 percent of the people will get a tax cut. That’s not accurate. 95 percent of the people may not pay more taxes, but there is no actual “cut” figured in. In fact, he makes no bones about the fact that he will raise taxes.

If you make $250,000 a year you will pay higher taxes. He and Sen. Joe Biden would like you to believe that there are not a lot of people who make that kind of money.

Ms. Jardon, practically all of what you’re saying about Senator Obama’s tax plan is a lie. Again, with all due respect, you have fundamentally misrepresented his tax plan and the intentions behind his plan. First of all, despite what you claim, there IS, in fact, an actual and substantial cut “figured in” for people making less than $250,000. From the Boston Globe:

As this clearly illustrates, Obama’s tax plan offers significant tax breaks for people making under $603,403 a year, particularly for people making less than $111,645 a year. This is public and readily-available information, and it’s absurd and irresponsible for anyone to build a counter-argument without addressing the facts.

This isn’t about “punishing” anyone. A progressive tax structure simply responds, fairly and equitably, to the needs of our country. Town Talk reporters beware: You’re getting a tax break.

The irony isn’t Senator Obama’s perspective; the irony is that so many Americans have allowed themselves to believe it’s in their own economic best interests to vote against their own economic best interests.

In Obama’s world it is the patriotic duty of those who work and succeed to pay for those who do not. What? What has paying an inordinate amount of taxes so more people can go on the dole got to do with patriotism?

Who do you think will suffer in the long run? Those who pay more will find a way to even the playing field. They will raise prices, cut jobs, cut benefits or whatever. That’s how it works.

How will Obama’s wealth spreading help you? All of the extra money you get will be absorbed by the higher food and product prices. Lots of pain, no gain.

But Obama does not want you to see that. He wants you to believe that you are sticking it to “the man.” Who is that?

“Sticking it to the man”? What?

And what does Ms. Jardon mean by “inordinate”? I wonder what she thinks about Warren Buffett’s objection that his tax bracket is actually lower than his secretary’s. It’s as if she is arguing for an economic system that has already demonstratably been proven as a failure.

“Voodoo economics,” as George H.W. Bush called it.

But for Ms. Jardon, unfortunately, it all comes back to Senator Obama’s race, a device she uses to thematically tie the article together:

Dr. King had a dream — it was that everyone would one day be able to capture their piece of the American dream. The dream is alive for Ice T, Ice Cube, Usher, Beyonce, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Spike Lee, Oprah, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson, Clarence Thomas, Lil Wayne, Barry Bonds and the list goes on and on. All these people are living their piece of the American dream and all will be penalized for success. Many already donate millions of dollars a year to charities. Under Obama, you can bet they will donate less. Instead of those people deciding who gets their money, the government will decide.

In attempting to make her point, she lists sixteen African-Americans as examples of people who would ostensibly be “penalized” by Senator Obama. Ironically, the vast majority of the men and women she lists, including General Powell, are supporters of Senator Obama.

Although, out of respect, I refuse to express the obvious, I believe, with all of my heart, that Americans will not be so easily convinced that this election is about entitlement, in any of its forms.

When expressed honestly, this is about one thing: Our shared future.

Update: Thank you to Russell Henderson for sharing this with Louisiana Democrats, and thank you to Ryan McLeod for your own response, which includes video of Senator Obama speaking about Dr. King during his acceptance speech at the DNC. Quoting the transcript:

Instead, it is that American spirit – that American promise – that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It’s a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours – a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could’ve heard many things. They could’ve heard words of anger and discord. They could’ve been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead – people of every creed and color, from every walk of life – is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.

“We cannot walk alone,” the preacher cried. “And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.

10 thoughts

  1. Lamar,

    I just finished reading Jardon’s piece on the TT website, and I think you get most of the meat of this morning’s piece. I want to add a couple of other observations.

    1. How does MLK get appropriated into a narrative about conservative economic values? Has Jardon ever read MLK’s speech about why he was against the Vietnam War? Moreover, didn’t our government, through the FBI, investigate him under the suspicion that he was a communist?

    Go back to the history and you may remember or discover that King was assassinated while helping sanitation workers in Memphis during their strike for higher wages and better working conditions. He also led the “Poor People’s Campaign” just prior to his involvement in the Memphis strike. To read Jardon, one would think that MLK also conducted marches and protests on the behalf of the Rockefellers and DuPonts because their taxes were too high.

    MLK was all about giving people the means to realize the American dream. However, it is ludicrous to suggest, as Jardon does, that MLK ONLY meant that “[a]ll it takes is ambition, education, dedication, a willingness to work and commitment,” to achieve the American dream. MLK believed in this, but he also believed in progressive taxation and a far more liberal economic agenda that Jardon apparently prefers to ignore.

    2. I’d be curious to know what Jardon thinks of the current bailout of the banking industry. She asks: “why are we entitled to wealth others have earned?” Both McCain and Obama voted for the bailout, so what choice do we have here? Shouldn’t “equal time” fairness have dictated she mention that fact?

    Furthermore, middle class Americans over the last eight years have worked harder (in terms of productivity) than any other prior generation. Yet their incomes have stagnated at best, or (for most) declined over the same period. Meanwhile, the wealthiest 2% have seen their incomes and wealth increase dramatically over the same period of time. With Jardon’s interpretation of the US tax system, this amounts to a redistribution of wealth from the bottom up. I would rephrase her original question like this: why are the wealthiest 2% entitled to the wealth I work so hard to make?

    3. Finally, in view of the entire opinion piece, I think Jardon is trying to paint a grossly distorted picture of Barack Obama as representative of an American nightmare. It is a piece based on fear, rather than fact (as you have skillfully shown in your post). The nightmare is upon us now and it’s not Barack Obama. It’s the result of eight years of incompetence in the White House. From Iraq, to Katrina, to the financial crisis poised to usher in a new Great Depression, how can Jardon honestly suggest that the nightmare is yet to come? Like the McCain campaign, and the Bush White House, she lives in an alternate universe without a sense of history, reality, or rationality.

  2. Chronos,

    As always, you make some great points. Thank you for your contribution.

    The appropriation of Dr. King into this particular argument is troubling for many reasons, not the least of which is the way in which his political and economic messages are distorted.

    Perhaps it’s also an attempt to discredit any suggestion that Senator Obama carries the mantle of Dr. King or that Senator Obama’s achievements represent a fulfillment, at least in part, of Dr. King’s dream.

    But, as you point out, the entire argument is based on an egregious misreading of Dr. King’s economic beliefs.

    Expanding on some of your points:

    Toward the end of life, in his final book entitled Where Do We Go From Here? Dr. King spoke in favor of a guaranteed income:

    I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.

    Earlier in this century this proposal would have been greeted with ridicule and denunciation as destructive of initiative and responsibility. At that time economic status was considered the measure of the individual’s abilities and talents. In the simplistic thinking of that day the absence of worldly goods indicated a want of industrious habits and moral fiber.

    We have come a long way in our understanding of human motivation and of the blind operation of our economic system. Now we realize that dislocations in the market operation of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. The poor are less often dismissed from our conscience today by being branded as inferior and incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands it does not eliminate all poverty.

    We have come to the point where we must make the nonproducer a consumer or we will find ourselves drowning in a sea of consumer goods. We have so energetically mastered production that we now must give attention to distribution. Though there have been increases in purchasing power, they have lagged behind increases in production. Those at the lowest economic level, the poor white and Negro, the aged and chronically ill, are traditionally unorganized and therefore have little ability to force the necessary growth in their income. They stagnate or become even poorer in relation to the larger society.

    Contrary to what Ms. Jardon suggests, Dr. King believed that poverty could be mitigated, lives could be improved, and opportunities could be realized through a guaranteed income for all people. This is far more radical and “socialist” than anything you’ll find in Senator Obama’s tax plan.

    As you point out, Chronos, economic justice was something Dr. King fought for throughout his entire career, most notably with his Poor People’s Campaign. Quoting from Susan Jones’s “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy: An Economic Justice Imperative”:

    “In 1966, Dr. King admonished that ‘America’s greatest problem and contradiction is that it harbors 35 million poor [people] at a time when its resources are so vast that the existence of poverty is an anachronism.’” The demands of the Poor People’s Campaign included a $30 billion annual appropriation for a comprehensive anti-poverty effort, a full-employment act, a guaranteed annual income, and construction funds for at least 500,000 units of low-cost housing per year.

    Certainly, Dr. King believed in the virtues of hard work and self-reliance, but to suggest he also believed in a right-wing construction of free market capitalism is to fundamentally miss the point and ignore the historical record. Dr. King actually believed in the eradication of poverty through direct intervention.

    Regarding your second point about the financial bail-out, I’ve also noticed the cognitive dissonance of many conservatives about this issue. They rarely object to wealth being “spread” at the top, assuming, for whatever reason, that this is just the natural order of things, but when someone speaks about “spreading the wealth” to the poor and middle class, they cry afoul, using words like “socialism” and imploring Americans to believe such plans are a rejection of the virtues of hard work. In doing so, as I said earlier, they somehow convince millions of Americans to vote against their own economic best interests.

    Curiously, there is also an underlying implication that the rich are only rich due to their own ingenuity and hard work, ignoring the realities of privilege (for many rich people) and the ways in which privilege provides opportunities.

    Whenever a country’s wealth egregiously and disproportionately belongs to the top 2% of earners, while at the same time, middle class incomes continue to shrink, it’s a problem. And it’s not un-American or “socialist” to point this out: The health and wealth of the middle class is the single leading indicator of the health and wealth of a nation.

  3. One more thing. Quoting Ms. Jardon:

    “Obama wants us less-than-average Joes to believe we are entitled to money we haven’t earned. That’s about as un-American as you can get.”

    I really don’t understand this logic. Obama gives working people a TAX BREAK. If you’re not working and you don’t pay taxes, guess what? You’re not getting a tax break.

    By definition, decreasing the amount of taxes that working people pay allows us to keep more of the money we’ve earned.

  4. Is anyone seriously asking what’s missing from McCain’s tax plan?

    You know…like say….money?

    McCain’s plan shows giving everyone a tax break (although only the top 2% really get anything sizable). So where is all the money coming from?

    It just doesn’t seem like his campaign is being very upfront with the nation in explaining exactly what programs will be cut in order to give back all this money.

    Will we loose ALL healthcare for children? Are the elderly just SOL? Is the GI Bill gone? What’s going on here?

  5. When Obama wins the race, we will not have to worry about healthcare for children because we will move at greater pace at murderering babies and have fewer to care for.

    I cannot understand how a Party can call itself so concerned with the lives of people and at the same time preoccupuied with infantcide.

  6. Greg, what a ridiculous thing to say.

    I know you have supported and voted for Democratic politicians in the past. You’ve said as much on your own website.

    Your sudden grandstanding looks like a lame and disingenuous attempt to reduce, simplify, and vilify tens of millions of Americans, merely because of your own fears about Senator Obama, whatever they may actually be.

    To suggest, as you do, that anyone supports increasing abortions or infanticide, is to allow yourself to fall into the deepest pit of political discourse.

  7. Lamar, thank you for your direct clarity in your response to this.

    However, I don’t share your respect for Ms. Jardon. I think she should lose her job for her disregard of journalistic ethics. It is true that she is completely protected by the Bill of Rights to express her opinion publicly without recourse. However, the editor of the editorial page of a professional newspaper should be expected to at least have her basic facts correct when exercising her opinion in the professional sphere. She doesn’t, so she should be fired.

  8. Lamar: I strongly stand besides what I said. While I do vote for local Democratic candidates, I would never vote for a national Democratic candidate.

    National candidates are closer to the National Platform, therefore assumably are closer to the abortion issue than then rest. As with most other national issues, the lower down on the food chain the Democrat is the less they actually are align with the Democractic principles.

    Therefore, supporters of the National Democrats are baby killers.

  9. Greg, there are several logical fallacies with your stance, but the main problem is it engages in argumentum ad hominem.

    In this case, you have attempted to assert a moral superiority by virtue of your opinion of a very complicated issue and have then, based entirely on that opinion, constructed an argument that, instead of addressing the issue at hand, attacks the interlocuter (supporters of national Democrats).

    Additionally, I think it is also a fallacy of accident and a fallacy of equivocation.

    I certainly respect your opinion on this difficult issue and would never attempt to categorically define you (or anyone else) based on their opinion of this issue.

    Still, I believe the argument, as you present it here, is fallacious on multiple levels.

  10. The whole abortion issue is just as ridiculous as gay marriage for this reason: They shouldn’t even be issues! Why are they even on the national stage of politics? Whether one is for these issues or against them shouldn’t determine whether or not one is fit for running this country.

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