A Different World

What would Martin Luther King think of President George W. Bush?

Published Jan. 15, 2006 in The Sun News

While remembering the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. ...

I've grown tired of hearing people profess to know precisely what King would have stood for today had he lived to see the 21st century. They seem comfortable quoting King's words while placing their own in his mouth.

He would have championed affirmative action because it's the central civil rights issue of the day, some say. He would have opposed it because he wanted people judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, others confidently say. I say it's better to make the case for your position and attempt to influence others just as King did in his day instead of trying to read his mind.

But I do have a question.

Would Martin Luther King Jr. have been more disgusted with the performance of the Bush administration in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or by the Clinton administration's refusal to intervene in the genocide in Rwanda in the mid-1990s?

In the case of Katrina, a few things are clear. The federal response was bad, and cronyism was at play. The head of FEMA seemed more concerned with which tie to wear during news conferences than helping people in need.

We also now know things were bad in New Orleans then - and now - but not as bad as first reported. The accounts of rapes, of murders, of shooting at emergency workers turned out to be mostly false.

Even so, after rapper Kanye West said ``George Bush doesn't care about black people,'' he was praised in many circles for speaking the truth to those in power.

But back in the '90s, when President Clinton was our ``first black president,'' I don't remember many people saying Clinton didn't care about black people - even though women were being gang-raped in Rwanda, men were being slaughtered, children were being treated like rag dolls, with the full knowledge of the Clinton administration.

A decade later, Clinton apologized and said he should have acted sooner, an apology issued 10 years and 1 million murders too late.

I don't know which mishap King would have considered the greater sin, the slow response after Katrina or the refusal of Clinton to use the world's most powerful military to stop the slaughter of innocent people. I don't know if he would have labeled President Bush the world's greatest terrorist, like Harry Belafonte did.

For me, I'd take an inadequate response to a natural disaster to no response to a genocide any day.