By William Fisher
“We’ve climbed the mighty mountain,” President Bush intoned in his closing remarks of last week’s presidential debate. “I see the valley below, and it’s a valley of peace” he said.
Remind you of anything? Try this:
“I've been to the mountaintop…. He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land…Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
These lines come from a speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in support of striking sanitation workers at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3, 1968. He was referring to a failed attempt on his life. The day after the speech, he was dead — victim of an assassin’s bullet.
But Dr. King and Mr. Bush have more in common than the mountaintop allusion -- in fact, that allusion is pretty common in American political and religious rhetoric.
Think about it. Like George W. Bush, Dr. King was a deeply religious man. Like the President, he wore his religion on his sleeve, as it were. Though he was far more eloquent than Mr. Bush, he spoke in a language to which ordinary people were able to respond viscerally. He was messianic. He was portrayed, and didn’t mind portraying himself, as God’s commander-in-chief, put on earth to lead the army of peace and justice. And, like the President, he was a master political strategist.
That’s what they have in common. Where they part company is on the battlefield of reality. Dr. King never allowed himself the luxury of the delusion that things were going well when they weren’t. He never said progress was being made when all the evidence from the ground pointed to disaster. And he never asked his followers to believe that either. He never shot the messenger bringing him news he didn’t want to hear, and he said a lot more than “it’s hard work”. He honored the intelligence of his flock by his honesty. He never told them that victory would be a slam-dunk or a cakewalk. He always reminded them, albeit with hope, that they were foot soldiers on a very long and very dangerous march.
Dr. King had a dream, and so does George Bush. The President’s dream is that somehow Iraq will turn into a model of democracy for all of the Middle East, that ‘American values’ will magically take root there, and that the nations of that deeply troubled neighborhood will all rush to beat their swords into McDonald franchises.
If the President really respects the American people, he needs to get real. He needs to stop doling out pabulum about how many schools and hospitals are being opened, when kids turn up for school and are blown to smithereens and those who survive get taken to US-financed hospitals.
He needs to stop referring to all those who oppose our being there as terrorists and foreign fighters.
He needs to stop conning us into thinking that Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were bridge partners.
Mr. President, most of us think Saddam Hussein got what he deserved. But now it’s us who aren’t getting what we deserve. What we deserve is the truth, warts and all.
Mr. President, show a little of your famous faith. The American people can handle bad news.