In holding his inaugural on Martin Luther King Day, President Obama is underlining his achievement as the first African-American president and the first and only to win two terms. But he is also honoring the legacy of Dr. King, without whom the phenomenon of Barack Obama would have likely been impossible. It is appropriate on this day to remember Dr. King as a liberator, as one of the activists who made the 1964 Voting Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act possible, who was instrumental in uplifting the oppressed and obtaining justice for the wronged. And, despite the many points on which the president’s policies differ from those King would have favored, it is right to credit Obama with those measures he has implemented to expand our rights and remove oppressive practices.
h/t Yung Joe
1. President Obama worked with Congress to pass the Affordable Healthcare Act, which extends health insurance to 30 million more Americans. Dr. King himself had said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman” according to eyewitness Dr. Quentin Young of Chicago.
2. The very first bill President Obama signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. Only 5 Republicans voted for it, and it would not have been passed in the previous administration. It forbids paying women less than men for doing the same job, a situation that had been common in corporate America.
3. At a time when controversy is still dogging the film “Zero Dark Thirty” regarding its depiction of torture, it is worth remembering that one of President Obama’s first acts was to prohibit torture as it had been practiced by US government personnel under George W. Bush and to bring the US into compliance with the Geneva Conventions. The United States of America, President Obama proclaimed, does not torture.
4. He had the Environmental Protection Agency at long last move against coal plants spewing mercury poisoning into the environment. This step may be among his more consequential, since it not only protects citizens from being exposed to a virulent nerve poison but also has led to the closing of unprecedented numbers of dirty coal plants, reducing US carbon dioxide emissions a little.
5. Obama put the first Latina on the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor.
6. Obama saved the workers of the US auto industry from losing their jobs as the companies went bankrupt. Instead, the US auto industry is now back and has added over 100,000 jobs.
7. The president signed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (2009), which extends existing hate crime protections to cover crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender, or disability (previously religion, race, color, and national origin had been covered).
8. For many lower-income Americans, including students, credit cards are an easy way to get a loan, but the loans are of course extremely high-interest and came with a whole host of hidden costs that made it difficult for the poor ever to get back out from under their indebtedness. Obama passed credit card reform, banning some of the worst excesses of this industry.
9. He signed the Claims Resolution Act, which committed $4.6 billion in funding to settle suits by black and Native American farmers, whom the government had swindled out of loans and royalties on their natural resources over the years.
10. He created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect consumers from predatory practices by financiers and bankers.
The life’s work of Rev. King was aimed at expanding human opportunities and removing the shackles created by bigotry. He worked for individual dignity and for an expansion of civil and human rights, to encompass those left out of America’s Establishment rights regime. On this day it is worth stepping back from partisanship and cynicism to recognize that politics is the art of the possible, and under extremely difficult circumstances, Obama has in the above ways honored King’s values.