When Obama invokes Martin Luther King from George Payne

When Obama invokes Martin Luther King from George Payne

George Payne

In yesterday’s State of the Union address, President Obama used the phrase: “unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

Powerful, I thought, but somehow anomalous when set against the overall tenor of the speech.  Actually–although not attributed (nor needed to be)–those were not Obama’s words, but Martin Luther King’s from his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech in Oslo, December 10, 1964.

I didn’t realize this until George Payne, Founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International offered his own response to the State of the Union address.  (For more on George, see Rochester Free Radio and elsewhere, below).

As we approach Martin Luther King Day, we should consider just how deeply King believed in–and lived–non violence.

Let me say this about the State of the Union. As usual President Obama is spot on when he celebrates the inherent beauty of diversity and openly rejects the sinister nature of identity/tribal politics. I also appreciate his call for American citizens to wake up and finally retake control of their nation. As he powerfully reminded us, “We the people” are the three most important words in our Constitution.untitled

That said I am perplexed by the President’s invocation of Dr. King and his call for a nonviolent revolution based on the power of “unarmed truth and unconditional love.” These words are absolutely meaningless in light of what he said about hunting down and destroying human beings who engage in terrorism. To be honest, I don’t care if the President is a political and moral realist. I don’t care if he believes that ISIS and other groups like them deserve to be wiped off the face of the planet. That is his prerogative as Commander in Chief. But please stop summoning the name and legacy of Dr. King to endorse a worldview that advocates justified warfare. “Unarmed truth” does not mean having “the strongest military in the world. Period.”

Furthermore, “unconditional love” does not mean loving everyone except people who commit atrocious crimes. The term unconditional means love without exceptions. It means to love the most heinous individuals despite how much danger that act of love puts you in. It means to love ISIS even when they behead journalists, bomb patrons at restaurants, rape women and children, and basically tear at the seams of our way of life.

I am not claiming to possess this type of love. I am ashamed to admit that I have too much egoism, anger, and fear inside of me to harbor this degree of mercy. But President Obama should not claim to believe in it when he orders drone strikes, authorizes black op raids, asks for war making powers from Congress to escalate conflicts, legalizes assassinations of foreign leaders, and strips citizens of fundamental privacy rights in the name of national security. The whole campaign to close Gitmo has been a complete and utter farce from day one. Besides the State of the Union how often have we seen the President out on the trail pleading for Americans to support his call to shut down this gulag?

Again, I am not challenging the President’s executive action to wage a relentless campaign against supposed enemies of the state. What I have a problem with is his use of King’s legacy to sanitize the slaughters which accompany these decisions. When the President highlights the efficacy of 10,000 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan and Yemen and Pakistan and… that celebration can be retranslated to mean that hundreds of innocent children have died, countless animals have been mutilated, natural resources have been squandered, and the Earth itself has been immeasurably scarred. Dr. King would not support- under ANY condition- the killing of children, the destruction of our planet, or the random massacre of other nonhuman lifeforms.

At the home of Dr. Charles T. Lunsford


from King’s 1958 visit to Rochester

President Obama finds ways to rationalize and stomach these killings as a matter of official duty. I know that he neither seeks out or relishes having to make these decisions. But that has nothing to do with King. Dr. King would never bring himself to sanction institutional violence on this level. Like Christ, King died nearly alone, in a pool of blood, without a gun in his hand, or a vengeful desire in his heart. By the time he was taken out by the same forces which Obama touted in his speech, he had stopped using his loyalty as an American to justify the use of violence against God’s children. Instead, he had given up his nationality for the prospect of a beloved community without passports, walls, tribes, armies, or restrictions on our capacity to love and be loved.

King died a free man but this blessing did not come cheap. It required him to have a love for diversity which goes way beyond skin tone, sexual preference, worship style, age, physical ability, or mental intelligence. Love of diversity includes loving what one finds unlovable. In the words of MLK: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

I did not hear that quote in the President’s address.

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About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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