MLK Day

Plus: Congressional Expertise On Sex, Truth, And Justice

| Tue Jan. 19, 1999 3:00 AM EST

Monday was Martin Luther King day.

To be honest, on most holidays, I'm barely even aware of what I'm supposed to be remembering. It's not like I spend Arbor Day walking around honoring every tree I see. They're trees. They don't care what I think. Let the squirrels give trees a holiday. They're the ones who ought to.

Unless you're talking about rain forests. Which don't need a holiday. They need a telethon.

But I digress.

MLK day is different. Dr. King's legacy is worth remembering, celebrating, and learning from.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

But as time passes, and as hundreds of white TV producers have their visibly multicultural ActionNewsTeams replay the same Top Ten images of Dr. King's life like a Southern Baptist Greatest Hits video, the memory of this very real, very courageous activist for peace, for the poor, and for civil rights is starting to fade into a cuddly feel-good Disneyfied hugfest with not much greater meaning than the halftime show at the Super Bowl.

We shouldn't let that happen.

Rarely is even a single word devoted to the years of Dr. King's life following the March On Washington of 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the four-minute pop histories of Dr. King's life that air on MSNBCNN every MLK day, that's where the story usually stops.

But that's not where the man himself stopped. More than just racial equality, non-violence was the core of Dr. King's philosophy. Racism is the most prominent of the forms of violence to the human spirit that he fought so well against. But in the last years of Dr. King's life, he became a leading opponent of U.S. militarism abroad and a powerful advocate for the nation's poor at home.

And unlike Jim Crow laws, we still have a runaway military and way too many poor people. So the last years of Martin Luther King's life aren't nearly as comfortable to contemplate. Especially on a TV network owned by General Electric.

But save for a sniper's bullet, Dr. King might still be alive today, preaching the same gospel of solving hatred and racism and violence of all kinds through forgiveness, peace, and love for our enemies as well as our neighbors.

So if we do want to honor Dr. King's memory, if we truly want him live to on in our hearts, maybe we can reflect what he might say about our world today.

What would Dr. King say about our criminal justice system, for example—where prisons are becoming privatized and operated for private profit, the death penalty has made a grim comeback, and more people are imprisoned per capita than in any western nation, blacks far more so than whites?

What would Dr. King say is the real cause of the growth of hate groups nationwide? How would he suggest we deal about them?

What would Dr. King say about a corporate media that maximizes profit by sensationalizing pretty, violent crimes in the gutter, while censoring grand, and far more violent crimes in the penthouse?

What would Dr. King say about U.S. policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan?

And—most importantly—what would he do about all of it?

It's a lot more challenging to think about Dr. King and his life in this way. But then, isn't challenging ourselves to contemplate the justice of our society—and the non-violent means we can improve it—precisely what his memory is supposed to be about?


What exactly constitutes "sex?"

Personally, I think it's

a) anything you do naked, that
b) makes you say any word more than five times in a row.

But that's just my definition. You surely have your own.

Thing is, the perjury shindig in D.C. really balances on where and how we define the word "sex." If you personally consider the uvula an erogenous zone, then you probably think Clinton committed perjury. If not, not.

But does it make sense that the definition of "sex" most of the media has accepted unquestioningly is the one provided by Clinton's accusers, most of whom regard as sin any oral skill beyond speaking in tongues? That's like choosing between AOL and Earthlink by asking the Amish.

Ultimately, whether or not Clinton committed perjury rests largely on whether his proclaimed definition of "sex"—which excludes tonsil hockey—is or is not credible to typical Americans.

But hardly anybody's even asking us.

So the new issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association is publishing a study on exactly that question.

And surprisingly, the survey found that sixty percent of college students, male and female, do not define power flossing as "sex."

Then again, seventy percent of college students define beer as a food group. We still need more information.

But the point is, Clinton is clearly not the only person with a limited definition of sex. Which makes the claim that his definition is unique—and therefore he committed perjury—a little weaker. It would be interesting to survey the rest of America and see what we think.

But don't hold your breath. The AMA has responded by firing their editor, after 17 years of highly respected service, just for printing the survey.

They say the Journal's not supposed to be political. Rubbish. They've injected themselves happily in political stuff from the abortion debate to the JFK assassination.

Is it more likely, perhaps, that the editor dude got fired because the AMA doesn't want to screw up the efforts of their dozen-plus lobbyists working to curry favor with the GOP Congress?

Apparently, the AMA leadership spells the phrase "physician, heel thyself" h-e-e-l.


Meanwhile, back at the lynch mob...

Henry Hyde said the other day that by having sex with Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton "damaged his office."

Wow. That's what I call vigorous.

I hope I have that kind of ability when I'm 50. Geez.

Anyhow.

Am I the only one so completely amused by this motley assortment of known adulterers, hypocrites, and closet white supremacists accusing the President of lacking in moral fiber? Excuse me, but this can't be the U.S. Congress—it's more like the second act of Deliverance, with Bill Clinton in the Ned Beatty role, and Bob Barr and Henry Hyde chasing him around and trying to make him squeeeeal like a pig.

Oh, wait, excuse me, it's not about sex. Supposedly, the gripe about Clinton is perjury—that he rose his right hand when maybe all he was really raising was his finger.

Maybe so. And gee, if we let our politicians get away with lying, why, pretty soon we'll all be jaded and eventually we'll feel like really powerful people have way more influence we do, and guys like me will even get paid to tell jokes about it just so we can all feel better.

Well, thank goodness we can nip that in the bud.

But if this whole proceeding is, as the GOP claims, about the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, then riddle me this, Batman:

On January 7th, 1999, at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, every single member of the Senate raised their right hands and solemnly swore that they would, quote, "do impartial justice," so help them God.

They swore under oath not to prejudge the case—to have an open mind and consider only the evidence presented and nothing else.

But we all know that's simply not honest.

There are only a handful of Senators whose votes are in doubt. We all already know how almost every member of this jury is gonna vote, and we all knew that we already knew long before the trial began.

(And by the way, look it up: within moments of the swearing-in, partisan bickering forced a recess before even the first order of business.)

Obviously, most Senators did not have an open mind.

Which means (and help me if I'm missing something here) pretty much the whole Senate has sworn under oath to something that wasn't true.

Forgive me for expecting a shred of reason or consistency, but if that's grounds for removal from office, there's a prima facie case that the entire U.S. Senate is now unfit to serve.

Then again, Clinton does have the right to be judged by a jury of his peers...


Bob Harris is a radio commentator, political writer, and humorist who has spoken at almost 300 colleges nationwide.

To receive a free e-mail subscription to The Scoop, just send the word "subscribe" to TheScoop@earthlink.net.