Obama: Standing in the Shadow of MLK

Can the president's speech to celebrate King's iconic moment live up to all the great expectations?

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I always imagine that there is a psychological war being waged within the president between the idealistic young man who believed in hope and change and the older, wizened individual who must govern through strength and measured tones today. Before he was president, Obama spoke more freely and, in some cases, more passionately about the causes he held most dear. He could speak in the voice of the outsider, as King did.

Then there is the fact that the president is a black man indebted heavily to those civil rights activists and workers who gave time, blood and tears to the movement. He knows he is indebted to people who never lived to see this day, this 50th anniversary that to the young must seem like an old war that was fought long ago, and to the old like yesterday. The president must speak in a way that will reach both.

On Wednesday the president will give a speech that will be analyzed and studied and compared with the one 50 years prior. There will, of course, be no comparison. While passions will be high and reverence will be abundant, President Obama is not Dr. King. They do not have the same fight. They do not sit in the same positions. But they do share a bond unseen.

In his day, King influenced the halls of power and the passions of presidents. Today Obama sits at the head of those halls, and from the distance, history is calling out to him. King is still influencing him, as he influenced Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson before.

Obama can't give the speech of a brilliant, rousing outsider. But he can still be a transformative figure, a symbol of progress, that proves that in 50 years we could go from impossible to possible. That we can go from a man speaking of what had been and what could be to a president speaking of what is and what should be.

Danielle C. Belton is a freelance journalist and TV writer, founder of the blog blacksnob.com and editor-at-large of Clutch magazine.

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