Why Obama's March on Washington Speech Was Remarkable

Instead of trying to compete with Martin Luther King Jr.'s poeticism during his own remarks on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, President Obama focused successfully on social and economic issues despite mounting concerns about strife in Syria, writes Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.

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President Barack Obama speaks at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 2013. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama delivered a strong performance at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, writes Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. Given the no-win situation of trying to compete with Martin Luther King Jr.'s poeticism, Robinson argues, it was wise for Obama to focus on social and economic issues despite mounting concerns about strife in Syria.

President Obama’s words from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial were bound to be criticized as underwhelming, no matter what he said. The context, though, was nothing short of mind-blowing.

It was a classic no-win situation: On Wednesday, at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington, Obama stood where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of the greatest speeches in the nation’s history. No one could possibly measure up. It was wise not to try.

Instead of trying to match King’s poetic cadences and imagery, Obama paid homage to the “I have a dream” speech by echoing some of King’s rhetorical devices and using some of the same biblical references. The bulk of the speech, though, was vintage Obama, and anyone unfamiliar with his analysis of the social and economic challenges we face has not been paying attention.

But the context: As Obama spoke, everyone in the crowd knew he must have been preoccupied with events halfway around the world. Faced with compelling evidence that the government of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad had shelled a Damascus suburb with chemical weapons, killing hundreds, Obama had spent the past week laying the groundwork for a punitive military strike.

Read Eugene Robinson's entire piece at the Washington Post.

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