(The Root) — "I'm honored and grateful that we have a chance to finish what we started. Our work begins today. Let's go," President Obama tweeted on Inauguration Day. Since his second swearing-in shared a day with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, The Root asked the Congressional Black Caucus' Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) to weigh in on what the late civil rights giant might have been focused on the historic day.
The Root: First, what are your hopes for President Obama's second term?
Elijah Cummings: My biggest hope is that the conversation will change. We have been spending a lot of time with Tea Party groups, Republicans, and the focus, sadly, has shifted away from jobs, health care and education, which are what our folks need. No people can survive and thrive without having healthy systems of economic development, health care and education.
We've got to stop playing on the Republicans' right-sided field, and we've got to move this agenda to the center of people's lives. I want [President Obama] to be able to shore up the Affordable Care Act so it will benefit all of those — black, white and Latino — who need health care. We need to shore up our education systems so our children will have hope and something to aspire to. And certainly jobs — no family can survive without somebody bringing some money into the household.
TR: What would Dr. King hope for in President Obama's term if he were alive today?
EC: Dr. King would talk about economics. Remember when he died, he'd gone down there to Memphis to help the striking garbage workers, and he talked about America doing its part to make sure people got the jobs that they needed to take care of their families and move forward in life … One of the things that would be frightening to Dr. King is that we have so many young people who are dropping out of school, or if they go to college they drop out because they don't have the money to go to college. He would work hard to make sure young people had the resources to be able to take advantage of opportunities.
I think he would spend a lot of time pushing hard on the Affordable Care Act. He knew of the suffering of so many of the people who died earlier and lived sicker than they had to. He would tell us to be vigilant because of the efforts in this last election to suppress the vote he worked so hard for.
TR: What issues do you think Dr. King would want people to pay more attention to if he were alive?
EC: He would be warning us about too much money in politics and how it can drown out the vote of the everyday citizen. He would warn us about the NRA. He fought his whole life against violence. With 6- and 7-year-olds shot, he would cry out right now and say, "We are better than that." He would bring the moral voice.
There is something about talking about and advocating what is simply just, right, and he would say when it comes to health care, would you rather somebody die when they don't have enough money, but you can give tax breaks to the rich? Would you rather a little boy not get an education and end up in prison for the rest of his life? Those are the things he would be standing up for.
But Dr. King is dead, and it is up to people like me and others to stand up and voice the concerns he would have had. He left us a phenomenal blueprint to address the problems we're going through today … We just need the moral stamina to do it.