It is a moment rich in history – the first black president dedicating the first national monument to the power of a black minister born at time of racial segregation and who never held high office, led no army to victory and had no wealth.
Dr. King is honored for the power of his words, his Christian appeals for equality in the name of America’s enduring, inspiring capacity to right the wrongs of the past in the name of justice for all.
But before the big day on the mall there was a dream.
President Obama had a dream yesterday.
He saw Dr. King was in the Oval Office. The president was finalizing his speech to celebrate the opening of the King memorial on the National Mall. He looked up from his desk to see a balding old black man, mumbling words from King’s August 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.
“I still have a dream,” the old man said. The president looked around to see where this man with the familiar voice had come from. Then it hit him and he said “Is that you, Dr. King?”
The nation’s first black President, a very logical, learned and pragmatic man, knew he was dreaming.
But even in the dream he rubbed his eyes in disbelief at the 82-year-old man who looked like a living Dr. King. This Dr. King began speaking louder and louder, reciting words he first spoke at the March on Washington. In lyrical tones he again spoke of his dream of America as a nation rising up to fulfill the Founding Father’s creed of all God’s children being equal... “a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”
OBAMA: Dr. King? Is that you?
MLK: Mr. President.
OBAMA: Big day for you. Your memorial is between Jefferson and Lincoln.
MLK: And a big day for you, too.
OBAMA: I know. I am trying to get this speech right. It is hard to compete with your words, your dreams for America.
MLK: You are living a dream, my dream, America’s dream, Mr. President. So many of us dreamed of a nation that judges its children and its leaders not on the color of their skin but on the content of their character. You could not have won without white support. You know, son, my spirit was there three years ago today in Denver when you became the first African American to accept the presidential nomination of a major political party. I was never prouder.
OBAMA: Thank you.
MLK: What happened?
OBAMA: What do you mean?
MLK: You spoke about change and hope. Yet, three years in - little has changed and it seems people are losing hope. The American people like you, they love your family, but they are losing the dream.
OBAMA: Change takes time. I am doing the best I can with a bad situation.
MLK: What happened to the “fierce urgency of now?”
Even in his dream President Obama recognized the line from the famous speech. And he did not like it being thrown in his face.
King had said to the 200,000 black, white and Hispanic people there, then largest civil rights march in history at a time of mass jailing and murders of activists involved in intense struggles against racism in small towns and big cities, that there was “no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism …now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice… it would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”
MLK: True, that was a good start. But why do you think your political opponents won control of the House while your base of support is sinking and even your support in the liberal community is now colored by disappointment? You extended the Bush tax cuts. You gave up on the public option in the health care bill leaving millions of people uninsured with insurance companies still in control.
OBAMA: I’m a politician. You never ran for any office. You gave great speeches but I am President for everyone. Remember that!
An upset President was standing now, waving his hand and pointing over his desk at the original dreamer, Dr. King.
OBAMA: If I keep my cool and reach out in the spirit of bipartisanship the American people will see who is fighting for them. We have an election coming – the people will decide.
MLK: Really? What about Senator Tom Coburn, whom you once called “not only a dear friend, but also a brother in Christ?” He recently said your “intent is to create dependency” because “as an African-American male, you received tremendous advantage from a lot of these (government) programs.” If that is how your friend talks about you, what must your enemies say?
OBAMA: Tom didn’t really mean that – he must just be trying to fend off a primary challenge from the Tea Party.
MLK: I was up against that violent Birmingham police commissioner Bull Connor with his fire hoses and police dogs. You are up against the non violent opposition of the Tea Party and talk radio. Even most Republicans think the rich should pay more taxes and you still can’t make it happen. We had actual bruises in our struggle you have only a bruised ego.
OBAMA: I will be able to do more in the second term.
MLK: If you get a second term. Lyndon Johnson passed Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, The Economic Opportunity Act – all in his first four years in office. Those were much tougher sells than ending tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. He did not wait for a second term.
OBAMA: At least we can agree that my presidency has lifted up the black community?
The president shifted from pointing at the living Dr. King to turning his hands up, as if pleading for understanding. He walked over to Dr. King who seemed to be fading, disappearing into the dream.
MLK: The poverty rate is over 15 percent, about 25 percent for blacks and Hispanics. Almost 17% of black people are unemployed. One in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 36 are in prison. Public education in poor neighborhoods is still in shambles. Yes, a black man as President of the United States is a symbol of hope but you need to live up to that symbol with policies that help all the people, especially the children and the poor.
A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.
OBAMA: Please, Dr. King.
Just then the image of Dr. King faded to a ghost in the Oval Office. But his voice could still be heard. As the President looked around the room, King spoke about America’s heritage of social protest, it capacity for non-violent change, and the enduring promise chiseled in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” for all Americans. He spoke about a nation that had sent him to jail for protesting segregation now honoring him with a monument to be opened with words from a black president.
MLK: God bless, America, Mr. President. You are going to have to stand up and let your friends and foes know you, not the politician but the child of Republican Abe Lincoln and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt, a fighter for all the people.
By now the president was turning around and around looking for the living Dr. King. He found himself waking from the dream, tangled in the covers he had pulled off of Michelle. She asked him if he was okay.
The president looked at his wife and said: You know he is more than a monument. Dr.King is alive.
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. His most recent book is "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) was released in July.