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Opening Arguments

Tomorrow's icons

A couple of years ago, I did a post that just said: "Life sorts. Time levels." To that, perhaps we can add, "History decides":

By freezing him at that point, by putting him on a pedestal of perfection that doesn't acknowledge his complex views, "it makes it impossible both for us to find to new leaders and for us to aspire to leadership," Harris-Lacewell said.

She believes it's important for Americans in 2008 to remember how disliked King was in 1968.

"If we forget that, then it seems like the only people we can get behind must be popular," Harris-Lacewell said. "Following King meant following the unpopular road, not the popular one."

In becoming an icon, King's legacy has been used by people all over the political spectrum, said Glenn McNair, associate professor of history at Kenyon College.

So add MLK to the long list of people like JFK and Ronald Reagan who have been "used by people all over the political spectrum" this political season. Conservatives have praised King's "I have a dream" colorblind visions while conveniently omitting that he had edged into anti-Vietnam and pro-affirmative action rhetoric that they abhor. Now we have the delicious spectacle of the left having a meltdown over Barack Obama calling Reagan a consequential and transformational president.

It is not really surprising that we transform historical figures into icons by putting them on "pedestals of perfection." But those who have made a cottage industry of debunking our dead heroes also miss the point. Past leaders were products of their time, place and culture. We cannot make them do surrogate duty for the leaders we find so lacking today, and neither can we judge them with today's standards.

People will follow the person with the message that inspires them the most, whether that is the popular or unpopular path. I do not think this will be a transformational election, despite all the chatter about "change" we have been subjected to. Democrats are going to nominate a woman or an African American, but still have the same spend-big-federal-dollars-to-fix everything message. Republicans seem intent on trying to redefine conservatism, which means they are more or less conceding the debate to Democrats.

This election is NOT gong to produce an icon that future generations will "put on the pedestal of perfection" in order to be inspired."


Bob G.
Mon, 01/21/2008 - 1:50pm

I'm thinking that it's going to take a person with some "staying power" (even more so TODAY than in decades past) purely on the fact that Americans are impatient as all get out, and their attention span has been considerably shortened thanks to technology.
Plus...we like to be "entertained" a lot more too.