Vote for Miss Sunshine for President! I did.
(Although she wasn’t on the ballot literally, as parents, we always vote for our children, for their future. In the picture, she is showing off her pretty stars.)
My children and I watched Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream speech today.” The media brimmed with links between Dr. King and President-elect Obama, two unmistakably charismatic black men. I understand the historical significance of a man of color reaching the White House. Perhaps we have all been holding our breath all these years and can now give a collective sigh. After tomorrow, that symbolic event will be part of the tapestry of American history like so many other events that have shaped the great nation we have become.
I listened closely to Dr. King. He spoke of non-violence, unity, the fact that our destinies are woven together, some specific grievances (many of which serve as a vivid reminder of what life was like in the 1960s), and, of course, the dream that we will all one day be judged by “the content of our character, rather than the color of our skin.” Today, those ideas are so unarguable, that in itself should be considered a great success.
(Trust me, I don’t brush aside the fact that there is still prejudice of all stripes. We may never stamp it out entirely, but our objection to it is an important first step.)
The phrase that speaks to me, however, is the concept of being judged by the ‘content of character,’ not race, not religion, not the Prada bag on your shoulder, not the fancy title on your business card, not even the teeth missing in your head.
This ideal clings to us as Americans.
What does that mean, really? Are we ever judged by the content of our character? Would I be ready for such scrutiny?
In context, I believe he wanted to tell us that jobs should be given to those who best fill the position, people should go to jail only if they have beyond-a-doubt broken the laws to justify such a punishment: people are responsible for their successes AND their failures. Government does not give or take away, but simply arranges the structure within which we succeed or fail on our own.
I hope that the historical significance of President-elect Obama’s inauguration does bring a sense of blue skies to those who have for so long felt unable to succeed within the framework of America. I also hope that the government continues to create a framework within which the people of America can succeed, fail, and pursue happiness to their heart’s content.
It is within that framework that Dr. King’s dream finally becomes true that “we should be judged by the content of our character.” That doesn’t mean everything will be easy. That means you have a chance, and whether or not you take it is your responsibility: tough love, directly from Dr. King himself.
Mr. Obama will be judged by the content of his character every single day for the next four years. I hope he has the strength of character to vote for little Miss Sunshine, too.
As for my character? I plead the Fifth.