Point of View: A Challenging Vision

“The curse of poverty has no justification in our age,”

“It seems like nothing much has changed,” I said to Mary as we were watching “To Kill a Mockingbird” the other night, though I know it is frequently said in connection with Martin Luther King’s birthday that we have come a long way.

For the young people who pro­tested in cities throughout the country on Jan. 19, and who claim­ed that the import of the holiday was being hijacked, it was not just a day off.

It should be remembered that Dr. King had a challenging vision, to wit, that this country had within it the means and the moral gumption to achieve the society of brotherhood that he said had inspired our early national life.

“The curse of poverty has no justification in our age,” he wrote. But that was in 1967, and, again, nothing much has changed, the insecurity net having broadened its reach now to include not only the poor but a wide swath of the middle class as well.

Those living tenuous lives were in the main addressed in the president’s State of the Union speech the other night, and it was uplifting to hear, echoing, as it did, at least some of what Dr. King had urged, though the president’s vision for America — a fairer America and, consequently, an even more economically vibrant one — took a far back seat to the “no se puede” crowd in the morning’s papers.

“. . . Harumph. A more fair society? Simply can’t afford it, my friend, simply can’t afford it. Free community college, tax credits for education and child care . . . what is the president thinking?”

They said 30 million watched — a Super Bowl-type audience. I hope they keep watching, and listening, in the next two years, because maybe if they do the status quo will change. And while I doubt we’ll ever be a tight-knit family, as the president would have it, we may come to increasingly acknowledge our common humanity and, insofar as this optimistic, inventive nation goes, our common purpose.