One of the highlights of the annual Triangle Interfaith MLK Prayer Breakfast in Durham every year is the recitation of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech by a young student.
This year the packed ballroom listened to Kenan High School senior Oshe Pittman from Warsaw deliver King’s stirring words in combination with President Obama’s “Yes We Can” speech.
The soaring demands for justice that King made in Washington in 1963 are always moving to hear, but one part seemed especially appropriate this year and it’s not a phrase that’s quoted as often as many of the others.
“I have a dream that one day down in Alabama with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
Dripping with the words of interposition and nullification. King was talking about Alabama Governor George Wallace refusing to obey a federal court order to desegregate the schools, citing states’ rights and Alabama’s sovereignty in nullifying a federal law he didn’t like.
Nullification is back in the news 50 years later. Just two weeks ago at a rally outside the Legislative Building on the session’s opening day, leaders of radical tea party groups urged state lawmakers to “honor their oath” and nullify the Affordable Care Act, the health care law passed by Congress and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
It was hard to tell the radical tea partiers from the politicians. Several state legislators addressed the crowd, as did N.C. GOP Chair Robin Hayes who praised the event’s organizers. George Wallace would have been proud.
The folks on the radical right are now also urging nullification of President Obama’s common-sense proposals to reduce gun violence if Congress adopts them. Some sheriffs have vowed not to enforce any new gun laws.
Many of these radical groups feature websites claiming that Obama is a Muslim or a communist or not eligible to be president because they claim he was not born in the United States.
Instead of ignoring them, the leaders of the prominent think tanks on the Right funded by State Budget Director Art Pope routinely appear at the modern day nullifiers’ events, sharing a stage, inciting the same crowd, blaming the same government that Grover Norquist famously wants to shrink to the size where he can “drown it in the bathtub.”
The George-Wallace-states-right-crowd is back, if they ever really left, and it appears that the leadership of the North Carolina Republican Party is with them.
Governor Pat McCrory delivered a few minutes of awkward remarks at the prayer breakfast Monday, claiming King was a hero of his even as McCrory endorses the kind of ideas that King marched against like voter suppression and slashing benefits to unemployed workers.
McCrory’s not the first politician to clumsily honor King’s memory even as his policies undermine King’s crusade for justice for people of color and the poor.
But he is the first governor who has taken the reins of state government as the offensive calls of nullification are finding a place in the mainstream debate and earning endorsements and support from the leaders of his own political party, not to mention a friendly ear from groups created and funded by his new budget director.
McCrory could truly honor the man who he calls his hero by speaking out loudly against this dangerous extremism from the George Wallace-era and restore at least a little sanity to the current political debate.
The offensive words of nullification are dripping again from the lips of some of our political leaders. Our governor needs to step up and denounce them.