Guess who this is:
Like other American heroes . . . . [NAME] was not a simple figure. He inclined toward democratic socialism as the answer to poverty. In his opposition to the Vietnam War, he called America "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" and thundered that God might "break the backbone" of American power. Toward the end of his short life — after years of fire hoses and attack dogs, wiretaps and bomb threats — [NAME] became increasingly isolated and depressed.
Sounds like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright–or someone equally "angry." But no, it's Martin Luther King. One might be tempted from such a description to rethink the universal condemnation of Reverend Wright. In his own context, Martin Luther King said some pretty astounding things about God's judgment of American arrogance. But where one might draw lessons from history, Michael Gerson sees only differences. People other than King, you know, the people like the Reverend Wright (Gerson oddly doesn't use any of Wright's words in this piece on why he's no MLK), are unamerican.
Under King's leadership, the civil rights movement affirmed several principles: a belief that Providence favors justice and forbids despair; a belief that even the most bigoted whites have a core of humanity that might be touched and redeemed; a belief that American ideals were the ultimate answer to America's sins.
These beliefs were often criticized by King's contemporaries such as Malcolm X (who dismissed the 1963 March on Washington as the "Farce on Washington") and Stokely Carmichael (who argued that voting rights were "irrelevant to the lives of black people"). And these beliefs remain controversial with leaders such as Wright and professor James Cone, the father of black liberation theology. "Black theology," wrote Cone, "will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy."
The problem with this approach is not that it is political, or even liberal — the African American church has generally been both. The problem is that it leads to a dead end of anger, conspiracy theories and futility. And it ignores the deeper radicalism of the American experiment — the radicalism of full citizenship and justice for every American — that inspired King, and that will inspire others.
The problem with Wright, you see, is that he seems to claim that the American experiment (when will people stop saying that? The experiment is over by now) hasn't produced "full citizenship and justice for every American." How dare he.