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Memorial a 'stone of hope'

Donna Brazile

Donna Brazile

The Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, a fitting addition to the National Mall, might perplex those who remember only the opening of "I Have a Dream." To reach the statue of King, who seems supported by a unified block of stone, one must pass through two pieces of granite that rise like a mountain. In fact, the memorial symbolizes a line we need to actualize, a vision we need to sanctify, today more than ever:

"Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope."

Dr. King believed in the power of the people. He demanded leaders fulfill their moral responsibility and their constitutional duty: "to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty." We do not need to speculate how he would have reacted to the ongoing aftermath of the "Great Recession." We need but look at history.

Dr. King would have organized a march on Washington. He would have roused the conscience of the nation. His was a moral force that politicians dared not ignore, for he shamed the timid and embarrassed the callous.

Let us not forget that Dr. King's final campaign, the one during which he was assassinated, was a campaign for the poor and underemployed.

That campaign may have been postponed, but it is time for it to be activated again.

Dr. King did not wait for history; he hurried it. And we must hurry history, to rebuild an economy that prioritizes living-wage employment. Dr. King recognized, and so must we, that the blessings of liberty can be secured for neither ourselves nor our posterity so long as the distance between rich and poor is obscenely wide.

Dr. King trusted the people's collective wisdom. That trust is evidenced today by the vast majority, who recognize, as poll after poll verifies, that THE issue is jobs. The simplicity of the solution is something the people see, and the politicians duck and dodge. Fix the economy and create jobs. We know how to create jobs, because we've done it before. It's not a big deal, just the New Deal -- renewed.

We also know how to fix the economy, because we've done that before. As charted by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) once again, it's the Bush tax "cuts" -- welfare for the wealthy -- and the tax loopholes.

Yet once again Washington -- specifically, a group of small-minded Republicans -- has subjected the country to a summer of discontent, distracting us from the real issue of jobs, jobs, jobs and the economy with the frenzied phantom of the deficit.

Dr. King chastised hypocrisy with the clear language of justice. Almost all major economists agree that the deficit has at best a distant relationship to reducing current unemployment and faster economic growth. Politicians, who at least ought to listen to the experts and the news, surely know this. So why has the focus been on economic amputations -- cut, infect, gangrene, cut some more -- that many economists believe will bleed the recovery into cardiac arrest?

Slashing programs that keep people afloat doesn't create jobs; it destroys them. Reducing long-term deficits and short-term economic stimulus are not mutually exclusive; the long term depends on the short term. It's not the economics (stupid); it's the political courage. (We call that backbone or gumption.) Dr. King clarified the issue in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture when speaking about poverty:

"There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will."

While politicians dawdle, the country's heat wave will become an economic wildfire. The CBO's recently updated economic outlook suggests that while the summer's "sizzling" deal may reduce long-term deficits, that reduction will turn into smoke (and mirrors) because the Bush tax "cuts" for the wealthiest and similar policies fossilize structural debt. The CBO report pulls back the curtain on GDP growth:

It won't be much, and job creation can't pull itself up by its bootstraps.

So how do we hurry history?

President Obama seems to be seizing the initiative, preparing a major speech on jobs. But the president can't pass legislation by executive fiat. He needs to persuade Congress, pressure the private sector to pitch in and engage more Americans in the process.

The congressional "Super Committee," born of the debt-ceiling compromise, can get something big done on a two-front war: reducing long-term deficits and stimulating economic and job growth short-term.

According to a Washington Post report, congressional Democrats are "gravitating towards several new proposals to get the current super-committee to adopt job creation as a core mission, along with deficit reduction."

Cuts aren't the solution at the state and local level, either; rather, states and cities need to provide incentives that will encourage small businesses to hire more people.

So let us hurry history, for Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of America did not die from an assassin's bullet in Memphis. It is alive, symbolized by a man embedded in stone. It is alive because we, together, manifest the truth of his words "out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope."

Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, and a contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.