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Drawing Inspiration From Lincoln, King on the Eve of President Obama's Second Inauguration

01/18/2013 02:04 pm 14:04:18 | Updated Mar 20, 2013
AP

When President Barack Obama takes the Oath of Office on Monday of next week, he will place his hand on two Bibles rather than one. The president will swear to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" on a Bible owned by President Abraham Lincoln and another owned by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The moment will be rich with symbolism, as 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Monday is also the national holiday commemorating Dr. King's birthday. This Saturday, President Obama has asked all Americans to participate in a National Day of Service to commemorate Dr. King's legacy. This has been an annual tradition that began with the president's first inauguration four years ago. You can find a service event near you by visiting the National Day of Service website. To serve, as Dr. King once said, "you only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love."

At the noon ceremony on Monday, First Lady Michelle Obama will hold the Lincoln family Bible and the "travelling Bible" that Dr. King carried with him across the country and used as inspiration for his speeches and sermons.

"We know our father would be deeply moved to see President Obama take the oath of office using his Bible," King's children have noted. "His traveling Bible inspired him as he fought for freedom, justice and equality, and we hope it can be a source of strength for the president as he begins his second term."

It is likely that this is the Bible that Dr. King had with him on his final journey, his trip to Memphis in April of 1968, when he travelled to support the striking sanitation workers of AFSCME Local 1733. The unfairness Dr. King spoke and wrote about more than 40 years ago remains part of our landscape today. On Monday, in his second Inaugural Address, President Obama will outline his agenda for the next four years. He understands the challenges we face and shares our hopes for this nation. But he faces stiff headwinds from extremist politicians and their corporate backers.

The polling places hadn't even closed before they went into their backrooms and began to strategize their next moves. The same people who were out to destroy working families and tear down the middle class before November 6th are even more determined now.

Just weeks after the election, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a right-to-work law that lets people reap the benefits of union membership, without paying a dime for them. It is a law that does nothing but weaken the power of working people to stand up and have a voice.

In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn became the first and only governor in the state's history to terminate a contract with the men and women who provide services for the state. Quinn launched a full-blown assault on the retirement security of the state's public workers, attempting to portray their pensions as "extravagant" and blaming them for the state's fiscal woes.

In fact, the real problem in Illinois, as in so many other states with budget problems, is a tax system that favors big business and the rich and puts too great a burden on working families.

The attacks on working families can be seen in cities across the country where mayors are launching attacks on schools, libraries, fire departments and public safety. In Philadelphia, for instance, Mayor Michael Nutter has allowed corporations and large, wealthy institutions to escape paying their fair share while at the same time forcing the poorest neighborhoods to bear the burden of his budget cuts.

And in Washington D.C., as the debt ceiling debate approaches, the tea party ideologues are trying once again to hold crucial programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid hostage to their mindless, anti-worker and anti-government ideology.

President Obama's victory in November was historic. Not since Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s has a president won two terms with more than 51 percent of the vote in both elections. The president won a mandate with more than 4 million votes than Governor Romney and a landslide victory in the Electoral College. Yet some congressional leaders -- and GOP stalwarts like Reagan-era Attorney General Ed Meese -- are already threatening to impeach the president.

As he takes on these opponents, President Obama should find inspiration in the words of both Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King. It was, after all, President Lincoln who first warned of the threat posed by those who put the interest of corporations and capital ahead of the interests of workers. In an address to Congress in 1861, Lincoln advised: "Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

A century later, Dr. King described the American Dream as "a dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man's skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity."

As President Obama draws strength from the legacies of Lincoln and King, it is time for us to recommit ourselves to their vision of an America that lives up to its founding promise. It is time for all of us to pull together and fight for the enduring ideals of justice, equality and the rights of working men and women.