There is nothing new about organizations and movements beginning with idealism and ending up as cynical rackets. Nevertheless, it was painful to listen to speakers who addressed a scattering of people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.
Both the speakers and the small numbers of people gathered to hear them were a sharp contrast with the multitudes who covered the whole area around the Lincoln Memorial 40 years ago, when Dr. King spoke the immortal words that he dreamed of a time when people would no longer be judged by "the color of their skin" but by "the content of their character."
Yet the speakers on the 40th anniversary of that occasion clearly rejected the idea of a color-blind society. These were no longer demands for equal treatment but for special benefits, based on the color of their skin. Speakers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson certainly can't afford to be judged by the content of their character.
The aging veterans of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s keep fighting the wars of the past with the rhetoric of the past, while the very different problems and opportunities of the present are either not addressed or are given prescriptions that fit an earlier time and a different disease.
Not only have the times changed, so have the demographic realities that translate into political realities. Blacks are no longer the nation's largest minority group. Hispanics have taken over that role.
In California, Asians as well as Hispanics outnumber blacks. While some rejoice that whites are now a minority in California, do not expect Asians and Hispanics to have any feelings of guilt about the past that would lead them to pay reparations or make any other atonement for slavery or anything else.
Hispanics and blacks are not allies. They are rivals for everything from government largess to turf in neighborhoods and in prisons.
Demographic realities threaten to push blacks more and more toward the periphery of public concerns and political attention. The old, broken-record rhetoric of black "leaders" tends likewise to marginalize blacks.
The Democratic Party will still make its symbolic obeisance and even pretend to take race hustlers like Al Sharpton seriously. But the interests of its other constituents increasingly take precedence over the interests of blacks.