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My Grandfather, MLK, and Me

By David Stockman  |  January 21, 2019

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

– Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter From Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963)

Editor’s Note: Following is an excerpt from The Triumph of Politics, where I reflect on my grandfather’s influence and set the stage for what was to be my first trip to Washington D.C.

I share it today as a way of introducing, on the day we honor his memory, an enlightening passage from one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most remarkable works, “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

“Letter From Birmingham Jail” is a profound expression of the universal yearning for freedom and a reminder that the struggle against oppression, in all its forms, continues.

Here’s how I arrived at common principle with Dr. King…

Behind his back, my brothers and I used to call my father “Al the Stick,” as in stick-in-the-mud. He was a good man, but his chief virtue escaped me for years. He was practical and cautious and was always taking things one step at a time. He didn’t believe in leaping before he looked. We boys imagined ourselves to be the big thinkers on the Stockman farm. We would sit out in the field and talk up our grand plans for the place. You couldn’t get a decent-sized strawberry crop off five acres; you needed twenty times that. When we grew up, we would rent the extra acres, dig a pond, put in irrigation equipment. Our ten dairy cows would never allow you to make a profit; you needed two hundred. We were forever plotting how we’d do it when it came our turn. From a very early age I had the idea that my elders needed a lot more imagination.

My grandfather was an exception to all this. His name was William H. Bartz. He had farmed those same hundred acres, but he had gone on to a career in politics. He had become County Treasurer, known and respected throughout the state. He was a striking, handsome man; only his rough hands betrayed that he had been a farmer.

From a very early age I remember visiting him in his office. He had one of those gigantic (so it seemed to me) rolltop desks with lots of pigeonhole drawers that I used to explore with endless fascination. The desk was always cluttered with copies of Human Events, the Liberty Lobby newsletter, the Christian Messenger, and other such right-wing fare.

He had been to the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and when he was not occupied with the virtuous labor of keeping sound ledgers he was preaching about the Word of God. Grampa Bartz took the Bible literally. God had created the world in six days, the atheistic assertions of the scientists notwithstanding. And God voted Republican. Capitalism was the way of free men; the New Deal was a socialist way to perdition. The countryside cultivated morals and character; the big cities, vice. Smoking, drinking, gambling, and violating the sabbath were the way of fallen sinners; temperate living and churchgoing the mark of the saved.

Despite his fundamentalist Christianity, he would read to us from the Old Testament sometimes. The book of Amos was always my favorite. I remember his voice, rising to symphonic heights of righteousness as the prophet Amos delivered the wrath of Yahweh upon the corrupt Israelites. Maybe I learned a little too much from Amos.

In my senior year of high school I won an essay contest sponsored by the local branch of the Council of Churches on the theme “What Non-Violence Means to Me.” My entry was an ode to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. By political standards, both of these men were clearly left-wing. But what I saw in them was the distilled essence of my grandfather’s Christian teachings. All men were God’s children and deserved better than poverty, racism, and indignity. I was gripped by a vision of a better world even then.

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While imprisoned for his participation in nonviolent demonstrations against segregation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote in longhand the open letter now known as “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” It was his response to a public statement of concern and caution issued by eight white religious leaders of the South.

The following passage conveys the urgency of what is an eternal struggle against oppression.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.”

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” – then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.

I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

The Time Is Now

Desperate times call for… “common sense” measures.

These are desperate times… how else to explain 600- and 800-point swings for the Dow Jones Industrial Average on what seems a daily basis?

This is not “normal.”

Markets are corrupted by monetary central planning. They’re confused. And the road back is going to be treacherous.

We’re looking at a major re-pricing for all financial assets. And thousand-point intraday or day-to-day swings are part of that equation. Those can be frightening… for “buy and hold” investors.

I have a different approach, one that combines strategy and tactics into a plan flexible enough for you to survive and thrive amid the coming chaos. It’s called “The Stockman Model.”

All we’re after is a little stability, perhaps a chance to pocket a windfall when opportunity presents…

Sincerely,

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David Stockman

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David Stockman

David Stockman is the ultimate Washington insider turned iconoclast. He began his career in Washington as a young man and quickly rose through the ranks of the Republican Party to become the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan.MORE FROM AUTHOR