Sunday, January 13, 2008

What was the Message Hillary Clinton Intended to Send About MLK and LBJ?

What did Hillary Clinton mean when she spoke of the relative roles of Martin Luther King and President Lyndon Johnson in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? She seemed to be favorably comparing herself to Lyndon Johnson, making him out to be the pragmatic leader who could do the heavy-lifting of real reform. She also seemed to suggest that however much or little Senator Obama’s dreamy speechifying may remind us of Martin Luther King’s oratory, just as it took President Johnson to get things done, we now need her, not her opponent, in the White House.

Plainly, Clinton soon realized that she had made a major gaffe. At her next campaign stop, she spoke of how Dr. King had been beaten and jailed, and that he had worked with President Johnson to achieve the passage of the Civil Rights Law.

Today, on Meet the Press, Clinton tried to clarify her remarks to Tim Russert:

First, with respect to Dr. King, you know, Tim, I was 14 years old when I heard Dr. King speak in person. He is one of the people that I admire most in the world, and the point that I was responding to from Senator Obama himself in a number of speeches he was making is his comparison of himself to President Kennedy and Dr. King. And there is no doubt that the inspiration offered by all three of them is essential. It is critical to who we are as a nation, what we believe in, the dreams and aspirations that we all have. But I also said that, you know, Dr. King didn't just give speeches. He marched, he organized, he protested, he was gassed, he was beaten, he was jailed. He understood that he had to move the political process and bring in those who were in political power, and he campaigned for political leaders, including Lyndon Johnson, because he wanted somebody in the White House who would act on what he had devoted his life to achieving.

So I think it's important to set the record straight. Clearly, we know from media reports that the Obama campaign is deliberately distorting this.

Hillary Clinton has great difficulty admitting to a mistake. She now asks us to believe that she meant to say that Martin Luther King “didn’t just give speeches.” She then accuses the Obama campaign of distorting her remarks.

Today, at the Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ in Las Vegas, Senator Barack Obama was asked to respond to her charge that he is distorting her statement on Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King. Obama replied:

“I am baffled by that statement by the senator. She made an ill-advised statement about Dr. King suggesting that Lyndon Johnson had more to do with the Civil Rights Acts. I did not make the statement. I haven’t commented on the statement. For them to suggest that we’re injecting race as a consequence of a statement she made that we haven’t commented on is pretty hard to figure out. Maybe you can tell me and explain to me how we distorted her statement.”

Let us return to Hillary Clinton’s original statement, made on FoxNews, Monday, January 7, 2008. Major Garrett was interviewing Senator Clinton. Read the exchange (you can view the actual video below) and judge for yourself who is now distorting her words.

Major Garrett: You mentioned Senator Obama. Let me read you a quote from a speech he gave today, saying:
“False hopes. Dr. King, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking out over the magnificent crowd, the Reflecting Pool of the Washington Monument. Sorry guys. False hope. The dream will die. It can’t be done. False hope.

We don’t need leaders to tell us what we can’t do, we need leaders to tell us what we can do and inspire us to do.”

Would you react to that?

Hillary Clinton: I would, and I would point to the fact that, uh, Dr. King’s dream, uh, began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that, uh, uh, President Kennedy was hopeful to do, presidents uh, before had not even tried, but it took a President to get it done. That dream became a reality, the power of that dream became real in people’s lives because we had a president who said we’re going to do it, and actually got it done.”

So, which of these captures Senator Clinton’s message?

A. Sen. Obama. You can give a great speech. So did Dr. King. Big deal! Speeches don’t mean diddly-squat. The country needs political leaders like me and like President Johnson who can get things done.
B. Sen. Obama, you’re no Martin Luther King! You just give speeches. He understood that we have to help elect presidents who can get the dream done.”

The first reading of her remarks is insulting to Dr. Martin Luther King for it portrays him as an ineffectual dreamer who needed a (white) politician to realize his dream. That looks to be a more natural interpretation of her actual words, but plainly it is an unacceptable thing to say. So, now, Mrs. Clinton would have us think that she meant something like the second reading. Yet, there is no plausible way to stretch her words to fit into anything like the second interpretation. Moreover, even if there were, the second reading makes no sense as a response to Obama’s campaign, since he is plainly not just giving speeches. He, too, is running for president.

So, Senator Clinton, what exactly did you mean?

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|| headland, 9:59 PM


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