You know, I never thought that Hillary Clinton's remark about the role Lyndon Baines Johnson played in the passage of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act was either racist or demeaning to Dr. King. She was merely attempting to make a point that without an experienced and tough fighting president, the legislation might not have passed. It took a partnership between the crusader and the politician. It took experience as well as vision and passion.
Historically, that's accurate. It was Johnson who marshalled the legislation through Congress and fought long and hard for not just this Civil Rights Act but for all kinds of programs that benefitted both blacks and whites. He fought for the Voting Rights Act and waged the War on Poverty.
But as Joseph Califano, who was a top aide to Johnson, remembers in this op-ed piece in today's Washington Post, it took a partnership between the two men to win civil rights for blacks.
Here's how he remembers it:
The greatest fairy tale of the 2008 campaign so far is the accusation that there is some tint of racism or putdown of Martin Luther King Jr. in Hillary Clinton's comment that "it took a president," Lyndon Johnson, to realize the civil rights leader's dreams.
The visionary preacher and the tough-talking master politician would be the first to say that they needed each other. I know how they came to work together, in a complex partnership, to produce a social revolution that has saved this nation.
LBJ appreciated King's powers of persuasion and ability to attract media attention. He decided to "shove my stack of chips into the pot" to push for passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in education, employment and public accommodations. To break a filibuster, Johnson had California Democrat Clair Engle, who was dying of a brain tumor, wheeled onto the Senate floor. Engle couldn't speak, so LBJ had him signal his aye vote by pointing to his eye.Speaking the truth that it takes both vision and experience, both passion and pragmatism does not demean either King nor Obama.
The day after passage, Johnson told his aide Bill Moyers, "I think we delivered the South to the Republican Party for your lifetime and mine." Indeed, he was defeated in five Southern states in 1964, four of them states Democrats had not lost in more than 80 years. The losses didn't faze him, and he turned his energies to voting rights for black Americans.
Hillary was merely trying to make the argument for herself that she too would fight for progressive legislation and that her experience should not be demeaned. Nor her determination to fight for all people
It's tragic that this woman who was villified by the right for writing a book called "It Takes a Village," which was about how children need the involvement of a whole community to survive and thrive, and who championed Marion Edelman Wright, and Children's Defense Fund, is now suddenly cast as the racist villain by over zealous supporters of Obama. And it's equally tragic that her own supporters are giving credence to that charge by making stupid statements about Obama, which are equally untrue.
The fight between their surrogates and in the blogosphere is obscuring the fact that we have two good progressives here. So will both sides please take a time out.