Much has been made of recent comments directed at the Obama campaign by President Bill and Senator Hillary Clinton. The House majority whip and highest ranking African-American in Congress, Democratic Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, is contemplating an Obama endorsement prior to the Democratic South Carolina primary on January 26, 2008. Bizarrely, the state holds its Republican primary on January 19.
1) Senator Hillary Clinton stated that it was President Johnson’s passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that implemented Dr King’s dream. Of course presidents don’t pass legislation; the Congress does but perhaps the senator missed that class in Government 101. This was her exact statement: “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” The clear implication was that Senator Barack Obama’s campaign of hope is pyrrhic without a strong change agent as president. That to merely talk about change is not enough; one has to have the skills and determination to make change. That may be true but her example is egregious and factually in error. Her statements were needlessly self-serving and revealed great ignorance about the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
Without marches, civil-disobedience, sit-ins, freedom rides, and the genius of Dr King, there would not have been a Civil Rights Act of 1964. President Kennedy had dallied some two and half years before he sent a civil rights bill to the Hill in 1963. L.B.J., a nazi-style war criminal for his genocide in Vietnam, was certainly an advocate of domestic racial equality and integration. Yet the 1964 law would not have been possible had it not been for the massive demonstrations and creative non-violent civil disobedience of Dr King, the S.C.L.C., S.N.C.C., C.O.R.E., N.A.A.C.P. and other civil rights groups. Therefore, Senator Clinton underestimated the power of vision and speech and direct action prior to her rather narrow-minded, simplistic view of presidential power. Her comment was not explicitly racist but vastly underestimated the role and sacrifice of many African Americans in the struggle to end Jim Crow apartheid in the United States.
2) William Jefferson Clinton compared Senator Obama’s position on the Iraq War to a “fairy tale.” He alleged the press had ignored various statements by the Illinois Senator in 2004 which he claimed repersented a cautious reluctance to distance himself from Mr Bush and the prior Senate authorisation to use force in October 2002. I don’t believe the president was stating that the campaign of Obama in general was a “fairy tale” but the tenor of his remarks were certainly bound to offend those who take quite seriously the burgeoning candidacy of a minority. President Clinton took pains to explain himself subsequently that he was referring to the press’s treatment of Sen. Obama’s positions on the war, and not the legitimacy or growing strength of his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Yet Mr Clinton is shamefully engaging in propaganda which is contemptuous and unseemly. Barack Obama opposed the war BEFORE the Senate and a majority of its Senate Democrats voted to authorise war in October 2002 and the commencement of hostilities in March 2003. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton supported the war before it began “with conviction” and unlike the intrepid Senator John Edwards, has never diavowed her vote. So it is accurate to say that Senator Obama would have opposed the war-authorisation resolution, given his prewar public comments, and Senator Clinton cynically for political purposes supported it. That is a difference in judgment, honour and ethics that hopefully will render the Clinton candidacy as failure and unsustainable as the surge and American and Iraqi deaths slogs on in the killing fields of that widowed land.