Monday, January 14, 2008

She's Not Martin Luther Clinton

By Alan Caruba

It is truly wonderful to watch Hillary Clinton try to talk herself out of the hole she has dug by suggesting that, without President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Civil Rights Act would never have been passed.

Actually, a lot of the credit goes to President Kennedy who was working toward its passage when he was assassinated. So, yes, these two Democrat presidents expedited the legislative aspects of the dream Martin Luther King Jr had nurtured.

The quintessential politician, LBJ for much of his early career voted with the Southern bloc of Congress against every civil rights bill that came before it. Historians believe he genuinely thought that segregation was wrong and welcomed the opportunity to end it, but after signing the 1964 bill, Johnson is famously remembered as saying to his aide, Bill Moyers, “I think we have just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.”

The Clintons, whose past residences were in Arkansas, acquired such an aura of affinity for Black Americans that Bill basked in the fiction of being called the first Black President of the United States. The prospect of an actual Black President must be driving the Clinton’s crazy.

Years and years ago, following a speech at Drew University in New Jersey, I was taken backstage to meet Dr. King. As is often the case with such eminences he actually stood alone as people were in such awe they could not bring themselves to approach, but this has never been a problem for me.

As a journalist, we are expected to engage such folks and Dr. King was delighted when my companion introduced me. When he learned I was there freelancing for a Black newspaper, his face broke into a broad smile. Why is that, he asked? I told him that black or white, all money is green. That tickled him further. Some small talk ensued and that was my brief moment with him.

What I didn’t tell him was that, while having been stationed in Georgia with the U.S. Army in the early 1960s, I had vivid memories of Black soldiers not being allowed to sit in the main waiting room of the bus station in Columbus as well as other experiences that fixed the ugliness of segregation in my mind.

Until Brown v. Board of Education and the integration of the Little Rock High School, enforced by the Eisenhower administration; until Martin Luther King, Jr. organized the movement to boycott Montgomery’s discriminatory bus system; until he led marches, was imprisoned in Birmingham, and mobilized the better angels of our souls, there was no civil rights movement and neither Presidents Kennedy nor Johnson would have been under much pressure to end the last vestiges of the Civil War.

I have yet to identify anything of lasting merit that President Clinton did during his eight years in office, nor anything Hillary Clinton has done while Senator from New York that comes close to rivaling the achievement of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Suggesting it depended on LBJ reveals her cast of mind that only politicians can bring about change.

Both Clintons were and are intent on wielding the power of the Oval Office for their personal gain. Whatever idealism they may have had in their youth has long since been drained from their plastic personalities.

What Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. achieved, he did because of his profound belief in the transformative power of justice by and for all Americans.

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