What happened
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama toned down their rhetoric on race after a flap over the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King. Marking the late King’s birthday, Obama praised Hillary and Bill Clinton for their records on civil rights, and Clinton said that both she—who would be the first woman president—and Obama—who would be the first black president—were beneficiaries of King’s work. (Reuters)

What the commentators said

Both sides probably “damped down the feud” because they realized how “deranged” they looked, said David Brooks in The New York Times (free registration). “The problem is that both the feminist movement Clinton rides and the civil rights rhetoric Obama uses were constructed at a time when the enemy was the reactionary white male establishment.” It isn’t pretty when the practitioners of identity politics turn their “verbal thuggery” on each other.

Both candidates sounded the right, conciliatory tone after the spat, said Karen Tumulty in Time.com's Swampland blog. “The two leading Democratic contenders seem to have figured out that sparring back and forth over race is not a good idea for either of them, or for the country.”

King “would have been both pleased and troubled by our current state,” said Jesse Jackson in the Chicago Sun-Times. He would surely be pleased to see an African American and a white woman competing for the Democratic presidential nomination. But he would be distressed that—with poverty up and hunger spreading—we still get distracted by “sniping” between two campaigns fighting for the same things.

Especially since the argument over who did more for civil rights—King or president Lyndon Johnson—is so silly, said Robert Mann in The Boston Globe (free registration). “Civil rights leaders and devotees to King's memory should not be offended when Johnson is given his due on civil rights. They each played a vital role.”

Clinton should never have opened this can of worms, said Victor Davis Hanson in National Review Online’s The Corner blog. She hoped to convince people that Obama, and his message of hope, was all talk and no action by deprecating “the role of black rhetoric in galvanizing change,” and suggesting that LBJ did more than King did for civil rights.“ But all she did was call into question her own “racial fides.”