Hillary Clinton’s campaign accused Barack Obama of bringing racial tension into the presidential contest by distorting Clinton’s remarks on Martin Luther King. Clinton, who has pushed the charge that Obama is all talk and no action, said last week that King’s dream of racial equality only “began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Obama, who hopes to become the nation’s first black president, accused Clinton of diminishing King’s role. The spat came as the rival Democrats prepared for the Jan. 24 presidential primary in South Carolina, where half the party’s voters are African American. (AP in Time.com)
What the commentators said
So much for the “utopia of post-racial politics,” said Sean Wilentz in The New Republic Online. “The media echo chamber is now booming with charges” that “Clinton has disparaged Dr. King, praised President Johnson in his stead, and thereby distorted the history of the civil rights movement.” But the fact is that both King and Johnson were “indispensable” in advancing the cause of civil rights.
Obama and Clinton are both right, said Katrina Vanden Heuvel in TheNation.com. “Johnson was pushed to do far more than he had ever imagined by the movement that Dr. King helped to galvanize.” What the Democrats need now is “the power of an independent, broadly based, multi-racial progressive movement to demand and make change” once again.
If only the Clinton camp had left the issue of race alone after the bickering over King’s legacy faded away, said Noam Scheiber in a New Republic blog. But, no. Clinton had to have a surrogate—BET founder Bob Johnson—say that the Clintons were deeply involved in black issues when Obama was “doing something in the neighborhood”—a clumsy reference to his youthful drug use. You don’t have to be a cynic to see that the Clintons think they’ll gain by “polarizing the nomination fight along racial lines.” What “despicable stuff.”
Apparently, “we've transcended nothing,” said John Kass in the Chicago Tribune. “We're in the Way Back Machine, knee-deep in the old style Democratic politics of racial symbolism and victimhood.” Hopefully, Oprah will sit everybody down on a couch in South Carolina and help the Democrats get beyond the “histrionics about race and who was ‘disrespected’ and wasn't 'disrespected.’”