Tuesday, January 15, 2008

January 15, 2008

     It was silly to think we could have a presidential campaign with a serious black candidate and not have race as an issue.  Now it is an issue, sort of, kind of.   Senator Hillary Clinton probably started it when she said that Martin Luther King's dream "began to be realized when President Johnson passed the (1964) Civil Rights Act."
     Not exactly.  Both men worked to help the Act become law.  King did it as a moral leader, the Gandhi of his generation, who could, with his words, energize a nation to pursue a dream.  Johnson did it as the president who'd been a senator, who knew all the arms to twist.  The Senate passed the bill by summoning 67 votes to end a filibuster which had lasted fifty-seven working days, and lots of people deserve some of the credit.  Republican Senate leader Everett Dirksen, quoting Victor Hugo: "Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come."  Democrat Clair Engle of California, mortally ill, unable to speak, pointing to his eye to indicate that was how he wanted to vote.  Lots of people.
     And King and Johnson talked, of course.  The next year King urged a voting rights bill.  Johnson agreed, said a march would help. They marched at Selma, Alabama, and state troopers clubbed them.  John Lewis, now a Congressman from Georgia and a Clinton backer, got a fractured skull that day. They marched again with federal protection.  The bill passed.  Two very different men who shared a goal.
     We haven't reached the goal of ending racism, of course.  But we have inched forward.  Those bills, which those two very different men helped pass, meant progress.  We keep moving forward, though not quickly.  It is silly, surely, to suggest that Senator Clinton would want to slow that progress.  It is silly as well to suggest that Barack Obama would.  John Lewis says Obama is "no Martin Luther King" and that's probably true, but who among us is?  No country gets a star that bright very often.
     We can argue about tactics.  Did school busing work?  Is affirmative action a good idea?  But surely Clinton and Obama and most of us believe in the words that got us started:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...."  And surely Clinton and Obama and most of us nowadays could still march to the old civil rights movement hymn:  "Black and white together, we shall overcome some day."  It's coming;  it's just not coming quickly.   

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