Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Time passes, and change is the only constant.  I know, I know, but I was still surprised to pick up today's Washington Post and read that Congressman John Lewis of Atlanta has two primary opponents.  I mean, this man is a legend--what's going on?
     He's one of my heroes.  In fact, I remember introducing him to a friend that way:  "I'd like you to meet one of my heroes...."  But he earned the word.  He was beaten as a Freedom Rider in the early 1960s, had his skull fractured in '65 leading marchers across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in a  voting rights demonstration.   And he kept on, living the old civil rights movement song,  "Keep your eyes on the prize. Keep on."
     And that's the problem, of course.  That was all a long time ago.  Lewis is sixty-eight now;  he's been in Congress for twenty-one years.  The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act passed more than forty years ago. A fifty-year old voter today has no memory of the very different America which existed back then.
     Lewis's challengers are younger.  They're the first he's had since 1992--a 31-year old minister, Markel Hutchins, and state Rep. Mable Thomas.
     There's one other factor facing Lewis and some other black incumbents.  He initially endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, though he switched to Barack Obama after Obama won Georgia's primary back in February.  Edolphus Towns, a Brooklyn Congressman, and Carolyn Cheeks of Kansas also face primary opponents who were for Obama from the start.  Lewis dismisses Hutchins:  "The young man, he just copies everything Obama does. The civil rights movement was over by the time he was born."  True, Congressman, but that's part of your problem.  Hutchins says, "That's the very reason there has to be a transition...Leadership cannot be measured by one's proximity to the civil rights era."
     That's true of course.  And this column does not endorse candidates...
     Good luck, John.

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