Texas Liberal

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Senator Clinton’s Comments Seek To Diminish M.L. King & The Civil Rights Movement

Senator Hillary Clinton made comments in New Hampshire last week that sought to diminish the role of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement.

(Please click here for a Texas Liberal Martin Luther King Reading and Reference List. It is the best list of its kind on the web.)

Mrs Clinton said—“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a President to get it done.” 

Mrs. Clinton’s comments were part of her effort since the Iowa caucus to belittle the optimism felt by many over the campaign of Senator Barack Obama.    

Along these lines, former President Bill Clinton described the Obama theme of hope as a “fairy tale.

It’s no surprise that the Clintons would play down the work done by the Civil Rights movement and the idea that we can do more than settle for the least bad option.

Clintonism has always been about settling for the least bad option in a conservative era.

Now that the conservative era may be coming to an end, what strategy is left but to ridicule the idea that people believing in anything more than the imagination-killing pragmatism of centrist politics can make America better?  

For the record, Mrs. Clinton’s reading of history is simply wrong. As well-detailed in Carol Polsgrove’s Divided Minds–Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement and David L. Chappell’s excellent  A Stone of Hope—Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow, many white liberals and white intellectuals were  slow to embrace the cause of Civil Rights.

From Stone of Hope—“It is hard to sort out whether liberals cared a great deal about racism, but lacked the power to challenge it, or simply cared too little about racism, until black voters and protesters forced their hand…in the 1960’s.”  

While many whites did take personal and political risks to aid the cause of Civil Rights, if Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement had waited for someone other than themselves to bring about freedom, they might well still be waiting.  

And if in 2008 we look to Hillary Clinton to inspire us beyond the mess we find ourselves in today, we will also have a very long wait.

January 11, 2008 - Posted by | Campaign 2008, History, Martin & Malcolm, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. I have to disagree with you saying that she “sought to diminish the role of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement.” She might have sought to diminish the
    degree that Obama uses Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement to further his race. He doesn’t own it.
    She should not have said what she said.Him using it in the way he has been using it does not help eithter. I like to think it belongs to all of us as a country and as citizens
    of this country.

    Comment by Nuts101 | January 11, 2008

  2. I very much agree that the works of Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement belong to all Americans.

    I’d also say though that Mrs. Clinton and Bill Clinton will make any argument they feel they need to make to win.

    They’ll do so if the argument they put forth undermines the hope and imagination required to make liberal politics successful.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | January 11, 2008

  3. That quote isn’t the full quote, as Greg Sargent pointed out. Hillary did not dismiss the Civil Rights movement out of hand. And if a President with lesser legislative skills than LBJ could have passed the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act when a sizable chunk of Democratic Senator then represented Jim Crow states like Mississippi and Arkansas, why didn’t strong civil rights laws get passed by JFK or Eisenhower or FDR? On domestic policy LBJ achieved great reforms… and at great risk to the success of the Democratic Party for decades to come.

    Comment by Joel Patterson | January 12, 2008

  4. I feel the core point of Mrs. Clinton downplaying the role of idealism and hope remains the case here.This has been the strategy.

    FDR did not pursue civil rights because of the role of the South in Democratic party of the time.

    Liberals of that era, who could have spoken up, were most often silent on the issue.

    Eisenhower, and maybe even JFK, lacked the inclination.

    Thank you for this comment.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | January 12, 2008

  5. Damn the Clintons, I used to be among their most rabid fans but now I can’t stand them. Bill, on his ego trip and clearly without the psychiatric medications he so desperately needs to control his sorry ass, goes off calling Obama a “kid” in a milieu that– for anybody with any connection to the South and the “dog-whistle” words there– knows is an intentional racist slight. This after Bob Kerrey and his dipshit “don’t think of an elephant” routine slamming Obama as a “Muslim Manchurian Candidate”, a madrassah attendee and whatever else. Then the drug dealer claims. Then shuck and jive, then the “hip black friend” slant. And of course Hillary’s sideswipe against MLK as you demonstrate.

    If it’s just one off-base comment, it’s a Freudian slip. If it’s multiple such comments by multiple individuals involved with the campaign, it’s a pattern. A deliberate, ugly pattern. The Clintons know what they’re doing– entice Obama into making an angry response against the racist comments and thus paint him as the “fuming black candidate” who would not be mainstream, just scaring away White voters.

    It’s the ugliest sort of politics, invented by the Republicans, now perfected into an art form and vigorously used by the Clintons. It’s causing such anger that– on top of the doubts about NH and fraud suspicions due to the touch-screen machines in South Carolina (I don’t agree with the suspicious personally but they’re present)– it’s brought many black communities to the point of an irrepressible rage. Which, if fraud really is suspected in further primaries, and even more so as the Racismmobile of the Clintons picks up speed, will be leading to massive urban riots if we nominate Clinton. Worse than those from 4 decades ago.

    Comment by Erin | January 12, 2008

  6. You saw where being nice got kerry and gore no where fast and the republicans won.the whole world is suffering because of it. the goal is to get republicans out. the clintons have been attacked for so many years that they have learned to play to win. while most americans hate dirty politics they blindly follow these attacks ads and swiftboat ads etc. moveon plays just as dirty, it the times and the way things are done. Once you make the conversation personal you have lost a certain part of your face. these are a bunch of faceless bastards that care about number 1 but these democratic bastards might help roe vs wade not get turned over, they might get something done with a dem. congress on health care and the global treaties that bush refuses to sign. I will vote for whoever gets the dem. nomination and will support them until they get the job done or fuck us all like the last 7 years. If the next president sucks the people should take to the streets like every other country and scream at the top of their lungs. I know we might have to quit surfing the net, going to hooters, watching sports on tv or even miss a mass, but imagine millions of americans in the streets protesting and being heard.

    Comment by bill brady | January 12, 2008

  7. Erin—Great comment. I agree it is a pattern. I’ve posted before that if Obama allows others to define him, they will define him as an “angry black man.”

    William—While I might debate some specifics of this last comment, I agree in general. I agree with the point at the end very much that there is only so long we should be allowed to used by Democrats given the scope of our troubles today.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | January 12, 2008

  8. Hillary did not say bad racial comments. She said Obama should not compare himself to Dr. King

    Comment by austin4hillary | January 13, 2008

  9. She did not say bad racial comments. I agree.

    She did though denigrate the idea of hoping for something more than we have had in this country in recent years. By that I mean the Clinton years as well.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | January 13, 2008

  10. Lets look at what H.C. has done.
    When in the debates the other Candidates tried to hold her feet to the fire regarding her position switching: she played the gender card “-those men were ganging up on me.”

    When she lost Iowa. She went to New Hampshire and got sincere. Playing the Gender Card

    When she lost Iowa. She went to WHITE New Hampshire and played the Race Card. Characterizing Dr. King as a Dreamer (crassly using his words against Barak Obama.)

    I am so crazy with H. C. saying that Obama’s campaign has blown her comment out of proportion. I am a white male. I was raised in a conservative home. I heard the comment in context on CNN and EVEN I recognized it as racist and a diminishment of Dr King’s journey. It also occurred to me as a desparate cheap use of Dr. King to indirectly bring Mr Obama’s race into the debate. As I heard the comment come out of her mouth, I gasp’d…While it may be historically accurate…its inappropriateness was so obvious. It felt that what she was saying was that it took a white president to realize a black man’s dream. It felt as if she were calling DR KING an ineffectual dreamer..and by race association Sen. Obama a dramer.

    HC’s behavior in the NH primary has clearly shown her to be a stop at nothing politican..and I can’t help wonder if she seeks office for what she believes she can bring to the country or so that she can be the ultimate student body president. I Applaud Mr Obama as he has never diminished H.C’s Gender nor has he brought his race into the election conversation. His demeanor and VISION are why I as an independant am leaning strongly for giving him my vote!!!!

    Comment by Kenneth | January 13, 2008

  11. kenneth she is smart and has more balls than the others combined. she might not be a saint but thank god she is no bush.

    Comment by bill brady | January 15, 2008

  12. I am sorry,but dont bring Bill into this. Besides Hillary stated it BUT Obama followed and on multiple occasions attacked Clinton. Obama should not be defended. Clinton and Obama’s arguement is a draw. If NOT Obama has more to be accountable for when he continued the arguement. Yes though she did diminish Dr. King’s dream.

    Comment by austin4hillary | January 17, 2008

  13. I think the point remains that the Clintons–as a team–put down the idea of hoping for something better than what we have had for many years now.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | January 17, 2008

  14. Hillary does not disregard the ideas of the future. She is for change. She believes we must run the country throgh experience. That is how change needs to come therefore she does not disregard ideas of the future.

    Comment by austin4hillary | January 18, 2008

  15. Well—I like you and I’m glad you are coming to my blog—But I simply can’t agree. I feel Mrs. Clinton represents a somewhat failed past. Her health care reform failure helped lead to the 1994 Republican wins and 12 years of a Republican Congress. The Clintons damage the people around them and the people who rely on them, while they go to the White House and the Senate. I’ll vote for Mrs. Clinton if she is the nominee. But I can’t imagine myself ever as much of a supporter.

    Comment by Neil Aquino | January 18, 2008

  16. True, she failed in the past but what proof is there to say she will fail in the future. Tell me what you think.

    Comment by austin4hillary | January 23, 2008

  17. Neil:
    I need your help. There is this guy named billgagar. To read his comment read the comments on my site. Tell me what you think. Leave a comment on my site. Talk to you later!

    Comment by austin4hillary | January 23, 2008

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