An ''Infuriated" Ted Kennedy, LBJ, MLK and John Lewis
by Seymour Glass, Fri Feb 01, 2008 at 10:58:28 AM EST
Thoughts on LBJ, John Lewis, Teddy and Obama
At first. I thought the MLK-LBJ flap was just push back from Obama's campaign at the way Hillary had framed the distinction between she and Obama. I hugely respect both King and Johnson and feared only that there was a anti-historic diminishing of the role of LBJ, the President that cared more about the poor than any other, that concerned me.
This is what Hillary said. The media never published the whole quote:
"I would point to the fact that that Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the President before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality, the power of that dream became a real in people's lives because we had a president who said we are going to do it, and actually got it accomplished."
"Dr. Martin Luther king led a movement. He was gassed. He was beaten, and then he worked with President Johnson to get the civil laws passed. The dream couldn't be realized until finally it was legally permissible."
Because of that short but very accurate description of the interplay that led to the voting rights act (so good, I wonder if it was vetted by her pal and MLK biographer, Taylor Branch?), the media and the Obama campaign led us on a two week witch hunt, searching for racists and "racist code" in any Clinton word or any Clinton supporter.
But just when we think it can't get any uglier or stupider, in steps Teddy Kennedy...
Clinton's LBJ Comments Infuriated Ted Kennedy
There's more to Sen. Edward Kennedy's endorsement of Barack Obama than meets the eye. Apparently, part of the reason why the liberal lion from Massachusetts embraced Obama was because of a perceived slight at the Kennedy family's civil rights legacy by the other Democratic presidential primary frontrunner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
Sources say Kennedy was privately furious at Clinton for her praise of President Lyndon Baines Johnson for getting the 1964 Civil Rights Act accomplished. Jealously guarding the legacy of the Kennedy family dynasty, Senator Kennedy felt Clinton's LBJ comments were an implicit slight of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, who first proposed the landmark civil rights initiative in a famous televised civil rights address in June 1963.
One anonymous source described Kennedy as having a "meltdown" in reaction to Clinton's comments. Another source close to the Kennedy family says Senator Kennedy was upset about two instances that occurred on a single day of campaigning in New Hampshire on Jan. 7, a day before the state's primary.
The first was at an event in Dover, N.H., at which Clinton supporter Francine Torge introduced the former first lady saying, "Some people compare one of the other candidates to John F. Kennedy. But he was assassinated. And Lyndon Baines Johnson was the one who actually" signed the civil rights bill into law.
The Kennedy insider says Senator Kennedy was deeply offended that Clinton remained silent and "sat passively by" rather than correcting the record on his slain brother's civil rights record.
Kennedy was also apparently upset that Clinton said on the same day: "Dr. [Martin Luther] King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act. It took a president to get it done."
Both comments that day in NH, by Clinton and her supporter, were meant to make the point that Clinton would be better equipped to get things done as president than Obama, her chief Democratic rival. Nothing more.
I can understand Ted"s anger. He, the last survivor, wants to preserve Camelot. Besides, he and the entire "Camelot" crew still hate Lyndon Johnson's guts. He will not give LBJ credit for anything, and will resent any credit he gets. This small minded and petulant attitude and response is both destructive and divisive to our Party. But, it's very typical to to the Kennedy crowd. Very. I know, in my shallow and craven youth, I used to be part of it.
But the historical truth is the myth of Camelot was built upon the legislative skills of Lyndon Baines Johnson.
In his dealings with Congress, however, Kennedy was an ineffective President. His legislative agenda was log jammed in Congress and he could not move it forward. Even when he finally decided to move on Civil Rights after the march on DC, little happened. But before that, the Kennedy administration did very little - if anything - to help those struggling down south, fearful of losing southern votes in the 1964 election.
Of John Lewis, the historian Howard Zinn wrote: "At the great Washington March of 1963, the chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), John Lewis, speaking to the same enormous crowd that heard Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream, (speech) was prepared to ask the right question: 'Which side is the federal government on?' That sentence was eliminated from his speech by organizers of the March to avoid offending the Kennedy Administration. But Lewis and his fellow SNCC workers had experienced, again and again, the strange passivity of the national government in the face of Southern violence."
"John Lewis and SNCC had reason to be angry. John had been beaten bloody by a white mob in Montgomery as a Freedom Rider in the spring of 1961. The federal government had trusted the notoriously racist Alabama police to protect the Riders, but done nothing itself except to have FBI agents take notes. Instead of insisting that blacks and whites had a right to ride the buses together, the Kennedy Administration called for a 'cooling-off period,' a moratorium on Freedom Rides"
Standing at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, John Lewis turned his wrath, not at the easy target, the Dixiecrats, but against the Administration.... To many, the March had been presented as a gigantic lobby for the Administration's Civil Rights Bill, but Lewis pointed quickly, unerringly, to the weaknesses in the bill. Furthermore, by sponsoring a new civil-rights bill, the Administration had skillfully turned attention to Congress, and deflected the erratic spotlight of the civil-rights movement from possibly focusing on inadequacies of the Executive. The straight, crass fact at which John Lewis was aiming is this: the national government, without any new legislation, has the power to protect Negro voters and demonstrators from policemen's clubs, hoses and jails--and it has not used that power.
It wasn't until LBJ got to the White House that real action took place in the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.
March to Selma and LBJ and how Civil Rights protections became the law of our land.
On March 7, John Lewis of SNCC led a march of 600 people to walk the 54 miles from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery. Only six blocks into the march, however, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state troopers and local law enforcement, some mounted on horseback, attacked the peaceful demonstrators with billy clubs, tear gas, rubber tubes wrapped in barbed wire and bull whips. They drove the marchers back into Selma. John Lewis was knocked unconscious and had to be dragged to safety.
The national broadcast of the footage of lawmen attacking unresisting marchers seeking the right to vote provoked a national response as had scenes from Birmingham two years earlier. The marchers were able to obtain a court order permitting them to make the march without incident two weeks later. After a second march to the site of Bloody Sunday, local whites murdered voting rights supporters, Rev. James Reeb and killed Detroit homemaker Viola Liuzzo .
Johnson delivered a televised address to Congress eight days after the first march in support of the voting rights bill he had sent to Congress. In it he stated:
"But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life."
"Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome."
"To see Lyndon Johnson get that bill through, almost vote by vote," said Pultizer Prize-winning LBJ biographer Robert Caro, "is to see not only legislative power but legislative genius."
Standing with Martin Luther King, John Lewis was in the room when President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on August 6. The act suspended poll taxes, literacy tests and other voter tests. It authorized Federal supervision of voter registration in states and individual voting districts where such tests were being used. African-Americans who had been barred from registering to vote finally had an alternative to local or state courts. If voting discrimination occurred, the 1965 act authorized the Attorney General of the United States to send federal examiners to replace local registrars.
Finally, the impact of the 1964 act on the American political scene was profound. Bill Moyers, a former aide to LBJ, recalled, in a statement during a 1990 symposium at the Johnson Library:
The night that the Civil Rights Act was passed, I found him in the bedroom, exceedingly depressed. The headline of the bulldog edition of the Washington Post said, "Johnson Signs Civil Rights Act." The airwaves were full of discussions about how unprecedented this was and historic, and yet he was depressed. I asked him why.
He said, "I think we've just delivered the South to the Republican Party for the rest of my life, and yours."
So that's the History. How did it get distorted, twisted and then used for Obama's political gain?
"Obama :"I am baffled by that statement by the Senator. She made an ill-advised statement about Dr. King, suggesting that Lyndon Johnson had more to do with the Civil Rights Act. For them to somehow suggest that we're interjecting race as a consequence of a statement she made is pretty hard to figure out."
In a candid interview on "Inside City Hall," Rep. Charles Rangel:
"How race got into this thing is because Obama said `race,'" Rangel tells Political Anchor Dominic Carter. "But there is nothing that Hillary Clinton has said that baffles me. I would challenge anybody to belittle the contribution that Dr. King has made to the world, to our country, to civil rights, and the Voting Rights Act. But for him to suggest that Dr. King could have signed that act is absolutely stupid. It's absolutely dumb to infer that Doctor King, alone, passed the legislation and signed it into law."
Then the statement that should have ended this whole false and tasteless incident, but that NO ONE in the national media EVER published or quoted, John Lewis said on PBS's News Hour on 1/14:
"It is unfortunate that people have tried to distort what Mrs. Clinton had to say about Dr. King,""I think there has been a deliberate and systematic attempt by some people in the Obama campaign to really fan the flames about race and to really distort what Senator Clinton said. I understood and I think most right thinking people understood what she said.
"President and Senator Clinton have a record, a history, a very long history of bringing people together. No right thinking American would ever think that Senator or President Clinton would ever do anything that would use the race card"
"I must tell you...I'm trying to set the record straight...the Obama camp is doing something else, theyr'e sending out memos to the media trying to suggest that the Clintons are playing the race card."
Then Teddy was "offended", got "infuriated" and had "a meltdown" because Hillary and others dared to sing the praises of President Lyndon Johnson . I'm just relieved that Mrs. Johnson isn't around to hear this completely Soviet style re-writing of our history. My God, as an ex Kennedy staffer myself, I think it is truly time to "turn the page" on this foolish, selfish, small minded man.
As I have always said since I left his employ long ago in horror and shame, Uncle Teddy votes well, but besides that...