Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ
by Steve M, Mon Jan 07, 2008 at 05:37:37 PM EST
Hillary Clinton took a lot of heat today for comments which were interpreted to suggest that Lyndon Johnson, and not MLK, was the real hero of the civil rights movement. The perennially fair-minded Josh Marshall of TPM points out that this story has more to do with a misquote than anything:
There's been a lot of rough news for Hillary Clinton in the last 72 hours. And a lot of unforced errors. But I think on this MLK and Lyndon Johnson remark, the edited quote that's circulating from The Politico is misleading.
The Politico quote is ..."Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act," Clinton said. "It took a president to get it done."
But I think the full quote reads differently.
You can see the video here. The exchange starts at 3:40 in. Fox's Major Garrett reads Clinton a quote from a speech Obama gave earlier in the day.
Here's the Obama quote he reads ..."False Hopes. Dr King standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking out over the magnificent crowd, the reflecting pool, the Washington Monument, sorry guys, false hopes, the dream will die, it can't be done, false hope, we don't need leaders who tell us what we can't do, we need leaders to tell us what we can do and inspire us."
He then asks if she would respond and she says ..."I would, and 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 peoples lives because we had a president who said we are going to do it, and actually got it accomplished."
It's an ambiguous statement. But her reference is to different presidents -- Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, one of whom inspired but did relatively little legislatively and Johnson who did a lot legislatively, though he was rather less than inspiring. Quite apart from the merits of Obama and Clinton, it's not a bad point about Kennedy and LBJ.
Now I know in writing this I'm going to get tons of emails saying I'm defending an indefensible statement, making excuses for her, etc. I'm not. It's poorly worded, and easy to misunderstand. And it will be misunderstood. Her 'false hopes' line from the debate was one of the worst of the campaign. And you can read her realization of the dream point as putting a lot of focus on legislation and sort of discounting activism. But when I look at the actual words in this statement it just doesn't match up with the line that's circulating -- that she was saying Obama's King and she's LBJ.
The Politico quote at a minimum distorts what she said. And I thought I should say so.
Now, I have no idea what Josh Marshall's biases may be, although I've always seen him as one of the straightest shooters in the blogosphere. And I think it's clear from the overall tone of this post that he's hardly some sycophantic Hillary-defender.
But the Politico is no friend to Democrats, to be sure. And when I look at the full quote, it seems like Marshall simply has to be right about this.
If Hillary's point had been "MLK wasn't a president, and it takes a president to make change happen," that simply would have been nonsensical. Obama isn't running for the job of civil rights leader, after all, he's running for the job of president.
But it makes a lot more sense if it's a point about JFK and LBJ, and about the "talk vs. action" narrative that Hillary has been pushing. In this analogy, Obama is JFK, the inspiring president who did a lot to energize people but didn't actually do much for civil rights. And Hillary is LBJ, the methodical president who actually got the Civil Rights Act through Congress and got it enacted into law. I'm not the closest student of the history myself, but this is certainly a common narrative.
I know there are people who are guaranteed to interpret any story in the worst possible light for Hillary Clinton, and you know who you are. And I have no doubt that nothing anyone could say would dissuade those particular people from believing that Hillary really did mean to insult MLK and say he was ineffectual as a civil rights leader.
But for those who are a little more reasonable, as I try to be myself, I thought this was a very interesting post by Josh Marshall and a point that was very likely correct.