Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

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.

Tags: Hillary Clinton, Josh Marshall (all tags)

Comments

34 Comments

Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

If the dream became a reality in Johnson it is because he was inspired to believe we can be better.  Lyndon Johnson did not think King was dealing in false hope.  

by Piuma 2008-01-07 05:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Right.  But in Marshall's take, Obama is not being compared to MLK, so no one is accusing MLK of dealing in false hope.

by Steve M 2008-01-07 05:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Actually, if you read it carefully, she is validating Obama's opinion not her own.  The false hopes phrase was a mistake, but she can't admit making a mistake, so she stumbles into an artless phrase.  

by Piuma 2008-01-07 05:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

I agree with you on intent... I just think she phrased it awkwardly and THAT is why some are misconstruing it.   It depends on how you read the comments... but personally, I don't think she meant to compare Obama to MLK, and phrased it awkwardly when she said "It takes a president"... That statement is what makes it awkward...

I do want to point out that Johnson did have a couple more years to pass items due to that unfortunate conspiracy in Daly Plaza.  Also, I hope she isn't trying to insinuate someone is going to kill Obama... I'm sure she isn't but it is kind of messed up to compare a Black candidate (whom people do have a natural fear of said candidate being killed by a nut) to a President who WAS killed.  I'll chalk it up to tiredness and nothing more, but if I were her, I'd avoid those compaisons as it seems like they get her in trouble.

by yitbos96bb 2008-01-08 03:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

You know it takes a miracle to get fair or decent coverage for Clinton.

That's just how it is.

by lori 2008-01-07 05:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Sorry, Steve, I can see the point of your advocacy, as usual, but I am just not buying this one.  The comparison of JFK to LBJ, even if it were clear, still takes some digesting.  Imagine, for example, if JFK had won the '64 election with a big margin instead of getting his head blown off.  Whose Civil Rights Act was it, after all?

And even if it were MLK vs LBJ there is a wonkish, process-oriented logic to the remark which disallows what we all know to be true, the very emotional, almost spiritual, sense of purpose among the non-violent resistors to segregation which inspired the nation to legislate.  Nice try, no sale.  Al it demonstrates to me is that Hillary, and all her strategists, see things in reductionist, deterministic terms.  Not a good way to lead a nation.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-01-07 05:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Well, if you want to argue the history of JFK's commitment to civil rights versus that of LBJ, that's fine I guess, but it's not really material to the question of whether Hillary was slamming MLK.

I think Hillary's point is not that there's no room for inspiration in politics, but rather that while it's fine for activists to inspire people and get them energized, what you want from a president is actual results.  I'm certainly not "advocating" in the sense that I want you to agree with Hillary's narrative for what's important in a president; it makes no difference to me.  But the issue is whether she made a dismissive remark about MLK and the misreporting by the Politico seems rather relevant.

by Steve M 2008-01-07 06:02PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

I'll leave the parsing to others.  And I understand your point that this is a media mash rather than a gaffe.  Personally, in the context of this election, and where she was headed, as you said, with the substance of this remark I think she was playing with fire and if she got a little burned maybe she might learn to leave it alone.  False hope?  MLK?  As another brick in the wall of burying Obama?  Puh-lease.

Beat him over the head with the Social Security statute?  Try to tie him up in knots on abortion rights?  Twist him up in the Patriot Act vote?  Sure, and best of luck to her.  Convince Americans that unlegislated, unstructured hope is fruitless  and then attempt to use MLK to buttress this argument by example?  Pull the other one.  She must really be convinced she's lost every single delegate in SC, eh?

Did you notice her disparaging remarks about Iowa and the caucuses the day she arrived in NH?  After sucking up to them with pursed lips for a year?  I thought that was awful.  Her 'my way or the highway' loyalty to individuals and institutions seems a fundamental flaw in her character.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-01-07 06:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Convince Americans that unlegislated, unstructured hope is fruitless  and then attempt to use MLK to buttress this argument by example?  Pull the other one.  She must really be convinced she's lost every single delegate in SC, eh?

You lost me with this one.  When Hillary talked about "false hopes" in the debate it didn't have anything to do with MLK.  Wasn't it Obama who brought MLK into the debate?

by Steve M 2008-01-07 06:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Yeah, but isn't that 'false hope' narrative at the heart of this talk vs action thing.  Which led to her comments?  No big deal, I am just seeing them as connected rhetorical ideas which relate, funnily enough, back to 'experience' vs 'change.'  But maybe I'm all wet, it's getting late and it has been a big day.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-01-07 07:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

"Fundamental flaw in her character?" Rather harsh, don't you think?

by OrangeFur 2008-01-07 06:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Perhaps so.  I was startled at the sudden juxtaposition, however, and it seemed to be related to her perception of rejection there.  After all, 29% of them voted for her.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-01-07 07:05PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

For what it's worth, everything I've read on the civil rights movement, including the first two volumes of Taylor Branch's trilogy, says that Kennedy was cautious to a fault on civil rights, and  frequently told King to move slower. (Given that he was a northerner, and that the 1960 race was so close, he was worried about provoking a reaction in th South.) King was actually quite pleasantly surprised when he first met LBJ after the assassination and saw how much more aggressive LBJ planned to be.

As King himself said, progress doesn't roll in on the wheels of inevitability. People of good will have to make it happen. Clearly King was the paramount figure of the civil rights movement. But LBJ was needed to make it happen. He was almost certainly the most important political figure in the movement era.

by OrangeFur 2008-01-07 06:39PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

I don't disagree on JFK's caution.  I am not arguing that LBJ wasn't essential to the process, either, just that he may not have earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in it.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-01-07 07:14PM | 0 recs
Drop it Shaun
Besides being an offensive take IMO, it is tiome for YOU to start being magnanimous. Obama has got it sewn up.
by Big Tent Democrat 2008-01-07 06:58PM | 0 recs
Re: Drop it Shaun

What's offensive?  I noticed you 1-rated me.  What's your beef?

by Shaun Appleby 2008-01-07 07:09PM | 0 recs
I did not rate you
I find it offensive that you reject Josh's analysis that Hillary was not making a racial comparison to MLK and Obama. What part of that did you not understand? Indeed, today was ther most offensive day by far from Obama supporters. Just about all of them. And hard feelings will persist if Obama supporters continue to attack the other candidates. Here's a clue, Obama has this wrapped up.
by Big Tent Democrat 2008-01-07 08:38PM | 0 recs
Re: I did not rate you

I never understood the comment to be racial, except as I pointed out above LBJ held a position a black person was unlikely to have attained at the time, but I can see I am in over my head and didn't really engage with the question in the first place, although I certainly read Steve's diary.

I am certainly not intending to antagonise Hillary supporters in this discussion and if I have done so I respectfully apologise.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-01-07 08:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Drop it Shaun

you really can't stop being a pain in the ass.. can you?

by kevin22262 2008-01-07 08:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Until, say, the 3rd of January 2008, for example?  I am planning to write a diary on this exact point.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-01-07 05:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Nope. Please don't write a diary full of spin. Obama isn't going to do well in the south. See Ford, Harold Jr.

by Ga6thDem 2008-01-07 06:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Ford is a DLC automatron.  This ain't entirely and exclusively about race, that's the point.  If and when I write such a diary you will be better qualified to comment on it's contents.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-01-07 06:18PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Don't know much about the south do you? Obama is running the same "let's all get together campaign" that Ford was running. It's what blacks have to run in the south to have any chance. But with even that, they lose.

Obama gets the black vote and the white liberal vote in the south and that is all. About 35% in GA. 33% in AL, MS and SC during a general election.

by Ga6thDem 2008-01-07 06:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

The fatal flaw in the analysis of Obama's prospects throughout the campaign so far was to apply conventional wisdom to a situation where conventions were changing, by accident or design.  We'll see.  I certainly don't live there but I just watched Australia overturn a 12-year conservative government in a landslide and change the playing field for at least a decade.  12-14% swings in some seats, the Prime Minister lost his for the first time since 1929.  It does happen.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-01-07 07:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

I don't think he will win against a Huckabee in the south... but Your crazy to think Hillary does better.  It will be much closer and I think he CAN win against Romney, McCain and Guiliani in the south.  Obama though sounds like he will run a 50 state campaign which will help to make it close.  

by yitbos96bb 2008-01-08 03:39AM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Well, that's something.  Me too.

by Shaun Appleby 2008-01-07 06:59PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Actually Harold Ford did just as well as Al Gore and better than John Kerry (both vs. George Bush).

by Will Graham 2008-01-07 06:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

And that was in a landslide year for the Dems and he still couldn't pull it out.

by Ga6thDem 2008-01-07 06:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

I want to point out a lot more people vote in Presidential years.  

by yitbos96bb 2008-01-08 03:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

As an African-American Obama supporter, I got pretty upset about this attack on Hillary and I put a diary up at DKos about it.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/1/7/1 95023/6828/771/432465

Maybe I'll try to get it up here also. It was a perfectly legitimate factual statement about the type of presidential leadership it took to get this bill passed. It's not a slight on MLK or racist in the least, and it's a valid point that hope and optimism are not sufficient to make real change.

I also don't personally think the argument particularly benefits her because I believe Obama has demonstrated great political skill in working to get tough legislation passed in Illinois and in Washington. But the attack on Hillary behind this is totally unfounded and outside the bounds, especially given that it looks like this campaign could be over for her as of tomorrow.

by dmc2 2008-01-07 07:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Part of a PATTERN.
THAT is why she gets no slack.

Combine that with Bill's Mandela comparison...

No slack from me.

Don't need anyone to interpret what she said. I can read. If you don't want things to be' misinterpreted', then don't say stupid offensive stuff.

by rikyrah 2008-01-07 08:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

I saw an interesting psychological study recently that showed you can tell a lie about someone, thus creating a negative impression among listeners, and even when the lie is corrected the negative impression somehow remains.

That's why misreporting by the press can be so pernicious.  People see an inaccurate quote, form an impression and fit it into their narrative, and when the quote is corrected they don't even care because it's already in their narrative.

by Steve M 2008-01-08 06:17AM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Steve,

Helpe me understand something.  If this was a comparison between JFK and LBJ, two presidents, how exactly does  her line "it takes a president" make any sense?  I wasn't particularly incensed by this comment in the first instance, as I sort of figured it was a poorly worded comment made by an exhausted candidate, but reading what she said I still have a hard time understanding it as a comparison between presidents.  

Also, in a change election where we are still fighting an unpopular war I'm not sure if makes a lot of sense to compare yourself to LBJ.  For any reason.  And I say that as someone who has a generally positive view on Johnson.  

by HSTruman 2008-01-08 04:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Josh Marshall Defends Hillary on MLK/LBJ

Well, feel free to form your own conclusions, but I don't think you should parse it as though it were a carefully wordsmithed, written statement.  The contrast she was drawing between Kennedy the talker and Johnson the doer seems quite clear to me.

As for your last point, I guess that's the campaign theme she's chosen to go with, that I'm the less exciting candidate who will nonetheless get you the best results.  I don't think she can really win by playing the "change" game, which at the end of the day is just rhetoric anyway.

by Steve M 2008-01-08 06:15AM | 0 recs

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