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By Charles Krauthammer
Posted Jan 18, 2008
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. -- Hillary Clinton, Jan. 7
WASHINGTON -- So she said. And then a fight broke out. That remarkable eruption of racial sensitivities and racial charges lacked coherence, however, because the public argument was about history rather than what was truly offensive -- the implied analogy to today.
The principal objection was that Clinton appeared to be disrespecting Martin Luther King Jr., relegating him to mere enabler for Lyndon Johnson. But it is certainly true that Johnson was the great emancipator, second only to Abraham Lincoln in that respect. This was a function of the times. King was fighting for black enfranchisement. Until that could be achieved, civil rights legislation could only be enacted by a white president (and a white Congress).
That does not denigrate King. It makes his achievement all the more miraculous -- winning a permanent stake in the system for a previously disenfranchised people, having begun with no political cards to play.
In my view, the real problem with Clinton's statement was the implied historical analogy -- that the subordinate position King held in relation to Johnson, a function of the discrimination and disenfranchisement of the time, somehow needs recapitulation today when none of those conditions apply.
The analogy Clinton was implying was obvious: I'm Lyndon Johnson, unlovely doer; he's Martin Luther King, charismatic dreamer. Vote for me if you want results.
Forty years ago, that arrangement -- white president enacting African-American dreams -- was necessary because discrimination denied blacks their own autonomous political options. Today, that arrangement -- white liberals acting as tribune for blacks in return for their political loyalty -- is a demeaning anachronism. That's what the fury at Hillary was all about, although no one was willing to say so explicitly.
The King-Johnson analogy is dead because the times are radically different. Today an African-American can be in a position to wield the emancipation pen -- and everything else that goes along with the presidency: from making foreign policy to renting out the Lincoln Bedroom (if one is so inclined). Why should African-American dreams still have to go through white liberals?
Clinton is no doubt shocked that a simple argument about experience versus inspiration becomes the basis for a charge of racial insensitivity. She is surprised that the very use of "fairy tale" in reference to Obama's position on Iraq is taken as a sign of insensitivity, or that any reference to his self-confessed teenage drug use is immediately given racial overtones.
But where, I ask you, do such studied and/or sincere expressions of racial offense come from? From a decades-long campaign of enforced political correctness by an alliance of white liberals and the black civil rights establishment intended to delegitimize and marginalize as racist any criticism of their post-civil rights-era agenda.
Anyone who has ever made a principled argument against affirmative action only to be accused of racism knows exactly how these tactics work. Or anyone who has merely opposed a more recent agenda item -- hate crimes legislation -- on the grounds that murder is murder and that the laws against it are both venerable and severe. Remember that scurrilous pre-election ad run by the NAACP in 2000 implying that George Bush was indifferent to a dragging death of a black man at the hands of white racists in Texas because he did not support hate crime legislation?
The nation has become inured to the playing of the race card, but "our first black president" (Toni Morrison on Bill Clinton) and his consort are not used to having it played against them.
Bill is annoyed with Obama. As Bill inadvertently let on to Charlie Rose, it has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with entitlement. He had contemplated running in 1988, he confided to Charlie, but decided to wait. Too young, not ready. (A tall tale, highly Clintonian; but that's another matter.) Now it is Hillary's turn. The presidency is her due -- the ultimate in alimony -- and this young upstart refuses to give way.
But telling Obama to wait his turn is a tricky proposition. It sounds patronizing and condescending, awakening the kinds of racial grievances white liberals have spent half a century fanning -- only to find themselves now singed in the blowback, much to their public chagrin.
Who says there's no justice in this world?
Charles Krauthammer is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
By Kathleen Parker
Posted January 15, 2008
It's not about race or gender, we keep hearing from the Democratic front-runners. Except of course it is about race and gender, even though both should be rendered irrelevant by virtue of the candidates' participation in the game.
Simply put: Identity politics is predicated on oppression. Yet it's hard to claim you're a victim when you're on top.
Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton -- Ivy League-educated U.S. senators -- can't win for winning. Yet both have crafted their candidacies around the idea of overcoming historical obstacles and becoming firsts of their kind.
To cross that final frontier -- to become the first woman or the first African-American to be nominated for president -- each has to artfully tear down something of what their party has built up. Unavoidably, the white has to go after the black; the man has to attack the woman.
How to do that without inviting charges of sexism or racism is the trick and, thus far, Obama seems the better magician.
Matters are further complicated by the fact that Obama's attraction to black voters cuts a swath through a field the Clintons have been carefully cultivating for decades. No matter how many black church services they've attended, they can't compete on the pulpit with a real African-American candidate.
Despite their protests to the contrary, both Obama and Clinton have been playing to their respective demographics. Obama hasn't overtly made his campaign about race, but he didn't have to. In Clintonian tradition, he has let surrogates make the case for him. Oprah Winfrey laid it out plainly enough when she told a throng in Columbia, S.C.:
"We don't have to just dream the dream anymore. We get to vote that dream into reality. I believe that now is the time for somebody like Barack Obama."
"Somebody like Barack" and "the dream" don't require much elaboration. The dream was the Rev. Martin Luther King's, of a future when blacks and whites lived in harmony. And though Obama is unique in his broad appeal, Winfrey was clearly urging voters to put an African-American in the White House.
For her part, Clinton has insisted that women shouldn't vote for her just because of gender. "I am not asking you to vote for me because I am a woman," she told a crowd in New Hampshire. "I am asking you to vote for me because I believe I am the most qualified person to hit the ground running in 2009."
Except when she is urging women to vote for her because she's a woman. Speaking at her all-female alma mater, Wellesley College, Clinton called upon women to rally against "the all-boys club of presidential politics. We're ready to shatter that highest glass ceiling."
Obviously, and gratefully, Clinton will accept the woman vote and Obama will accept the black vote while professing a unified, color- and gender-blind vision. But to win, each has to borrow from the other's camp -- Obama needs women and Clinton needs blacks.
And each risks losing the prize by going too negative, as Clinton recently learned when she dared trespass on the sacred territory of Dr. King. In trying to neutralize Obama's success as an orator and underscore his short list of accomplishments, she effectively said that Obama is no King.
Then she went too far and, noting that no matter King's own contributions, the Civil Rights Act required the signature of a president, in this case the Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson.
Whatever she meant -- fair or not -- that's a hole deep enough to bury Hillary's nomination and her husband's legacy.
We can be certain that Obama's surrogates will milk that mistake even as he and Clinton declare a public truce. And Clinton will continue to insist that she's not interested in defining her campaign as a gender issue even as she continues to invoke the glass ceiling, as she did yet again Sunday on "Meet the Press."
In the end, the Democratic Party may be hostage to its own noble intentions. By co-opting equality as their party's identity and making victimhood their rallying cry, the battle for race and gender necessarily has become a fight between race and gender.
If a Clinton victory is viewed as a victory for all women, then her defeat can only be viewed as a defeat for women. The same goes for Obama and African-Americans.
It shouldn't be about race and gender, but it is. And the Democratic Party made it this way.
Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.