The Role of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Democratic Primary

The flap over Hillary Clinton’s remarks about the role of Dr. Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement can be seen as a tempest in a teapot, as so many discussions of race in this country are.  But her idea that it was Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Bill in 1964 speaks more about her idea of the role of government than it does about her racial attitudes.

When Hillary Clinton underscores the passage of legislation, what she is saying in effect is that government fiat is what drives the agenda in society.  The state of the law in the early 1960’s was the codification of racial attitudes that went back a long way.  A large part of a more equitable society is the changing of attitudes, and that was a large part of Martin Luther King’s objective and agenda, a process that continues today.  For Clinton, things are simpler: pass a law or obtain a Supreme Court decision, demonise the opposition by criminalising it, and that’s that.

But that doesn’t always work.  The best example of this is Roe vs. Wade.  Thirty-five years after that decision, we still have a viable anti-abortion movement in this country, one that the left still fears.  It’s possible that, if that decision had been an act of Congress, it would have had more impact on people’s attitudes, but the left hasn’t shown any stomach to abandon the safety of a Supreme Court decision.

If raw, government power is what you want, then Hillary’s your woman.  That’s one reason why she still has the loyalty of so many on the left.  But there are many, even in her own party, who long for an alternative, and the fact that her opposition has coalesced with an opponent who is seen as black makes her job harder.

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