The Nomination: Clinton, Obama, LBJ and Martin Luther King

In the back and forth of the Democratic Presidential primary season Hillary Clinton’s remarks about Rev. Martin Luther King, Lyndon Johnson and civil rights sparked an unfortunate exchange between hers and the Obama forces.

Clinton was trying to make a point about governing, but her remarks were criticized for pitting Lyndon Johnson’s delivery of landmark civil rights laws with the movement led by Rev. King — all of this in the context of her running against a rapidly rising African American politician who ultimately deprived her of the nomination.

Barack Obama’s acceptance speech on Thursday at the Denver convention provides a better opportunity to bring up King, Johnson, the presidency and the Democratic Party.

On 8/28 45 years ago, Rev. Martin Luther King delivered his “Dream” speech — one of the most heard and admired pieces of oratory in U.S. history. King’s speech and the movement he led pushed Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats to forge ahead with stronger, landmark civil rights laws for voting rights, accommodations and other aspects of equal opportunity in 1964 and 1965.

Clinton’s intent was not to diminish the civil rights struggle but to say King’s movement and Johnson’s power and legislative acumen were not mutually exclusive. One complemented the other. The Southerner Johnson knew the consequences. “There goes the South for a generation,” Johnson was quoted when he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, predicting his party would lose elections and the “solid” South for many years as they surely did.

And now should it surprise anyone that Obama’s multi-cultural background is still fodder for a GOP divide and conquer strategy first invoked by Richard Nixon in 1968?

Obama needs to draw the distinctions sharply between his vision and that of John McCain, especially on economics and the interests of people who “work hard and play by the rules.” In doing so, he should revisit the King and Johnson legacy, perhaps noting that Clinton wasn’t dissing King over LBJ at all.

The betting here is he will recall that long ago August 28th as he prepares to lead Democrats into the fall election. The moment will not be lost on Obama that his political ascendency this week is a direct consequence of both King’s movement and Johnson’s Democrats and what was said and done a generation ago. Obama’s nomination will not be the end all for civil rights struggle, but a fulfillment of a huge piece of the “Dream”.

(Photo Credit: Johnson Library and Museum from

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