Tags: hillary | obama

Hillary's Remarks Deliberately Distorted

By Edward I Koch   |   Monday, 14 Jan 2008 03:11 PM

Last week, the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama turned ugly. The ugliness was on the side of Barack's supporters, who accused Hillary of making racist statements that, in my view were totally inoffensive from a racial point of view.

The statements concerned the relative contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson to the civil rights movement. According to The New York Times, Hillary complimented Dr. King's soaring rhetoric, but said, "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." It is clear why Hillary made these comments.

Her campaign has focused on her "experience," while Barack's campaign has centered on "inspirational leadership" and "change." In my estimation both candidates are competent to serve as the president of the United States. but I support Hillary Clinton as the most qualified of those running.

Most shocking for me was that the Times contributed to the misconception of Hillary’s statement. In its editorial on the matter, it stated, "Why Mrs. Clinton would compare herself to Mr. Johnson, who escalated the war in Vietnam into a generational disaster, was baffling enough. It was hard to escape the distasteful implication that a black man needed the help of a white man to effect change."

The Times charge against Clinton that she implied "a black man needed the help of a white man to effect change" is truly a stretch and an outrage. Does the Times believe that Dr. Martin Luther King's extraordinary ability to inspire would alone have been able to get a white Southern-dominated Congress to pass a host of several important civil rights bills? Without the leadership, cunning and ability of President Johnson, does anyone think those Southern congressmen and senators could have been persuaded to vote for the great civil rights legislation that was enacted?

Indeed, as he did it, President Johnson knew he was losing the South, the Democratic Party's major constituency for generations to come, as is still the case today. Does the Times editorial board believe that Dr. King, whose speeches weighed so heavily on so many in America, had the same positive effect on white Southern members of Congress?

Does it denigrate Dr. King to say that President Johnson's power was absolutely necessary to accomplish the results achieved?

Wouldn't a fair comparison be to view the rhetoric and appeal to conscience in the American Civil War provided by Frederick Douglass and the abolitionists joined with the political power of President Abraham Lincoln that resulted in saving the Union and the emancipation of the slaves?

The Times' attack on Hillary for comparing herself to Mr. Johnson, "who escalated the war in Vietnam into a generational disaster," is also baseless.

The thrust of those remarks was intended to denigrate President Johnson and dismiss him solely on the Vietnam War. Would the Times make the same snide comment of President John F. Kennedy? He, after all, preceded Johnson in putting American troops in Vietnam. I doubt it.

Did Hillary compare herself with Johnson, who in the judgment of most Americans was a very good president on a whole host of domestic issues? She did not.

What she did was to point out that political power is needed in the final crunch in getting legislation enacted in Washington. Who can gainsay that? Only The New York Times.

In sum, Hillary’s statements appear to have been deliberately misconstrued by her critics in order to stir up racial tensions.

To make matters worse, two prominent black leaders, Rep. James E. Clyburn, the leading black official in the Congress, and Donna Brazile, the political commentator, attacked former President Bill Clinton, who, commenting on Barack Obama's explanation of why he is more against the war in Iraq than Hillary, referred to Barack’s statement as a "fairy tale" being spun by Obama and his supporters.

Factually true or not, there is nothing racial in Bill Clinton's comment. Donna Brazile said on CNN, "And I tell you as an African-American, I find his words and his tone to be very depressing." Was that a fair comment on her part?

Consider that she is attacking as racially insensitive a president viewed by black leadership and many African-Americans as America's first black president, held in the highest regard by the black community because of his great support for civil rights benefiting the black community and others.

Haven't we reached the time in our political life when black and white candidates can be evaluated, praised, and criticized, using comparable terms and with comparable force?

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