Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Chicken or The Egg?

In what has got to be the most insane strategy in the history of politics, the two Democratic frontrunners are debating race in an election that features a woman and a black male. While both campaigns are responding to these non-issues, the real issues facing the country are being ignored. The choice of who best represents the future direction of the country should be front and center of the debate, not the race or gender of the candidates. Both campaigns are guilty of fueling the flames and highlighting differences that don’t exist. Does anyone doubt that Hillary Clinton is committed to civil rights? Does anyone doubt that she has a healthy understanding of the civil rights movement and its leaders?

The thing that has always bothered me about politics and politicians in particular is their enormous egos and ambition. Here we have two extremely ambitious people who are driven by their chances to make history and in their efforts to separate themselves and win the nomination they have allowed their egos to trump their intellect. No one wins by them cutting each other up over race, gender, or past indiscretions. We must not allow these two to provide any chance of a Republican victory in November by taking a win at all costs philosophy. What is at stake here is greater than either one of these two even if their egos won’t allow them to see it. Our country and our futures are at stake.

There has been a lot of fall-out concerning remarks made by Hillary Clinton concerning the role of President Johnson in the civil rights movement. In her comments Ms. Clinton spoke of how it was the then President Johnson whose signing of legislation ushered in the civil rights victories being pushed by Dr. King and other civil rights leaders. According to Ms. Clinton without the legislation the marches and the speeches would have been for naught, it took a President to bring about real action. This is such a non-issue, anyone familiar with the times understood that Dr. King needed President Johnson and President Johnson needed Dr. King.

In order to understand this relationship, we must look at the motivations of both men. What did Dr. King want? He wanted equal rights for blacks. Where do rights proceed from? There are many sources of rights. There are the rights endowed by one’s Creator, which should transcend any rights bestowed by man. The problem is that when the founders of this nation started endowing rights on folks they forgot a few.

Certain rights/authority are ours having been given/delegated to us as a result of our position or office: legislators, judges, elders; some because of the responsibility laid on us by God: fathers, mothers, neighbors; and some are ours because they came with us at birth as our Declaration of Independence states: "all men are created equal, ...they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."[1]

So even though we have been granted certain rights by our Creator, here in America those rights have to also be given by the government. Dr. King knew that in order to affect the changes that he sought he would need to involve the head of the government; at that time it was LBJ. The main reason for the marches and protests was to bring political and public pressure on the government to pass legislation to make the changes. Dr. King knew that the shortest way to bring about racial change was to first enact it legally and then he hoped that as the legal barriers had been overcome that at some point the social and the personal would catch up. One has to remember that there were legal barriers that condoned and enforced segregation and Jim Crow and until those barriers were removed there could be no social change. Just like in South Africa the legal mechanisms of apartheid had to be dismantled before any real change could take place. This would involve bringing political pressure against the Congress and the President.

LBJ needed the outrage of the country as it witnessed the horrors of the “legal” responses to the protestors to galvanize support for the civil rights legislation. As the country watched in horror at the high pressure fire hoses, the attack dogs, and the police brutality against non-violent protestors the outcry became too great for the politicians to ignore. The question now becomes could LBJ or any President have enacted legislation without protests? It happens every day; Iraq, No Child Left Behind, etc. Could Dr. King have accomplished his goals without LBJ? Absolutely, the winds of change were blowing. It just would have taken a lot longer if the President had been resistant to the changes. So, like most moments in history both men needed each other to usher in the changes that were bound to happen.

So which came first the chicken or the egg? Does it really matter? What should really matter is what are the differences in the two candidates and which one embodies the changes that we all are seeking. If you don’t want to vote for Hillary that’s fine, but don’t do it because she is a racist or insensitive to black people. If you don’t want to vote for Barack that’s fine, but don’t do it because he is a black drug addict. Dr. King’s dream was that someday we would be all judged on our character; maybe we should start doing that today.


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