Saturday, January 19, 2008

Johnson, King, and the 1964 Civil Rights Act - Bill Moyers cuts through to reality

Among the various race-related incidents and pseudo-incidents that roiled the Obama-Clinton contest last week, there was a completely artificial scandal surrounding some remarks by Hillary Clinton in which she pointed out the undeniable fact that "it took a President" to help consummate the work of Martin Luther King by pushing through the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Partly on the basis of a truncated quotation published in the New York Times and elsewhere (and a silly New York Times editorial about it), many people claimed that Clinton had dismissed the role played by Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, that Clinton's statements had a racist "subtext" that implied racial condenscension, and so on ad nauseam.

Well, such things often happen in politics, especially given the generally pathetic quality of what passes for political journalism in this country. As Bill Moyers observes in this video (picked up by Josh Marshall at TPM, by any objective standard this whole hubbub was "much ado about nothing"--though it did have some real and unfortunate effects in helping poison the political atmosphere.

More important, Moyers then goes on to give give a powerful and eloquent account of the actual history involved, and of the way in which the complex cooperation between Lyndon Johnson and the civil rights movement led by King helped to produce what Moyers correctly calls one of those rare moments "when morality and politics converged." In the process, Moyers brings out some of the larger complexities of democratic politics, including the interplay between social movements, formal institutions, and various modes of political leadership. (For more on that, see an excellent discussion by the historian Sean Wilentz.)

This video clip is terrific ... and, partly because of the fact that Moyers is talking about events in which he was personally involved, genuinely moving. Listen to it HERE. (Transcript HERE.)

Yours for reality-based discourse, political sanity, & democratic politics,
Jeff Weintraub

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home