Gathering on the 50th anniversary of the speech that made Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. an icon, a crowd of Democratic partisans, including the president of the United States, attempted to hijack King’s legacy for cynically narrow ends.
The march, or what The Washington Post dubbed a “Washington Entertainment-Political-Celebrity event,” was organized by a coalition of mostly leftist groups — Al Sharpton’s National Action Center, the Urban League, the Rainbow Push Coalition, the NAACP and the Children’s Defense Fund, among others. The speakers roster featured the usual suspects: Benjamin Jealous, Sidney Poitier, Julian Bond, Randi Weingarten, Caroline Kennedy, Al Sharpton, Oprah Winfrey, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and President Obama.
The organizers didn’t see fit to invite Justice Clarence Thomas or Sen. Tim Scott (a Republican). They did invite former presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush, but both declined because of ill health. George W. Bush sent an appropriately appreciative note praising King, but it wasn’t read from the podium or included in news coverage of the event (except in Texas newspapers).
Speaker of the House John Boehner chose to commemorate the anniversary of King’s address at a ceremony in the Capitol. Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who received his invitation just 12 days before the event, had a previously planned event in North Dakota (though he had recently been to Selma and other landmarks with Rep. John L. Lewis to commemorate civil rights anniversaries).
Boehner should have attended, if only because no opportunity should ever be lost to counter the Democratic slander that Republicans and conservatives are hostile to black people. And that was the takeaway from the day.
Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, noted that Klansmen in white sheets are no longer a menace, but there are “judges in black robes in the U.S. Supreme Court striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, opening the floodgates in many states to pass more voter ID laws … with the goal of ensuring we never see a black man elected to the president, or woman, of the United States of America.”
Julian Bond said the Court had “eviscerated” the Voting Rights Act. Martin Luther King III claimed that some use race as a “license to profile, to arrest and even to murder.”
President Obama invited his listeners to conclude that today’s moral equivalents of the white supremacists of old are those who oppose raising the minimum wage and redistributing wealth. Aiming at his favorite straw man, he inveighed against those who “believe that greed is good and compassion ineffective.”
Republicans should never miss an opportunity to respond to this defamation, not because they expect to win black votes but simply because it is a lie. It libels not just Republicans, but America. The achievements of the civil rights movement were bipartisan (though more Republicans voted for the civil rights laws than Democrats). Republicans and Democrats alike recognized the injustice of Jim Crow and racial discrimination and worked to bury them.
But while many Democrats have spent the last 50 years dining out on the glories of 1965 and attempting to throw figurative white sheets over the heads of Republicans, Republicans have been searching for solutions to the post-civil rights era problems plaguing black America. Who has been in the forefront of what many have called “the civil rights issue of our time” — the schools? Republican governors like Bobby Jindal, Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Mary Fallin and Bob McDonnell have championed some form of school choice program for low-income students.
Republican or conservative-leaning businessmen and foundations, from the late Ted Forstmann to the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, to John Walton to Richard DeVos have devoted millions of their own fortunes to providing opportunities for mostly black, inner city kids to get a decent education and a chance at a better life.
In 2004, one of prime movers behind the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Fund was John A. Boehner. It provided funding for thousands of District children to attend private schools — a few even got into Sidwell Friends. In 2009, President Obama attempted to defund it. Working with then-Senator Joe Lieberman, Boehner was able to force it back into the budget.
None of the speakers at the march mentioned that. None would.
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