While those Americans who appreciated Martin Luther King’s vision honored his day yesterday by focusing on his dream of a color-blind society where “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood,” some saw King’s holiday as an excuse to further political divisions. It seems that most of those voices using divisive and angry rhetoric yesterday came from the political left, including the current “front-runner” (if we can use such a term so far out) in the contest for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, New York’s Junior Senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Yesterday, appearing with Reverend Al Sharpton, Mrs. Clinton “compared the Republican-controlled House on Capitol Hill to a ‘plantation’ where opposing views are not tolerated.” Seems this woman is a lot like some of those who criticized my recent post, more eager to offer grandiose slogans than to tell the truth. A White House spokeswoman got it right when she said, “On a day when Americans are focused on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Hillary Clinton is focused on the legacy of Hillary Clinton.”
Mrs. Clinton’s comments yesterday, like a good deal of her rhetoric, makes clear that that legacy will not be one of a unifying national leader, but as a vicious left-wing partisan in the tradition of her party’s national chairman. It seems that she is well aware of the power of the angry left in her party’s nominating process and is throwing them red meat in order to strengthen her position in presidential primaries and caucuses. Yet, the more she appeals to them (as she, in my view, reveals her true colors), the more she diminishes her stature.
In contrast to her husband, Mrs. Clinton does not come across as a leader. As I wrote before, he speaks “in velvet tones while her voice is often harsh and frequently screechy.” She has risen in her party’s leadership not because of her own accomplishments, but because of her husband’s political success. Quite in contrast to career of her Senate colleague Elizabeth Dole, the wife of her husband’s 1996 opponent, who met her husband only after building a successful career. (Indeed, had it not been for her professional success, Elizabeth Hanford may never have met then-Senator Robert Dole.)
This is not to say that Hillary would not have made her mark without marrying her husband, it’s merely to note that she owes her political success more to others than herself. She does not have the commanding presence her husband does, a key ingredient to success in presidential politics. To be sure, Hillary is a bright woman who, in her five years in the Senate, has demonstrated a knack for public policy and the political process. But, she lacks the stature of other women who have risen to political prominence, like Margaret Thatcher, her California colleague, Dianne Feinstein, and the aforementioned Senator Dole.
To overcome her shortcomings, Hillary needs to put forward a unifying vision for leading our nation. To do that, instead of cozying up to divisive demagogues like Al Sharpton, she should study the speeches of such great figures in her own party as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. She could even learn from some of her husband’s rhetoric. But, the way she’s going, especially given her performance yesterday, insteading of sounding like this forward-looking and optimistic Democrats, Mrs. Clinton increasingly coming across as an angry wife who projects her own marital unhappiness onto her political adversaries.
If Hillary really wants to become president, she has to start acting like a national leader and instead of using a holiday honoring one of the greatest Americans of the last century to slur her opponents, she should use the day, as Dr. King used his brief time on this earth, to remind us of the majesty — and unifying power — of our national creed. In appealing for racial equality, Dr. King turned to the words of our founding documents, the vision of our founders and even verses of our patriotic songs. He did not insult his opponents, but encouraged them instead to change their minds as he invited them to extend the liberties they so cherished to all Americans.
Mrs. Clinton should remember that, should she throw her hat into the presidential ring a year or so hence, she would be running to be president of the United States, not merely running against the conservatives whom she loathes (and who, in many cases, loathe her). Her task is to confound her critics by offering a unifying vision and thus show she’s serious about leading the entire country and not just promoting her own partisan agenda and serving her own selfish needs.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
We recommit ourselves to working for the dream that Martin Luther King gave his life for — an America where the dignity of every person is respected; where people are judged not by the color of their skin — by the content of their character; and where the hope of a better tomorrow is in every neighborhood in this country.
UP-UPDATE: Just saw this on National Review Online’s The Corner. First, Tim Graham:
John, that brief AP account (as well as today’s NYT account) is too light on the speech, since she also went after the “culture of corruption” in the GOP–a rich argument from the woman with the bag full of money from Tyson Chicken commodities trading. How can the Dems really believe corruption is “their” issue this year? Do they really believe the voters suffer from complete amnesia of the scandal-packed Clinton years, and beyond?
Then, John J. Miller:
Tim: Yes, HRC went after Republicans on the “culture of corruption,” and you’re right that this seer of cattle-futures trading has no business complaining about such things. But the line about the plantation takes her rhetoric to a new level of outrageousness. This is race-baiting, pure and simple. Republicans should fully expect to have their partisan opponents call them corrupt, especially in the era of Abramoff and the bridges to nowhere. But there should be no place in our public rhetoric for metaphors that make Denny Haster the massa, Tom DeLay an overseer, and the GOP whip — er, let’s not even go there.
UP-UP-UPDATE: In today’s (01-18-06) OpinionJournal Political Diary (available by subscription), John Fund writes on the “inflammatory rhetoric” of “liberal speakers” yesterday, calling Mrs. Clinton and others “manipulative politicians” who “are the major obstacles to letting the country get beyond race.” And concludes:
If GOP Senator Trent Lott was forced to step down from his post as Majority Leader in 2002 for insensitive and thoughtless praise of the late Strom Thurmond, those on the left who deliberately exploit race for political gain deserve at least similar scrutiny and condemnation.