MLK III to Edwards: ‘Keep Fighting' | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

MLK III to Edwards: ‘Keep Fighting'

Well, CNN's moderators couldn't help themselves. They began tonight's Democratic debate with an actual issue: the economy. In dazzling contrast to MSNBC's scandal-obsessed debate in Las Vegas, Sens. Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama engaged in intelligent, nuanced discourse for extended periods of time. But halfway through, CNN shifted to a looser, more conversational format—and with it, a sharper focus on race in the narrow context of campaign strategy. Echoing weeks of uninspired punditry, CNN moderators asked Edwards how important of a factor race was in the campaign. They asked Obama, essentially, if he was black enough to represent African-American interests-- and whether Bill Clinton was truly the first Black President, as Toni Morrison famously wrote.

Throughout the debate, though, the candidates tackled more substantive questions about racial inequality. Edwards noted that poverty—and, with it, predatory lending—afflicts African-Americans disproportionately throughout the country.

"We can put our heads against the wall, and pretend the past never happened, pretend we didn't live through decades of slavery, followed by decades of segregation, followed by decades of discrimination—which is still going on today," he said, in one of his strongest performances, veering far from the "mill worker" stump speech. "That history, and that legacy, has consequences. And the consequence has been that African American families are more vulnerable."

Obama, in turn, pointed to an apparent racial bias within the criminal justice system. Clinton offered up her support for historically black colleges.

Despite the dumbed-down questions, many of which sought to expose personal feuds within the Clinton and Obama campaigns, the issues kept cropping up: race, poverty, health care, campaign finance reform, Iraq. And as the conversation turned from jabs and rhetoric to policy, it was Edwards' fight to win. He drew the distinction between media-generated "race issues" and the actual problem of race in this country better than Clinton and Obama, who got wrapped up in clearing their own names, and smearing one another's. "This isn't about us," Edwards insisted. Nobody let him forget he was the white guy on stage (at one point Obama jokingly referred to the historic nature of the three candidacies: an African-American, a woman "and John"), but Edwards spoke most eloquently, and persuasively, about erasing fundamental inequalities in America.

Sadly, his performance-- and the issues all three candidates touched upon with conviction-- will be just a blip on the media screen, compared to the debate's real story line. Already, CNN has reported its own victory of style over substance: "Discussions about the economy and health care were overshadowed by heated exchanges between rivals Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama during tonight's Democratic debate."

Eager to invoke race in a substantive way on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Blitzer ended the debate with a topical question that spared no subtlety: Who would King endorse, and why? Obama said he would endorse nobody, but hold each of the candidates accountable. Clinton's answer was more muddled, but it appeared to indirectly refer to her controversial Lyndon B. Johnson analogy, which acknowledged the roles that both King and Johnson played in passing civil-rights legislation.

Edwards, again, returned to the issue of poverty, which he described as both his, and King's, lifelong struggle. The day before the debate, Martin Luther King III wrote a letter to Edwards that praised him for focusing on the issue, and said his candidacy would have made his father "proud." Perhaps it gave Edwards better footing on the stage tonight: reeling from a four percent showing in the Nevada caucus, he nonetheless appeared reenergized and focused. In a race that many have declared untenable for Edwards, King's words offer the candidate a glimmer of hope, and monumental purpose.

Here's the letter in full:

It was good meeting with you yesterday and discussing my father's legacy. On the day when the nation will honor my father, I wanted to follow up with a personal note.

There has been, and will continue to be, a lot of back and forth in the political arena over my father's legacy. It is a commentary on the breadth and depth of his impact that so many people want to claim his legacy. I am concerned that we do not blur the lines and obscure the truth about what he stood for: speaking up for justice for those who have no voice.

I appreciate that on the major issues of health care, the environment, and the economy, you have framed the issues for what they are - a struggle for justice. And, you have almost single-handedly made poverty an issue in this election.

You know as well as anyone that the 37 million people living in poverty have no voice in our system. They don't have lobbyists in Washington and they don't get to go to lunch with members of Congress. Speaking up for them is not politically convenient. But, it is the right thing to do.
I am disturbed by how little attention the topic of economic justice has received during this campaign. I want to challenge all candidates to follow your lead, and speak up loudly and forcefully on the issue of economic justice in America.

From our conversation yesterday, I know this is personal for you. I know you know what it means to come from nothing. I know you know what it means to get the opportunities you need to build a better life. And, I know you know that injustice is alive and well in America, because millions of people will never get the same opportunities you had.

I believe that now, more than ever, we need a leader who wakes up every morning with the knowledge of that injustice in the forefront of their minds, and who knows that when we commit ourselves to a cause as a nation, we can make major strides in our own lifetimes. My father was not driven by an illusory vision of a perfect society. He was driven by the certain knowledge that when people of good faith and strong principles commit to making things better, we can change hearts, we can change minds, and we can change lives.

So, I urge you: keep going. Ignore the pundits, who think this is a horserace, not a fight for justice. My dad was a fighter. As a friend and a believer in my father's words that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, I say to you: keep going. Keep fighting. My father would be proud.

Previous Comments

ID
116505
Comment

I heard some of the back-and-forth on the news this morning. I think Obama and Clinton just handed South Carolina to Edwards. It's already his home state; they're just making it easier for him to win by fighting. Enough of the he-said-she-said stuff. Focus on the issues and what you're going to do to fix this country. I know they may feel the need to defend themselves when accusations are made, but the bickering only makes them look bad. They'll be airing clips all week, so I'm sure Obama and Clinton will have plenty of time to think about their performance and how to go forward, hopefully for the better.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2008-01-22T07:01:01-06:00
ID
116506
Comment

Had more time to think... Could Obama win because some may see his actions as a way of showing people that he is strong and can't be bullied?

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2008-01-22T07:24:59-06:00
ID
116507
Comment

Despite the dumbed-down questions, many of which sought to expose personal feuds within the Clinton and Obama campaigns Yes, we're seeing horserace reporting at its absolute worst this year. One of the most horrible thoughts ever is to see substantive race issues shoehorned into sensationalist, fake objective daily reporting. The media may face the biggest challenge it's ever faced in this campaign, and I don't have high confidence that they will meet it well. Great post, Matt. Wonderful to have you watching the campaigns for us.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-01-22T12:21:06-06:00
ID
116508
Comment

It is likely to get much worse if it turns out to be an open race going into the conventions.

Author
Willezurmacht
Date
2008-01-22T12:41:54-06:00
ID
116509
Comment

Look at this AP story, for instance. It's all horse race. Unless I'm missing it, I can't even find what Bill Clinton was supposed to have misrepresented about Obama in this story. It's all about back-and-forth, he-said-she-said crap. They talk about Obama's "truth squad." OK, what is it saying? What is the substance? Where is the factchecking? What a load of crap.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-01-22T12:52:28-06:00
ID
116510
Comment

That's some article. Makes me tense. Can't read too many of those.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2008-01-22T22:33:48-06:00

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