How is every student who has taken LS 398 with me smarter than Clinton and Obama?

By now you must have heard about this story. Clinton and Obama have been trading barbs about who is responsible for civil rights advances in the United States. The only options in this debate seem to be Martin Luther King Jr. or Lyndon Johnson.   

Hillary said something like: It took Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to realize King’s deam. We know, thanks to our discussion about Michael McCann and Gerald Rosenberg (and others) in Legal Studies 398, that social change is an interactive process in which authority from one social movement actor gives another, perhaps more constrained social actor, the ability to do something. So King’s social activism gave Johnson a reason to sign (to keep the peace), and the earlier supreme court opinions like Brown motivated the social movement actors who participated in the freedom rides, and the threat of more serious uprising (Black Panthers, Malcolm X) played a role as well. Other nominations for important actors?

Or, perhaps more interesting, why did this public debate come down to this ridiculous version of the question? It’s not possible for either of these two to say what surely they know: That this was a social movement in which different parties played different, synergistic roles. there is no one most important person or event.

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5 Responses to How is every student who has taken LS 398 with me smarter than Clinton and Obama?

  1. Scott Cunningham says:

    Is it shocking to anyone here that many people in the U.S. get their news in short sound-bites? CNN, MSNBC, Fox News – whatever your flavor, they are essentially the same; a few minutes worth of news and many hours of controversial pundits vying for ratings.

    Even in what is certain to be one of the most historic campaigns in U.S. history, the candidates are well advised to keep their arguments short and without substance. Too much detail makes it hard for the newsies to break the argument down to 10 seconds or less. It also risks factual mistakes which become fodder for those same pundits, not to mention their opponents. That being said, it should come as no surprise that such an important issue is broken down to a third-grade level. In order to maintain some control of their own message, candidates edit their own comments.

    The losers in this game are obviously those who care about substantive issues and would like a candid debate. Dream on. Hillary and Barak are both well-educated, intelligent people. They know that all of the issues on which they are stumping go much deeper than the American appetite will tolerate. Besides, people who actually read newspapers (or blogs) already know the issues. They made up their minds about a candidate months ago and are unlikely to be swayed, so why waste time and money. Both are merely trying to illustrate separation from each other’s ideals without betraying their Democratic roots. Expect more of the same with a few minor exceptions.

  2. ellencb says:

    I think it’s interesting that it’s Clinton who’s deliberately bringing up the topic of race in this campaign. My impression is that, up until now, Obama has rarely mentioned racial issues in his speeches (maybe related to Katrina, but not so much about his own blackness). Maybe this is the strategy: she improves her credibility by reminding everyone that he is black and casting him as a certain kind of black person. Meanwhile he improves his credibility by not reminding people and letting his audiences project their own racial views onto him.

  3. lbsmom says:

    I agree with Scott. On their own, voters need to dig deeper than media sound bites to discover where candidates stand. By now, each & every candidate is just trying to get elected. That’s how the system works, like it or not. I cannot imagine myself being an undecided voter at this point or even twelve months ago.

  4. evetsnamffoh says:

    lb, i think you make an interesting point about how the media tends to distill this story down to a horserace or individualistic athletic contest – who is better, MLK or LBJ? although i’m not so sure it is fair to say that it is not possible for clinton or obama to “say what they know.”

    both campaigns have tried to make the synergy point (in some ways, that is all Clinton was trying to say in her resonse the Fox News reporter). but the selling point of the story is whether clinton made a racial guffaw or not. this is the dimension of the story – whether clinton said something racist or belittling about MLK – that the media will continually revisit until none of us pay any attention anymore.

    so i suppose the question is how will these sorts of high-profile if dumbed-down media presentations of this history play out in terms of cold, hard votes on primary day. scott is probably right that most people who pay careful attention have already made up their minds. but there are sizeable numbers of folks who have not made up their minds yet, and that do not pay all that much attention, but will vote in the primary.

    my hunch is that many of these primary voters will be thinking something along the lines of “didn’t hillary say something nasty about Martin Luther King? that is not right…” and if i am right that that is the prevailing sentiment, then this simplisitic, dumbed-down media framing may turn out to be a major blunder on clinton’s part going into SC.

    ellencb – while it seems true that obama has not menioned race as a social issue in his speeches much (he does do it when he discusses his personal biography in just about every speech he gives…), his wife michelle has been. i think she will be a huge asset to his campaign in terms of getting out the black vote. in Iowa and NH she was giving this “don’t vote your fears” that he can’t be elected speech that is really effective and addresses race isssues directly. this then allows barack to give speeches that seems sort of above the fray.

  5. evetsnamffoh says:

    oh, btw, evetsnamffoh is just my name spelled backwards.
    and sorry that was not a very legal studies-ish entry, or very funny…

    – steve

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