On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial Wednesday at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, former President Bill Clinton said Americans should do less griping and more working to make things better.
“Martin Luther King Jr. didn't live and die to hear his heirs whine about political gridlock. It is time to stop complaining," he said, and "put our shoulders against the stubborn gates" that are holding the American people back.
The former president said that if you look at history, this is “nothing new,” referring to Republican efforts to destroy his presidency with investigations, innuendo, and impeachment.
Clinton suggested that Americans can stand up even when the law tilts against them, as it did for black Americans trying to exercise their right to vote in the Jim Crow South. "They showed up, stood in lines and voted anyway," Clinton said referring to last year’s election. But he made a point about Republican efforts to suppress voting rights in the nation.
"A great democracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon," he said to applause.
Many people called Bill Clinton the first African American president. However, just a few steps away from the podium where Clinton made the remark, President Obama, the nation's actual first black president sat listening. Was Clinton addressing his comments to President Obama? Or was he addressing them to the crowd?
President Obama has frequently called out Republicans in Congress for blocking much of what his administration has tried to accomplish, and rightly so. Obama frequently tells audiences not to give up in the face of political intransigence, but he also doesn't hesitate to point it out when he thinks he spots it.
President Clinton did praise Obama's efforts to reform the U.S. healthcare system, as well as his attempts to pass federal gun control legislation.
Republicans cooperated with Clinton more than Obama
Even though House Republicans went so far as pass articles of Impeachment against Bill Clinton, the Republican Congress back then did pass many of the legislative proposals sent over from the Clinton White House. Almost no proposals sent to Congress by President Obama have even received a vote in the House, or were filibustered to death by Republicans in the Senate. The honorary first black president actually saw less gridlock than the actual first African American president, impeachment not withstanding.
Furthermore, Clinton was not impeached until well into his second term, so there is still plenty of time for that. Almost every day now some Republican in either the House or Senate brings up impeachment. Their grounds—Obama is serving while black.
Perhaps Clinton was trying to muster the crowd and blacks in general to hit the streets and march. Perhaps he was trying to incite them to vote out Republicans in Congress that are causing the gridlock. More than likely he was not taking a jab at President Obama, but already Republicans are trying to make a rift out of it.
Racism plays a role in gridlock
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews made the point Wednesday that Republicans can not stand the fact that an African American is president. He said from day one they have denied his legitimacy to be president, opposed all his programs, and they make no bones that they are deliberately obstructing everything he tries to do. Matthews says many won’t say it but he will-- it is because Obama is black.
No Republicans accepted their invitations to speak at the Memorial. Both Bush presidents declined citing poor health. President George W. Bush sent a message, however. Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell gave no explanations. Eric Cantor said that he went to the Selma march in April. It looks like he thinks he paid his dues to blacks by doing that.
Gridlock is real and it is mostly the result of Republican obstruction. Republicans did not show up at the Lincoln Memorial because they have dirty hands and guilty consciences. They are ashamed of their acquiescence to birthersim, attempts to suppress African American voting, for cutting food stamps and Head Start, and for remaining silent when so many Republicans make blatant racist remarks about the first African American president. The latter is something the first “black” president fortunately did not have to endure.