Tens of thousands of Americans this week are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The festivities culminate tomorrow with President Obama speaking from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his signature “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963.
The 250,000 Americans who heard Dr. King speak that sultry summer day probably never dreamed that the highlight of the 50th anniversary celebration would be a speech by an African American president.
The election -- and reelection -- of Barack Obama as president surely is a sign of racial progress in the last half century. Yet, those who rallied and marched this week are under no illusions that the struggle is over.
Voting rights, one of the key goals of the Civil Rights movement, has come under attack in recent years. Republican-dominated state legislatures have enacted numerous laws requiring state-issued voter IDs and limiting access to polling places, laws aimed at restricting minority voting. This past June, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The high court’s decision appears to have emboldened several states, notably Texas and North Carolina, to implement restrictive voting laws.
The law forbidding discrimination in polling places helped pave the way for Obama’s election. But a sizable number of Americans have never accepted the ascendancy of an African American to the presidency. They demonstrated their animosity in the “birther” movement, claiming the president was born in Kenya (which, in itself, would mean nothing, even if true) or was not in some other way an American citizen. Others claimed he was a Muslim intent on imposing Sharia law on the United States.
These extreme views of the president has dominated the tea party movement, which in turn has overawed and intimidated the Republican Party. A cowed GOP leadership has refused to compromise with Obama and the Democrats, bringing the nation to the brink of numerous and unnecessary crises. Under the influence of the tea party, the Republican Party has been turned into the party of “no.”
While “birthers” have not entirely disappeared (see, Trump, e.g.), they largely have been silenced. The animosity that sparked the birthers has now evolved into a call to impeach the president.
The “Impeach Obama” movement has a legislative champion in Representative Kerry Bentivolio, a freshman Republican from Michigan. “If I could write that bill and submit it, it would be a dream come true,” he told constituents recently.
Bentivolio appears to have little understanding of the constitutional requirements for impeaching a president. But details matter little when animosity is the motivator. And he is not alone in using the August congressional recess to drum up support for a quixotic quest instead of engaging voters in discussions of implementing the Affordable Car Act, balancing the federal budget, or immigration policy.
Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who claims to be Obama’s friend, says impeachment is “perilously close.” Texas Representative Blake Farenthold says the House GOP probably has the votes to impeach the president. Another Texan, Senator Ted Cruz, told a GOP audience “it’s a good question” why the president is not impeached. “The simplest answer,” he said, “[is] to successfully impeach a president you need the votes in the U.S. Senate.” (Impeachment is a House function; conviction is a function of the Senate. So much for constitutional niceties.)
It is instructive that Democrats never called for the impeachment of George W. Bush, who may have committed impeachable offenses in lying about the run-up to the Iraq War, conducting what many argue was an illegal conflict, and sanctioning torture. (The one exception is gadfly Dennis Kucinich, who wants to impeach every president.)
At the least, GOP calls to impeach the president will be one more silly diversion from the serious issues plaguing the nation.
At the worst, it represents the continuing animosity toward the nation’s first African American president, a further demonstration on the this anniversary of “I Have a Dream” of how far the United States has come... and how far it has to go.