Wednesday, October 15, 2008

John Lewis Earned the Right to Say Whatever He Wants

By Taylor Marsh

Lewis said: "George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who only desired to exercise their constitutional right." He said McCain and Palin are "playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all." - L.A. Times blog

One thing I think is insulting about modern day politics is this penchant to criticize the criticizer. Another insulting aspect is while criticizing, you embrace the one you're criticizing. It's the double talk hypocrisy that makes your average Harry Truman Democrat want to spit. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Others of the same political stripe keeping their traps shut, respecting that the person making the statement can say whatever he or she wants without having to have you approve or disapprove of it or be automatically associated with it. We've had a lot of this type of rhetorical tap dancing regarding McCain. Democrats feel the need to laud McCain right before they lower the boom on him. This on the one hand, yet there's the other hand rhetorical ridiculousness is enough to make anyone dizzy. None more so than the current kerfuffle surrounding the legendary civil rights leader John Lewis.

“Senator Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies. But John Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked just last night, as well as the baseless and profoundly irresponsible charges from his own running mate that the Democratic nominee for President of the United States ‘pals around with terrorists.’ As Barack Obama has said himself, the last thing we need from either party is the kind of angry, divisive rhetoric that tears us apart at a time of crisis when we desperately need to come together. That is the kind of campaign Senator Obama will continue to run in the weeks ahead,” said Obama-Biden spokesman Bill Burton.

The statement by the Obama camp leads off with an insulting judgment of Lewis, a man whose personal experience and first hand knowledge they have absolutely no right or moral authority to weigh in on or opine upon. Was anyone in the Obama campaign near Lewis when he was almost beaten to death by an angry mob? If so, they can speak to it. Certainly, Barack Obama has only an historical clue what Lewis went through back in those days, having simply benefited from Lewis' fight. But that does not give Obama's campaign any authority or right to weigh in. The notion that Barack Obama would have walked in Lewis' shoes and risked life and limb is laughable, which is proven by the Obama campaign's quick move to disassociate themselves from the civil rights hero who came close to giving his life so future generations, like Obama's, could benefit.

John Lewis can say whatever he wants when it comes to violence having been a witness and victim to that incitement. He can talk about race, hatred and compare Republican tactics to a period that almost got Lewis himself killed, certainly without any chiming in from a 21st century campaign who is quite removed from Lewis' sacrifice and wounds, only recently just beginning to learn what it's like to be black and at the center of American politics.

The only thing worse than Obama's statement was that of John McCain's.

"Congressman John Lewis' comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale. The notion that legitimate criticism of Senator Obama's record and positions could be compared to Governor George Wallace, his segregationist policies and the violence he provoked is unacceptable and has no place in this campaign. I am saddened that John Lewis, a man I've always admired, would make such a brazen and baseless attack on my character and the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events to cheer for the kind of reform that will put America on the right track. I call on Senator Obama to immediately and personally repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments that are so clearly designed to shut down debate 24 days before the election. Our country must return to the important debate about the path forward for America."

This weighing in on Lewis by the presidential peanut gallery is one of the worst aspects of modern politics.

What is "shocking and beyond the pale" is that Governor Palin has been John McCain's shield for incendiary remarks encouraged by the McCain campaign that finally forced him to tell one of his own supporters that Obama wasn't an "Arab" this weekend. Meanwhile, McCain's "Who is Barack Obama" ads continue to run, as wingnut minions like Sean Hannity run specials on Fox that stoke fear, hatred and loathing of a man who is likely our 44th president.

Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain has any moral authority, right or point of grace to say one word to John Lewis about his judgment on what's going on in the campaign. That both of the presidential candidates took it upon themselves to weigh in repels me at a deep level. I stand behind John Lewis, though that's very far behind because I'm not fit to stand anywhere near him, because I didn't walk in his shoes. Neither have Barack Obama or John McCain, and certainly not Sarah Palin.

When a civil rights leader like Rep. John Lewis weighs in politicians should listen, but more importantly, keep their mouths shut. I the presence of John Lewis, a little humility is in order.

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