Clinton Goes Political at ‘I Have a Dream’ Commemoration

The former president mocked the Supreme Court, endorsed Obamacare, and took on gun-rights advocates.

Former President Bill Clinton speaks at the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Aug. 28, 2013, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
National Journal
Patrick Reis
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Patrick Reis
Aug. 28, 2013, 11:20 a.m.

Former Pres­id­ent Bill Clin­ton did not shy away from polit­ic­al ad­vocacy while com­mem­or­at­ing Dr. Mar­tin Luth­er King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” opt­ing in­stead to push a policy agenda closely aligned to Pres­id­ent Obama’s and to rip the Su­preme Court over its de­cision on the Vot­ing Rights Act.

Clin­ton mocked the lo­gic the high court used in June to lift the re­quire­ment for cer­tain states — largely in the South — to get fed­er­al ap­prov­al be­fore chan­ging their vot­ing laws and pro­ced­ures.

The states “made it harder for Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans and His­pan­ics and stu­dents and the eld­erly and the in­firm and poor work­ing folks to vote. What do you know? They showed up, stood in line for hours, and voted any­way, so ob­vi­ously we don’t need any kind of law,” Clin­ton said with heavy sar­casm.

“But a great demo­cracy does not make it harder to vote than to buy an as­sault weapon,” he de­clared.

The as­sault-weapon men­tion is a barb aimed at an­ti­gun con­trol groups that suc­cess­fully blocked Obama’s pro­pos­al to ex­pand back­ground checks on weapons pur­chases.

Clin­ton’s speech also in­cluded policy en­dorse­ments for sev­er­al oth­er of Obama’s pre­ferred policies, in­clud­ing the pres­id­ent’s health care over­haul and more fed­er­al fund­ing for sci­ence and tech­no­logy.

Clin­ton spoke ex­tens­ively in praise of King and oth­er civil-rights lead­ers, say­ing the March for Jobs and Free­dom was “one of the most im­port­ant days in Amer­ic­an his­tory.”

“They moved mil­lions, in­clud­ing a 17-year-old boy watch­ing alone in his home in Arkan­sas,” he said.

The polit­ic­al nature of the rest of Clin­ton’s re­marks may open the former pres­id­ent to ac­cus­a­tions of politi­ciz­ing the speech’s 50th an­niversary, as oth­er speak­ers op­ted to con­fine their re­marks to non-con­tro­ver­sial themes such as the ab­ol­i­tion of Jim Crow laws, the con­dem­na­tion of ra­cially mo­tiv­ated vi­ol­ence, and sup­port for the Civil Rights Act.

But, as Na­tion­al Journal‘s Matt Ber­man points out, King’s po­s­i­tions were nev­er lim­ited to the “safe-for-all-polit­ic­al-stripes” themes he is of­ten re­membered for today; the rev­er­end con­demned Amer­ic­an for­eign policy in Vi­et­nam in the strongest pos­sible terms — in­clud­ing by com­par­ing U.S. ac­tions to those of Nazi Ger­many — andwas a strong ad­voc­ate of so­cial pro­gram­ming aimed at re­du­cing poverty.

This post was up­dated at 6 p.m. to cla­ri­fy the in­tent of the re­cently-de­feated fire­arm back­ground check bill.

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