*The parallel couldn’t have been more stunning. One was a mass march for justice and equality, the other was a mass memorial for tolerance and remembrance.
The mass march was the March on Washington in 1963. Dr. Martin Luther King’s landmark “I Have a Dream” speech was both a measured and moving call for black and white unity to end segregation and racial injustice. But in a bigger sense, it was a plea for tolerance and civility.
Race was not the immediate issue in Tucson, violence and intolerance was, and President Obama’s pitch perfect focus on those themes one week before the King National Holiday captured the spirit and intent of King’s Washington speech. The tragedy was that it took the Tucson massacre as the occasion for Obama to address the concerns of violence and intolerance that tormented King and plagued the civil rights movement.
The March on Washington and the Tucson memorial had another striking parallel. It brought thousands of persons together across gender, class and color lines in a vocal protest against intolerance and violence. This, of course, was a hope and promise of Obama’s election. It showed that millions of whites could strap racial blinders around their eyes and punch the ticket for an African-American for the world’s most powerful political post.
King would almost certainly have glowed with approval at that. But for a time there were a couple of troubling caveats that marred America’s great racial leap forward. Obama won in large part because he did what no other Democratic presidential candidate did, and that includes Bill Clinton.
He turned his presidential campaign into a virtual holy crusade by African-Americans voters to get him in the White House. At the same time, McCain trounced Obama among North and South rural, and blue collar whites. Obama won in only 44 counties in the Appalachian belt, a stretch of more than 400 counties from New York to Mississippi. Overall, he got less than a third of Southern white votes. The racial fault lines were still tightly drawn within a wide segment of the electorate.
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