There’s a very nice post by Reihan Salam on the Martin Luther King Jr fiasco, where Clinton seemingly claimed that Lyndon Johnson was more important in promoting the cause of civil rights than MLK. The important issue isn’t racism, as Reihan notes, since it’s highly implausible to think that Clinton is a closet racist in any case. The way I think of the issue is that Clinton has a very particular view of politics that focuses on the people who have official power. For her, change is made by the people who have that power, in the context of doing the most that is allowable given certain political realities. That fact is reflected in her career and Bill’s career–they’re associated with triangulation and a pragmatic acceptance of the political coalitions as they exist. For her, change is nothing more than getting the best deal that is politically viable at the time. The idea of reshaping political realities by operating outside a bipartisan center is fundamentally not the sort of thing that she cares about, or perhaps even views as possible. Given that diagnosis, it’s entirely probable that racial considerations aside, she would view LBJ as the one to watch in the civil rights struggle. I’m sure she reveres MLK, as almost all contemporary Americans do, but when she really starts thinking politics, she’s going to focus on the people who passed legislation. That fact has little to do with race in my opinion. (Just read Reihan, ok. I thought I had something to add, but this is all in his post).
Update: If you want to see what Clinton’s advisers playing the race card might look like, try the “imaginary hip black friend” line. Jamelle has the details (and an opinion that’s the opposite of this mine).