- The Washington Times - Monday, January 14, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said yesterday there was “not one shred of truth” to accusations she belittled Martin Luther King’s legacy, and suggested Sen. Barack Obama is the one pushing race as an issue in the Democratic presidential primaries.

The New York Democrat argued she is best prepared to be president, but also said her rival’s campaign twisted her words to win over voters.

Mrs. Clinton, who said Mr. Obama compared himself to President John F. Kennedy and to King, noted that her point is that the civil rights leader was both powerful and inspiring but he “didn’t just give speeches.”

“He understood that he had to move the political process and bring in those who were in political power, and he campaigned for political leaders, including Lyndon Johnson, because he wanted somebody in the White House who would act on what he had devoted his life to achieving,” Mrs. Clinton said in a wide-ranging interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Host Tim Russert read from an article in South Carolina’s The State newspaper, which quoted black voters troubled by remarks she made about King in relation to Mr. Obama. He also read from a New York Times column suggesting the Clinton campaign is working to undermine the Obama theme that “hope and healing could unify rather than further polarize the country.”

She said the King issue is “an unfortunate story line that the Obama campaign has pushed very successfully.”

The tussle over the civil rights leader began in New Hampshire, when Mrs. Clinton said at a debate, “We don’t need to be raising the false hopes of our country about what can be delivered.”

Mr. Obama started using a riff on her comment in his own campaign speeches, saying it was equivalent to Mr. Kennedy saying the moon was “too far” and King telling civil rights marchers “the dream will die; it can’t be done.”

Mrs. Clinton was widely criticized for her response to Mr. Obama then, when she said King had done a lot but that “it took a president” in Mr. Johnson to get the Civil Rights Act passed.

She told Mr. Russert the Obama campaign is “deliberately distorting” the issue, and said King deserved “the lion’s share of the credit for moving our country and moving our political process” but that he had “partners who were in the political system.”

“I don’t think either of us want to inject race or gender in this campaign,” she said.

But the King comments and former President Bill Clinton’s characterization of Mr. Obama’s Iraq voting record as a “fairytale” during a speech in New Hampshire has sparked racial tension for the first time in this campaign.

She also accused Mr. Russert of giving a misleading excerpt from her husband’s speech, when Mr. Clinton talked about Mr. Obama’s position on Iraq, and said, “Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairytale I’ve ever seen.”

Mr. Clinton was referring to the war votes and made a point to note there is “no difference” between the Iraq voting records of Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton.

But Democratic strategist Donna Brazile called those remarks “depressing” and state Sen. Darrell Jackson of South Carolina, a Clinton supporter, said they were “painful.”

Rep. James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, told the New York Times the King comments prompted him to consider breaking his promise of not endorsing before his state’s Democratic primary on Jan. 26, a contest in which black voters are likely to make up about half the Democratic electorate. Mrs. Clinton said yesterday she spoke with Mr. Clyburn, who now says he will stay neutral but urged the candidates to “be sensitive about the words they use.”

Mr. Obama told reporters on a conference call yesterday it is “ludicrous” for Mrs. Clinton to say his campaign is pushing the issue.

“Senator Clinton made an unfortunate remark, an ill-advised remark, about King and Lyndon Johnson. I didn’t make the statement. I haven’t remarked on it, and she, I think, offended some folks who felt that somehow diminished King’s role in bringing about the Civil Rights Act,” he said.

Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina also addressed the matter yesterday in a speech at a South Carolina church.

“I was troubled recently to see a suggestion that real change came not through the Rev. Martin Luther King, but through a Washington politician. I fundamentally disagree with that. Those who believe that real change starts with Washington politicians have been in Washington too long and are living in a fairytale.”

Mrs. Clinton also used most of the one-hour appearance yesterday to try to trivialize a central point Mr. Obama uses in his campaign that he opposed the Iraq war from its start in a 2002 speech, while she voted to authorize the war in October 2002.

“The story of his campaign is really the story of that speech,” she said. “It is fair to ask questions about what did you do after the speech was over … how do you translate your words into deeds.”

Her campaign later held a conference call with supporters saying Mr. Obama had shown no leadership on the war until he ran for president, and adding his Iraq voting record is “virtually identical” to hers.

Mr. Russert reminded Mrs. Clinton she also initially voted for Iraq funding and against troop withdrawal but switched those votes upon announcing her 2008 bid.

“I’m not premising my campaign on something different,” she said.

The Obama campaign responded that she was “rewriting history,” and Mr. Obama said her comments about his Iraq record on the show are “flat-out wrong.”

“It is absolutely clear, and anyone who has followed this knows that I … stood up against the war when she was voting for it, at a time when she didn’t read the intelligence reports or give diplomacy a chance,” he said.

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