2/10/2006

a funeral fit for a King

There’s been a lot of talk about the Reverend Joe Lowery’s speech at Coretta Scott King’s funeral, and whether or not it was appropriate to criticize the President there. I don’t know why the pundits and the hacks chose Lowery to pick on. The only one who didn’t make some kind of anti-Bush remark, veiled or otherwise, was Bush’s father. All I can say to Bush & Co. is you reap what you sow. Unfortunately for Mr. Bush, his people could not screen the audience this time, so he got a taste of how the other half feels. And it’s about time.

Rev. Lowery was not the only one to bring politics into it, and that’s partly because King’s legacy is not as some sentimental feel-good beauty makeover queen. Both she and her husband were public—and political—figures. She was as much an activist as a pacifist. And speaking truth to power was what they were all about. And that's what Rev. Lowery was doing. And I say bravo.

But isn’t it funny that instead of expressing outrage over Bush's budget cuts targeting the poor while hundreds of billions are poured into the black hole of Iraq, for the pundits and hacks it’s all about how improper Rev. Lowery was to criticize him? Which is the more important issue? Obviously, it's propriety. It’s impolite to criticize the President. Especially when he made such a nice effort to come down to this negro woman's funeral and make a nice speech. You should have better manners, Rev. Lowery. Shame on you.

While I enjoyed Rev. Lowery’s Seuss-like rhymes, and was moved by Maya Angelou’s electrifying speech, I have to admit I found Bill and Hillary to be speakers of particular interest. Bill Clinton, “America’s first black president” was greeted like a rock star. That was not surprising in and of itself. It was Hillary’s reception once she stepped into the limelight that I thought was telling. She garnered her greatest applause from one of Bill’s lines, which he set up beautifully: “I'm honored to be here with my president and my former presidents, and [pregnant pause] and…” His inflection, and the thrust of the phrase, as well as the fact that he was standing there next to his wife indicated that the rest of the sentence would be “and the future president.” But he didn’t have to say it. There was raucous applause that probably lasted a minute. With Hillary rolling her eyes and gesturing for the audience to settle down.

But when it came time for her to speak for herself they gave her a cool reception. Bill’s rambling speech had an intimate, unscripted feel. He didn’t have any notes, and he spoke in a chatty tone, punctuated by no less than sixteen pauses for applause and laughter, and many more “mm-hmms” and “amens” along the way. 16 to Hillary’s 3. That’s a rout.

Part of the problem with Hillary’s speech was that in tone and content it seemed self-serving and overtly political. She opened with what was surely meant to be a sly, but not too sly reference to 2008. “As we are called, each of us must decide whether to answer that call by saying send me.” It was obvious she thought the line would garner appreciative applause, but it got nothing. No reaction. She repeated the phrase twice more, in the middle and toward the end of the speech, and got the same reaction, which is to say stony silence. Even her husband seemed to have scooched away (he was not holding hands with her throughout, as has been reported) and was staring at his feet.

She clearly erred in drawing even implied parallels between herself and Coretta Scott King, which is obviously what she had attempted to do. Not only was it in bad taste, but it was received in the same spirit as recent pandering comments comparing the House of Representatives to a plantation, which she followed up with “and you know what I mean.” This was some more outsider-insider nudge-nudge-wink-wink “you know what I mean” business, and it went over about as well.

You get the feeling that if she runs in ’08 at least half of those who vote for her will actually be voting for her husband. She hasn’t got his gift, that’s for sure. But on the other hand, she’s at least as gifted a speaker as any of the presidents, aside from him, who preceded her at the podium. So what the hell, right?

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