Why So Many Support the Untrustable Hillary

The most prominent figure in the civil rights movement looked into the cameras. It was a rare comment on a local election to a state legislature.

…the state legislature’s unconscionable refusal on Monday, to seat Representative Julian Bond.

– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, January, 1966

Julian Bond was in his mid twenties when he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives.

It was groundbreaking. New federal voting rights laws had brought in a new constituency. Black people in Georgia could finally vote. They voted for Bond. He and ten other African-Americans were elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. Nothing like it had happened since the end of post-Civil War Reconstruction in the 1870s.

One remnant remaining of that reconstruction period had been a loyalty oath. After the Civil War, during reconstruction, ex-confederates could hold office but they, and anyone else elected to state government, had to take an oath of loyalty to the United States.

Nearly a century later, in 1966, state law still required that all members take that oath. But young Mr. Bond had spoken out against the Vietnam war.

…there will never be decent treatment for minority peoples in this country until we begin to concentrate on freedom and justice and equality for those at home, and stop worrying about puppet dictatorships and despotic governments in Southeast Asia.

Julian Bond, 1967

The Georgia legislature decided that he was insincere in his statement of loyalty. They voted not to accept him as a member. He was expelled even before he could be sworn in.

The expulsion created a vacancy and a special election was held. Julian Bond won the election to replace himself. The legislature again refused to allow him to serve in office. After all, he was against the Vietnam war. He was not a loyal American.

He spoke on national television of two issues:

…certainly the right to free speech, the right to dissent, the right to voice an opinion that may be unpopular. But I think a second and equally important issue is the right of people, in this case my constituents, to be represented by someone they chose…

Julian Bond, Meet the Press, January 30, 1966

This went on until the Supreme Court of the United States ruled on his right to speak and run for office. The High Court told the Georgia legislature that Julian Bond was right and they were wrong. He took his place in the Georgia House of Representatives, then was re-elected three more times after that.

He ran for the Georgia Senate. His constituents had not forgotten how he had fought injustice and war. He was elected. Then elected again and again.

Conservative politicians in Georgia didn’t much like Senator Bond. They couldn’t expel him. The Supreme court had already made that clear. They couldn’t defeat him in a fair election.

So they decided to play dirty. They redrew his district him so he couldn’t get elected. He got elected anyway. They redrew his district again, and when that didn’t work, they redrew the district a third time. He still kept winning.

In all, he was elected 4 times to the Georgia House, not counting the those elections he won back when they refused to let him in. Then he was elected six times to the Georgia Senate.

Decades later, he spoke eloquently of what had inspired him to become involved in a life of public activism. It happened on a bridge. The nation watched people attacked by Alabama State Police as they tried to walk for voting rights across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. They were savagely beaten as they knelt to pray. 67 were injured, 17 of those were hospitalized. One was activist John Lewis. The televised beating became known as Bloody Sunday.

Crossing the river, looking down at the water, wondering what I’d do if there were a line of state troopers ahead. Would I behave with the same courage and dignity as did those people all those many many years ago?

Julian Bond, August 11, 2014

His political career in Georgia state government had made him nationally famous. Delegates wanted to put his name in for the Democratic nomination for Vice President in 1968. By that time, it would have been purely honorary. He was 28 years old, still too young to qualify, and he asked that his name be withdrawn. He became a center of pride for people in and around the district he represented in state government.

His election to the United States House of Representatives was a natural move. He ran in 1986.

He lost.
Badly.

And his career as a politician was over forever.

That loss probably ended up enhancing his future contributions. He went on to other positions. He spoke out for other important issues. And he became even more prominent as a national figure campaigning for the rights of those whose rights were vulnerable.

He had lost that race for the most basic of reasons. His opponent was John Lewis.

Julian Bond had been inspired by what had happened on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

John Lewis had been on that bridge.
He had been beaten on that bridge.
He had had his head cracked open and had nearly died on that bridge.

Voters may have been impressed by Julian Bond’s hard work and activism for the rights of all. They were more impressed by the scars that John Lewis carried after putting himself in harm’s way, after nearly being killed.

I think of that Congressional election, the election that seemed at the time to dim the bright future of Julian Bond, as I consider the battle for the Democratic nomination for President in 2016.

Not all, but many, young voters support Senator Bernie Sanders. Not all, but most, older Democrats cast ballots for Hillary Clinton.

One dividing line is how Hillary Clinton herself is viewed. How worthy of our trust has she proven to be?

Senator Sanders has attacked her participation in a corrupt political system. But he has, with a few notable exceptions, refrained from attacking her honesty except by inference. The inference is occasionally strong.

The most direct assaults on Hillary Clinton have been by Republicans. And those attacks have not been confined to this election. They have spanned nearly three decades. It is understandable that those who hear the drumbeat of accusation and glimpse the fire of investigation may smell the smoke and suspect a deeper stench.

Some of those who have aged along with Hillary Clinton smell the same smoke and sense another Salem, one of witches and trials. It may be easier for Democrats of a prior generation to recall her early fights for healthcare, safety, and rights and to see the connection between those battles and those conservative attacks.

In an unguarded moment, one Republican official explained.

Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi Special Committee, a Select Committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Cause she’s untrustable!

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, September 29, 2015

Representative Kevin McCarthy articulated an open secret. The investigation into Benghazi, like so many investigations into so many accusations, was not for the purpose of finding facts, but for the purpose of generating a lack of trust.

Any summary of a mass of voters will be simplistic. No single set of motivations will be universally sound. There will be other judgments, some well reasoned.

But I suspect a single pattern may be just under the surface of most of the tide that is turning toward Hillary Clinton.

Bernie Sanders is seen by those whose support he has earned as holding an understandable moral outrage. Politics and the economy have grown increasingly corrupt.

Hillary Clinton is seen by those whose support she enjoys as having been in the arena, fighting the good fight.

He articulates forthright positions that reflect a desire for a fair economy and a just political system.

She has fought for us over the years and she has been targeted.

He is supported because he carries the banner of truth into the great battles for equality.

She is supported because she carries deep and lasting scars from fighting those battles.


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