Today marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the candidates are taking a break from their usual pandering to pander in a more serious, introspective fashion. Hillary Clinton and John McCain visit Memphis (where King was killed) to speak at events, while Barack Obama will be conspicuously absent as he campaigns elsewhere. The commemoration of King’s legacy gives the candidates, and the pundits, a chance to finally touch on the issue of race in the presidential campaign.
• David Brooks writes that Obama’s campaign represents “the triumph of King’s early-60s style of activism over the angry and reckless late-60s style.” [NYT]
• Chuck Todd and friends find it “odd” that Obama is the only candidate not in Memphis today — although there’s always a choice regarding which events to politicize, this seems like one of those that “cuts across party lines.” McCain, who will be in Memphis longer than Clinton, may be looking to pick off some of her black support should they face each other in the general election. [First Read/MSNBC]
• Juan Williams believes that while King would be pleased to see his efforts reflected in Obama’s political success, Obama has broken from the King tradition by peddling different messages to whites and blacks, and for failing to “challenge racial divisions in America.” [WSJ]
• Michael Eric Dyson also thinks Obama has “seized on the early King” by inspiring Americans to hope for a better future. At the same time, Reverend Jeremiah Wright reflects the later King, who, looking ahead in 1968, questioned whether African-Americans should celebrate the 1976 bicentennial “because [the Declaration of Independence] has never had any real meaning in terms of implementation in our lives.” [LAT]
• Jake Tapper looks at McCain’s often questionable history with regard to King. Most significant is McCain’s 1983 vote against the creation of a national holiday for Dr. King, a vote that he has since said he regrets. In 1987, McCain also supported a decision by Arizona’s governor to rescind the state’s recognition of the holiday. He regrets that stance too, though Tapper is sure that won’t matter to his Democratic opponents. [Political Punch/ABC News]
• Michael Cooper also notes that McCain’s plan to court the African-American vote will be made difficult by Democrats because of his spotty history with civil rights. But McCain’s response to Obama’s proposal to honor Cesar Chavez with a national holiday shows he’s learned from his past political mistakes: “My initial leanings are, why not?” he said. [NYT]
• Lorraine Woellert says that of all the candidates, the “stakes are highest” today for Clinton, who has faced accusations of racial divisiveness this campaign. [Bloomberg]
• Matt Halperin has excerpts from an interview Obama did today with the “Tom Joyner Morning Show,” in which he explained he wasn’t in Memphis today because “this is a message that has to be delivered all across the country” and possibly more so in Indiana and South Dakota, where Obama will be today, than in Memphis. [Page/Time] —Dan Amira
For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.