Noted Civil Rights leader, Rep. John Lewis was in Georgia to attend a ceremony where a naval vessel was being named after him. That is quite a deserving testament to this great man. Afterwards, he said this about Bernie Sander’s proposals regarding free college tuition:
“I think it’s the wrong message to send to any group. There’s not anything free in America. We all have to pay for something. Education is not free. Health care is not free. Food is not free. Water is not free. I think it’s very misleading to say to the American people, we’re going to give you something free.”
Lewis said Americans, and especially young people, must learn the value of hard work. Growing up in Alabama, he said, when he complained that his chores were too difficult, his mother had a message: “Hard work never killed anybody, child.”
Lewis already apologized for his apparently disparaging remarks about Bernie Sanders, and his civil rights work in the 1960’s. Lewis’s statement led people to believe that Bernie was not involved, while Hillary and Bill were active in the movement at that time:
"I never saw him. I never met him. I was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved with the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery and directed (the) voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President (Bill) Clinton."
A casual reader would be likely to think that Sanders was not around during the Civil Rights era, but Hillary and Bill were involved in the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, and the March from Selma.
Since John Lewis is a staunch Clinton supporter, many people thought that Rep. Lewis’s comments were cleverly phrased to lead you to an inaccurate conclusion. Hillary was a Young Republican at the time, and campaigning for Goldwater who opposed the Civil Rights Act.
When confronted with this criticism, Lewis walked back his remarks, and clarified them:
On Saturday, he said he had not meant to express doubt “that Senator Sanders participated in the civil rights movement, neither was I attempting to disparage his activism”.
“The fact that I did not meet him in the movement does not mean I doubted that Senator Sanders participated in the civil rights movement, neither was I attempting to disparage his activism. Thousands sacrificed in the 1960s whose names we will never know, and I have always given honor to their contribution.”
Regarding working with Bill and Hillary, who had not yet met each other, or Lewis, in the early 1960’s, Rep. Lewis explained:
Lewis said he “did not say that I met Hillary and Bill Clinton when I was chairman of SNCC in the 1960s”.
He added: “My point was that when I was doing the work of civil rights, led the Voter Education Project and organized voter registration in the south in the 1970s, I did cross paths with Hillary and Bill Clinton in the field. They were working in politics, and Bill Clinton became attorney general of Arkansas in the 1970s as well.
It is laudable that Rep. Lewis corrected his remarks, but the correction did not achieve the notice that his initial statement did. Many people were concerned that the Hillary Clinton campaign was attempting a version of “swift-boating”, where you attack an opposing candidate’s strength with various eyewitness statements that are misleading, and raise questions about a candidate’s past accomplishments. As we all remember, this was employed successfully by Republicans against John Kerry in 2004.
Hillary Clinton’s surrogates had also raised questions about the validity of Bernie’s civil rights participation when they tried to claim that pictures of Bernie Sanders at civil right’s meetings were not really him. However, the photographer himself reported that it was Sanders, and that he still had many other shots of Sanders that were unpublished.
One of the appealing aspects of Bernie Sanders campaign is his promise of free college tuition, which would be paid for by levying a tax on Wall Street, specifically on speculation practices that would yield $300 billion. The cost of his “College for All” program would be $75 billion dollars. berniesanders.com/...
Since investing in the education of our youth yields the return of a workforce that is better equipped to compete on the world stage, the economy would likely easily recoup the $75 billion dollars as these highly skilled students entered the workforce . Unencumbered by student debt, these students could energize the economy by being able to purchase houses, cars, and other things that students saddled with enormous student debt cannot even dream of buying. The vast majority of our economy is consumer-driven.
A highly trained and talented work force would bring our nation other rewards, and allow us to become leaders once again in a global economy, where we develop transformative technology in many fields, including clean energy, computer technology, genomics, and communications, just to name a few. None of these jobs would be menial, and they would not be sent to other countries for cheap labor, as the other nations would lack the skills of our well-trained workers.
With this background, it was disappointing to hear Rep. Lewis characterize this education plan, that many countries already embrace, as nothing more than “free stuff”, stating that “I think it’s very misleading to say to the American people, we’re going to give you something free.”
Then Rep. Lewis, without realizing it, hearkened back to Republican talking points that if you give someone help, then you will only make them lazy: “Lewis said Americans, and especially young people, must learn the value of hard work.” He equates free tuition with not appreciating the value of hard work.
Actually, graduating from college is hard work. Students receiving free tuition would be expected to engage in difficult studies leading to equally demanding careers. Many of these hard-working students would opt to go into graduate school and achieve advanced degrees. There is nothing easy about that approach.
Rep. Lewis has said many times how much he loves the Clintons. We understand and respect that. However, it would benefit everyone if he considered the impact of Bernie’s proposals, and didn’t dismiss them so readily. I know that Hillary would be reluctant to tax Wall Street. However, no matter how she decided to pay for it, adopting a “College for All” proposal of her own would be a huge win for her campaign and for America’s future.