Obama the most force­ful as he in­vokes South­ern racists of the past in his eu­logy

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - LYNN SWEET D.C. DECODER lsweet@sun­times.com | @lynnsweet

Three ex-pres­i­dents took swings at Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in eu­lo­gies for John Lewis on Thurs­day, with Barack Obama of­fer­ing the strong­est re­buke as he in­voked South­ern racists of the past and pledged to “fight even harder” for vot­ing and other rights Trump is at­tack­ing.

They spoke the day af­ter Trump made a race-based ap­peal for sub­ur­ban votes and hours af­ter his reck­less threat to de­lay the elec­tion, throw­ing the in­cen­di­ary no­tion out there as part of his drive to pre­vent mail-in bal­lots and ques­tion the re­sults if he is de­feated in Novem­ber. He has no power to post­pone the elec­tion.

All th­ese in­ter­re­lated is­sues, said and un­said, in­ter­sected as tributes flowed for Lewis from the pulpit of the Ebenezer Bap­tist Church in At­lanta, the spir­i­tual home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Repub­li­can Ge­orge Bush and Democrats Bill Clin­ton and Obama all spoke, while a let­ter of con­do­lence from the fourth liv­ing for­mer pres­i­dent, Demo­crat Jimmy Carter, 95, who stayed away be­cause of the COVID-19 pan­demic, was also read at the ser­vice.

Lewis, the civil rights gi­ant and a 17-term House mem­ber from Ge­or­gia, died on July 17. Trump did not pay his re­spects when Lewis lay in state at the U.S. Capi­tol, and that sadly speaks for it­self.

Lewis spent years in a quest to cre­ate the Na­tional Mu­seum of African Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture, which ended up on the Na­tional Mall; Bush signed the bill au­tho­riz­ing it on Dec. 16, 2003.

“Lis­ten, John and I had our dis­agree­ments of course. But in the Amer­ica John Lewis fought for and the Amer­ica I be­lieve in, dif­fer­ences of opinion are in­evitable el­e­ments and ev­i­dence of democ­racy in ac­tion,” Bush said, draw­ing an ob­vi­ous con­trast to Trump.

“We the peo­ple, in­clud­ing con­gress­men and pres­i­dents, can have dif­fer­ent views on how to af­fect our union while shar­ing the con­vic­tion that our na­tion, how­ever flawed, is a good and no­ble one.”

‘Open hand was bet­ter than the clenched fist’

Lewis, said Clin­ton, “when he could have been an­gry and de­ter­mined to can­cel his ad­ver­saries, he tried to get con­verts in­stead. He thought the open hand was bet­ter than the clenched fist.”

No for­mer pres­i­dent used Trump’s name. Obama, the first Black pres­i­dent, is in­creas­ingly more di­rect in tak­ing on Trump.

“Bull Con­nor may be gone. But to­day we wit­ness with our own eyes po­lice of­fi­cers kneel­ing on the necks of Black Amer­i­cans,” Obama said.

“Ge­orge Wal­lace may be gone. But we can wit­ness our fed­eral govern­ment send­ing agents to use tear gas and ba­tons against peace­ful demon­stra­tors,” Obama said. He was re­fer­ring to the infamous sher­iff and gov­er­nor and al­lud­ing to fed­eral agents clash­ing with pro­tes­tors in Port­land.

“... But even as we sit here, there are those in power do­ing their darnedest to dis­cour­age peo­ple from vot­ing — by clos­ing polling lo­ca­tions, and tar­get­ing mi­nori­ties and stu­dents with re­stric­tive ID laws, and at­tack­ing our vot­ing rights with sur­gi­cal pre­ci­sion, even un­der­min­ing the postal ser­vice in the run-up to an elec­tion that is go­ing to be de­pen­dent on mailed-in bal­lots so peo­ple don’t get sick.”

Lewis, said Obama, “de­voted his time on this Earth fight­ing the very at­tacks on democ­racy and what’s best in Amer­ica that we are see­ing cir­cu­late right now.”

Trump’s lat­est dog-whis­tle came on Wed­nes­day, when on Twit­ter and in a Texas speech he crowed about void­ing an Obama fair-hous­ing rule. Trump needs sub­ur­ban Repub­li­can vot­ers who took a chance on him in 2016 and likely won’t give him the ben­e­fit of the doubt in 2020.

“I am happy to in­form all of the peo­ple liv­ing their Sub­ur­ban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be both­ered or fi­nan­cially hurt by hav­ing low in­come hous­ing built in your neigh­bor­hood . ... Your hous­ing prices will go up based on the mar­ket, and crime will go down,” Trump tweeted.

Obama un­leashed

At the same time, Trump is step­ping up his bat­tle against mail-in bal­lots, claim­ing, with no proof, mas­sive fraud will take place as vot­ing by mail gains in pop­u­lar­ity in this COVID-19 era. Trump is do­ing this to give him room to ques­tion the elec­tion re­sults and per­haps to dis­tract from his han­dling of the pan­demic.

The un­leashed Obama called for pass­ing the new ver­sion of the 1965 Vot­ing Rights Act, au­to­matic voter reg­is­tra­tion, adding polling places, ex­pand­ing early vot­ing, let­ting more ex-cons vote “and mak­ing Elec­tion Day a na­tional hol­i­day.” In a con­tro­ver­sial move, he called for the Se­nate to end its 60-vote an­tifil­i­buster rule if that’s what it takes to pass civil rights laws.

The les­son Lewis leaves us, Obama said, is “real courage. … Not from turn­ing on each other, but by turn­ing to­wards one an­other. Not by sow­ing ha­tred and di­vi­sion, but by spread­ing love and truth.”


For­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama de­liv­ers a eu­logy Thurs­day at Rep. John Lewis’ fu­neral.

For­mer pres­i­dents Bill Clin­ton (left) and Ge­orge W. Bush (right, with for­mer first lady Laura Bush) also gave eu­lo­gies on Thurs­day.

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