It's not a surprise that many notable GOP politicians, particularly during election cycles, avoid partisan shows that go against their ideology. Democrats will avoid the evening shows on Fox News, and Republicans won't go on MSNBC's prime-time programming. So it was with great interest I watched when GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain went on Lawrence O'Donnell's MSNBC show. Sure, it wasn't going to be an easy interview, but it might be fun, right?
Much of the interview focuses on Cain's newly released book, This is Herman Cain! In the portion of the interview that I embedded in this blog, O'Donnell questions why Cain wasn't an active participant in the 1960s civil rights movement even. Cain's book says that he was in high school at the time and didn't participate in the movement. O'Donnell points out that he was attending the historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta from 1963-1967.
Personally, I cringed at this point in the interview. I was expecting O'Donnell to distort Cain's book so he could make some good television, but I certainly didn't think he'd sink so low so much as to accuse Cain of being a coward.
I think some of us have a distorted view of social movements in our society, that they were always largely popular and it was just those in power that weren't hearing popular opinion. But in the case of the 1960s civil rights movement (and other social movements) it was always a small portion of Americans who were actively participating in it.
And I can't see where O'Donnell's moral outrage comes from. To be a racial minority in the south in the 1950s and 1960s, to make a public stand like participating in a sit-in or a bus boycott, could result in an arrest, injury, or even death. I certainly can't blame Cain, or any of the other thousands of African-Americans, who chose to keep their heads down and focus on their education or employment.
It's also a false argument that the only way one can work towards civil rights and equality is by participating in social demonstrations and push for political accomplishments. And it's not even an argument that only originated in the 1960s. Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois, both prominent African-American figures in the Reconstruction era, had similar competing philosophies. Washington believed education and cooperation with supportive whites would be the best road to achieving civil rights for African-Americans, whereas Du Bois believed that political victories would lead to victories in the area of civil rights.
O'Donnell tried to backtrack specifically on these comments he made about Cain, but one of his guests the following night pointed out something interesting. It seems to be fairly common to ask African-American politicians where they were during the 1960s civil rights movement, but it isn't so much a question for white politicians who are of a similar age. I wonder why that is? Maybe it's because both Republicans and Democrats of that era have more than a few skeletons to hide.