Cennamology Chief Editor
Today marks 50 years of the signing of the most important bill of the 20th century, something that many people at the time said could never be done and that the political environment of the time would not allow it. But nevertheless, it passed, it was signed, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became the law of the land.
But would we be able to do it again, or at all, if the Civil Rights Act had to get through the 113th Congress? Some do not think so. According to Todd S. Purdum in his article published in Politico this morning titled "Why the Civil Rights Act couldn't pass today," the Civil Rights Act would stand very little chance passing today's Congress.
No doubt that the nature of gridlock in Congress today leaves the country plenty of reasons to be pessimistic, but to the point where we should doubt whether or not one of the most necessary pieces of legislation in American history would pass in Congress? Even with our hindsight indicating that a vote in favor of the Civil Rights Act would be common sense today taken into consideration, some are skeptical as to whether it would stand a chance today.
This bipartisanship may be dead today, and if the Congress in 1964 was as deadlocked as it is in 2014, it is unlikely that the bill would have passed. But today, there seems to be a figure that, if he were still alive, would attract bipartisan support - Martin Luther King, Jr.
In his article, Purdum says that King is "the only politically safe ground on which present day leaders could unite." Congressional leaders did just that last week when they locked hands and sang "We Shall Overcome" in the Capitol rotunda. The event was the celebrate the 50 year anniversary and also to award the Congressional Gold Medal to King and his wife, Coretta Scott King. If Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi can lock hands to honor Martin Luther King, I believe that is a sign that there would be hope for the Civil Rights Act in Congress today.
To celebrate the 50 year anniversary, I visited the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington D.C. There I came across a very inspirational quote from King, one of the many carved on the wall of the memorial. The quote is the one I have pictured with this article - "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
This quote provides us with a message that many in Congress have forgotten. On many challenging issues, members of both parties just resort to the stances held by the majority of their base instead of what is right. This is most evident in issues like immigration reform, where the Republican leadership is afraid to upset their base by doing what is right and bringing the Senate bill to the floor. Immigration reform advocates need their own MLK, which would be the missing piece needed in order to pressure John Boehner and the House leadership to agree to a vote on the bill.
However, on the issue of LGBT rights, there are a number of Republican legislators who have risked angering their bases in order to stand up for what is right, taking the advice of King. Most recently, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine came out in support for marriage equality, as did her colleague Rob Portman of Ohio, who supports marriage equality out of love for his son who is openly gay. Other Republican members of Congress who have defied their parties backwards position and come out for what is right include Lisa Murkowski, Mark Kirk, Richard Hanna, David Jolly, Charlie Dent, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. I am sure that there are many more who privately support marriage equality but are too afraid to say it publicly out of fear of backlash from their supporters.
It may be my optimism talking, but I am confident that the Civil Rights Act would pass if it were in Congress today. Congress's approval ratings are at a record low, and members would see this as a way to improve those ratings and lose the title of the "do-nothing Congress." The Voting Rights Act restoration may be stalled in Congress, despite having a strong Republican in James Sensenbrenner supporting it, but the Civil Rights Act was just too groundbreaking and too important that even this Congress would not be stupid enough to pass up the history-making opportunity.
Advisers told President Lyndon B. Johnson that he would be risking reelection in 1964 if her were to sign the bill, but he went on to crush his Republican opponent Barry Goldwater, who voted against the bill, in November. However, the Democratic Party's performance in the south even until this day has still not recovered from the backlash against the bill.
Nevertheless, with a new generation that has emphasized human rights and liberties both at home and abroad, Congress would not be able to avoid this issue if the Civil Rights Act was still not a reality. Therefore, even the Boehner-led House of Representatives would be able to come together and pass the Civil Rights Act. Racial equality is just too important of an issue to ignore in the 21st Century.
I do not think today's members of Congress are so despicable to the point where their consciences would be able to take if they saw African Americans being hosed in the streets, kicked out of and beaten in restaurants, and ordered to the back of the bus and proceed to do nothing to fix the problem. There are still hot-button issues that the parties seem to be unable to agree on including voting rights and voter-ID laws that disproportionately affect minority voters, but if there was still racial violence as widespread and intense today as it was in the 1960s, then even this Congress would act.