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In speech near Ferguson, Clinton calls for going much further than taking down the Confederate flag

 Pastor Traci Blackmon (L) listens as Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters on June 23, 2015 at Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri.
Pastor Traci Blackmon (L) listens as Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters on June 23, 2015 at Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri.
Whitney Curtis/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that it will take much more than pulling down the Confederate battle flag in South Carolina to heal America's racial divisions.

Speaking less than a week after nine black people were murdered at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and just a few miles from Ferguson, where unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer in August, Clinton applauded South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and other Republicans who said Monday that the flag should be removed from the state Capitol grounds.

"It shouldn’t fly there. It shouldn’t fly anywhere," Clinton said in a speech at a church in Florissant, Mo. "You and I know that’s just the beginning of what we have to do. The truth is, equality, opportunity, civil rights in America are still far from where they need to be."

Her remarks, which were sprinkled with Biblical references, suggest Clinton sees political advantage in continuing to talk directly about race at a time when her Republican rivals have been less willing to do so.

The politics of race

The theme is one Clinton has been consistent on in her early months on the campaign trail. In her first major policy speech, she committed herself to ending the "era of mass incarceration." Since then, she's called for universal voting rights. And over the weekend, in a speech to the US Conference of Mayors in San Francisco, she used the Charleston massacre to press for both gun control and closing racial divides.

"I agree with her. Taking down the despicable Confederate battle flag, while long overdue, is not a substitute for defending voting rights, real economic empowerment, and reforming our criminal justice system," said Rep. William Lacy Clay, who represents Florissant and is supporting Clinton in the presidential campaign.

Polling released Tuesday by NBC and the Wall Street Journal shows that Clinton does better against Republicans Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio with black and Hispanic voters than a generic Democratic candidate, as reported by NBC's First Read.

A generic Democrat has a 62-point lead among African Americans (69%-7%), but Hillary's lead against Bush/Rubio here is 87 points (91%-4%). And a generic Democratic candidate holds a 9-point lead among Latinos (40%-31%), but Hillary's average here against Jeb/Rubio is 42 points (65%-23%).

Those numbers don't account for energy among minority voters, but they suggest Clinton is doing a good job so far of keeping together the voting coalition that helped propel Barack Obama to the presidency twice. They should be concerning to Republicans in part because Rubio pollster Whit Ayres has said the GOP will need 40 percent of the Latino vote to win in 2016.

In context of faith

Clinton sprinkled her remarks with references to her religion, calling on her audience at Christ the King church to turn to faith to heal from racial violence and seek justice.

Jesus Christ's declaration that a sinner should be forgiven 70 times seven is familiar to "those of us who are Christians," Clinton said.

"We have seen that scriptural admonition in action. Isn’t it amazing, remarkable even, when fear, doubt, desire for revenge might have been expected but instead forgiveness is found. Although a fundamental part of our doctrine, its practice is the most difficult thing we are ever called to do."

Clinton spoke of her Methodism toward the end of her remarks, tying her faith to the lessons of her mother, whom she has spoken about often in this campaign, and those of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., whom she saw speak when she was a student.

"Dr. King challenged us to stay engaged in the cause of justice, not to slumber as the world changed around us," she said.

And, returning to Scripture as she closed, Clinton admonished her audience, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."