The official celebration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a good occasion to reflect on Senator Clinton's recent dig at Senator Obama. Suggesting that Obama is all windy rhetoric to her substance, Clinton compared King to Lyndon Johnson, who, as President, signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It takes a detail-oriented (and white?) President, Clinton suggested, to translate hopes into law.

Putting aside the question of who deserves how much credit for what, it's worth recalling that King himself was a big believer in bringing about legal change. He was not someone who thought that changing hearts and minds was a substitute for changing the law. Rather, he thought that (in today's academic lexicon), it's important to work on both informal social norms and formal legal rules. Or as Dr. King put it much more pithily, "It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important."

Posted by Mike Dorf