Left Out

08.29.13

No Republicans at March on Washington Anniversary

The speakers at the 50th anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington were uniformly left-of-center.

The lack of Republican speakers at the official commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington has stirred comment across the political spectrum. King's son, Martin Luther King III, was disappointed that "we didn't have bipartisanship," while Fox News' Bill O'Reilly raged at what he called the exclusion of "black Republicans and other conservatives."

The boldface names at the event were all Democrats: Barack Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter spoke. But the undercard was uniformly left-of-center as well. While a number of Democratic elected officials spoke, including Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), as well as officials from groups closely tied to the Democratic Party, such as labor unions, there was not a single Republican who addressed the crowd, let alone a representative of the business community. In fact, the closest thing to a member of the GOP to address the crowd was Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) who isn't a Democrat, he just caucuses with them.

Some Republicans were invited though, both George H.W. and George W. Bush declined to attend because of health issues and Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor both had scheduling conflicts. (Speaker Boehner did speak at a congressional commemoration of the march.) In addition CQ/Roll Call reported that John McCain and Jeb Bush were invited to speak but that Tim Scott, the only African American currently serving in the U.S. Senate, was only invited to attend as a spectator. The Daily Beast contacted the march's organizers for comment but did not receive a response. 

The original march on Washington was an affair that had an definite left-of- center orientation. After all, it was organized by Bayard Rustin, a gay socialist and pacifist, and put forward an agenda that included a push for a higher minimum wage and increased government spending on public works. But this wasn't the original March on Washington, it was a nonpartisan observance of an event that now has a hallowed place in the American mythos and to remember Martin Luther King, a man with his own monument on the Mall and a national holiday. 

It does not appear that the march's organizers were intentionally snubbing Republicans, but the lack of political diversity on stage added unnecessary and unfortunate controversy to what should have been a celebration of the legacy of the civil-rights movement. It is a shame that those organizing the march did not show more foresight.