In her speech marking the death of Martin Luther King Jr., Hillary Clinton called today for a poverty czar, a Cabinet-level position to coordinate all federal efforts to alleviate poverty.
Clinton said that it was "heartbreaking" to think that King has been dead longer than he was alive. But in that short life, she said, he had "such a profound and lasting impact on all of us" by leading a "revolution of hearts and minds."
Clinton recalled that as a 14-year-old, she listened to King speak in Chicago, brought there by her youth minister, and standing in line to shake King's hand. "He yearned for our country to fulfill the ideals that it had given lip service to," and to redeem the promises of the founding fathers, she told an audience of clergy and others at Mason Temple in Memphis, where King was shot 40 years ago today.
Part of the progress America has made, she said, is that the next president could very well be the first woman -- her -- or the first African-American -- Barack Obama.
"As far as we've come, we know the journey is far from over," she added. It's time, she said, to find solutions that lead to good jobs, rights for unions, good schools, universal healthcare, and an end to poverty.
"I believe we should appoint a cabinet-level position that will be solely and fully devoted to ending poverty as we know it in America, a position that will focus the attention of our nation on this issue," she said. The president would ask the poverty czar, "What have you done today to end poverty in America?"
It is a proposal sought by King's family, and the job could be tailor-made for John Edwards, who campaigned on the issue before dropping out of the nomination race. The 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee is one of the most important party leaders who still has not endorsed either Clinton or Barack Obama.
An emotional Clinton recalled the despair she felt when she found out about King's death, hurling her bookbag against the wall of her dorm room at Wellesley College. "It felt like everything had been shattered," she said, her voice softening.
But then she recalled King's last speech, given in the same church where she spoke, in which he spoke about having been to the mountaintop and having seen the "promised land" on the other side.
"It's not for us to know whether we will get there," she said. "I believe with all my heart it is for us to try."
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.