But by the Content of Their Candidacies

05/25/2011 12:30 pm ET

Today is the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous final speech in Memphis, Tennessee. The one in which he stood on the mountaintop at end of his life's journey, looked back to valley of what had been and surveyed what was yet to come.

Behind was a life full of scattered victories, loss, despair -- depression, even -- but ahead lay many, many dreams.

Over the years, one dream has stood out more than most. The dream he expressed at the 1963 March on Washington, in which his children would one day live in a nation where they would "not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

Those words have become controversial over the years, with conservatives using them to claim King never intended for there to be social subsidies and affirmative action. Michael Eric Dyson picks apart their weak argument in his powerful book on King's legacy, I May Not Get There With You, noting how it ignored the very spirit of King's work and almost everything else he ever said. The event at the Lincoln Memorial was called the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" for a reason, you know.

Still, great progress has been made -- in some areas more than others.

Take the Democratic Party for example. Their Senate Chairmen of the 1960s like segregationists James Eastland and Richard Russell are a far cry from today's progressives like Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd. If anyone has embraced the spirit of Dr. King, surely it's the Democratic Party... right?

Sadly, some Democrats -- with great help from the media -- are becoming fixated on the color of skin with the argument that 'Barack Obama cannot win' because he has trailed Hillary Clinton in some states with white voters. Spurred on by the Clinton campaign, the media has fanned the flames, determining that the only way Obama can lose this thing is if a 'race gap' makes superdelegates bolt.

Obama's campaign is battling back against this, arguing that all along their model has been to expand the Democratic Party, increase the number of black and young voters and bring like-minded independents and Republicans into the fold. It certainly explains several of the overwhelmingly white states he won.

Which is why I ask that today the Party set aside the emphasis being placed on who-won-the-most-white-Democrats-where. Let's consider that there are some states in which the Clintons have been -- and remain -- very popular among Democrats. Consider that maybe these Democrats -- many of whom happen to be white -- are voting on the basis of who their favorite candidate is, and not against Obama on the basis of his race.

Voting on the content of their candidacies, not the color of their skin.

It makes sense, doesn't it? A lot of Democrats are white. And a lot of Democrats really liked the Clintons and want to give them another term in the White House. Hence, a lot of white Democrats will vote for Clinton. More in some places than in others.

But, as the Clintons have been implying lately, does it really mean that Obama is going to be wiped out among white Democrats against John McCain in November?

And if he will be, doesn't that say something terrible about Clinton? That voters aren't really voting for her, but against Obama -- and because she's alleging they're too racist, to boot!

Obama is working to expand the party with activating people who have never voted before. Take them out of the equation, and it would be Clinton with the nomination wrapped up. Clinton came into this race the prohibitive favorite, and at no point has she seemed to hemorrhage her base of support. The difference is that Obama made the pie bigger, and he's won the most states and delegates because of it. Am I the only one that makes sense to?

Apparently Clinton will be in Memphis on Friday to commemorate King's death. It would be most appropriate if she and the media could pay tribute to his life by giving credence to the idea that this campaign is not being judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their candidacies.

Whoever the Democrat is that accepts the nomination on August 28, he or she will be doing it 45 years to the day when King espoused his dream of equality. Both should honor it in their campaigns, and have faith that the Democratic Party is capable of being that just.

Or perhaps it's only a dream, after all?