Most of you reading this commentary will have heard what Hillary Clinton said this afternoon, May 23rd, to the editorial board of South Dakota's Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, in response to a question about staying in the race.
"My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?" she said. "We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California." The New York Times, May 24, 2008, Katharine Q Seelye reporting. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/24/us/pol
And you May have heard Clinton's "apology," also reported by Seelye in the Times.
" `The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Senator Kennedy,' referring to the recent diagnosis of Senator Edward M. Kennedy's brain tumor. She added, `And I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and in particular the Kennedy family was in any way offensive.'"
Hillary's most consistent supporters have been folks over 50, especially women over 50. With her statement about assassination, and her bizarre "apologetic" explanation (namely, I was thinking about Teddy and so I mentioned Bobby's assassination), she just lost a substantial number of these supporters. I will not say all. I will not say those closest to her. But I will say, a very significant number. Most importantly, in terms of the race, many superdelegates in this age cohort, who may have been leaning her way, will be looking around for the nearest Exit sign. Ditto for those who were in favor of placing her in the VP slot.
Members of the Democratic Party who experienced the trauma of the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King will understand that Clinton crossed a line today. Many will agree with Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, an uncommitted superdelegate. Seelye reports that Clyburn "said through a spokeswoman that the comments were `beyond the pale.' " For those who remember Bobby lying in a pool of blood the night that he won the June California primary, little explanation is needed as to why prominent figures shouldn't mention the assassinations of presidential candidates.
To say that Hillary was simply using RFK's assassination as a time marker doesn't cut it. There are simply too many other ways that Hillary could have talked about extended nominating contests. For example, she could have simply said, RFK won the California primary in June. "Oh, but Hillary would never wish the death of another candidate," a supporter might reply. But it is not a question of her wishes, whether benighted or angelic. I leave it to the psychologists to analyze her motivations. What I do know is that someone who lived through the sixties as an adolescent or adult should understand the dangers of invoking the assassination of a presidential candidate during a campaign, especially one in which the front-runner is an African-American. And Clinton not only invoked an assassination, she invoked the assassination of the brother of a Senator who has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. How disturbing is this? Just ask yourself, could you have imagined this story before it happened?
Please don't tell me that her words can be explained away because of Hillary fatigue. First, because she was quite lucid when she was speaking, and, second, because she has raised the issue of assassination before, without using the term.
"NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli notes that Clinton said something similar the day after the Indiana and North Carolina primaries. `Sometimes you gotta calm people down a little bit. But if you look at successful presidential campaigns, my husband did not get the nomination until June of 1992,' she said. `I remember tragically when Senator Kennedy won California near the end of that process.' "http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2
Perhaps most tellingly, her "apology" showed little understanding of the seriousness of her "gaffe." Yes, she should have apologized to the Kennedys, but she should also have taken responsibility for her remarks and made a sincere apology to the American people. She is going to lose support among influential boomers, support that she can't afford to lose at this point.
This is the end of Hillary's quest. Her judgment can no longer be trusted. Democrats will not take a chance on running her for president or VP. It is just awful that it had to end like this.
(As a side note, Hillary has been misleading audiences when she has claimed that Bill's race ran into June. Technically it did because California hadn't voted. But he had the nomination sewed up before California's primary in June. The situation is not analogous to the current race.)
See also, "The President, The Senator, and the Candidate"http://msa4.wordpress.com/