Friday, May 23, 2008


Boy did Hillary put her foot in her mouth this time. Her comment about Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June of 1968 may very well go down as the gaffe that kills her campaign. Talking Points Memo has two videos, the first of the original comment, and the second one of her apology.

This is the apology:

This may be the first time in six months that I am actually willing to give Hillary the benefit of the doubt. I don't think she intended anything other than to refer to the fact that, in 1968, Bobby Kennedy won the California primary in June. I live about 6 blocks from the site of the Ambassador Hotel. It's being torn down to make way for a school, which has been something of a controversy in and of itself. So I am very aware of the circumstances of Bobby Kennedy's death. I also read the Vanity Fair cover story about his campaign for president. So I took her comment at face value; I actually had to read a few comments on a blog before I realized why this was such a big deal. Then, of course, I immediately realized that it would be a very big deal.

As for the content of her comment, that primary seasons have lasted this long, I beg to differ, and I can cite specific evidence from 1992. I moved to Washington, DC, in May of 1992, from my hometown of Detroit, specifically because I wanted to be in Washington well before the elections, specifically because I was very confident that Bill Clinton was going to win the election. I didn't think a generic Democrat was going to win - I thot BILL CLINTON was going to win. And I was right.

Her reference to 1968 is inappropriate in another respect. One reason that the campaign lasted as long as it did is that Lyndon Johnson dropped out of the race in the middle of the primary season. That's extremely unusual, and it shook up the race dramatically. One thing I learned from the Vanity Fair article was that Bobby Kennedy announced his candidacy AFTER the New Hampshire primary, which was in March. His campaign lasted only 82 days. Obama has been running for well over a year. 1968 and 2008 could not be more different. And then, after the primary season was over, came the Democratic convention in Chicago, which was the scene of riots and police violence. And then, after it was all over, Nixon won the election. If I were Hillary Clinton, apart from the very unfortunate mention of an assassination, I really would not want to bring up the Democratic nomination process of 1968.

But what really bothers me about this episode is her apology. She mentions the Kennedy family, which is good, particularly since Ted Kennedy is ill. But that's all she does. She does not seem to have a clue why this was such a major gaffe. Just a bit of historical perspective: two months before RFK's assassination, Martin Luther King was killed. Many African Americans, and in fact many white people, have been very worried that something bad might happen to Obama. I don't think Hillary had any intention of bringing up that idea when she mentioned RFK - on this I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. But once people made that association, it was incumbent on her to recognize that and address it. And she didn't. Which, in a way, is worse. I just read some of the comments on the NY Times blog, and lots of people made the leap to thinking that she was implying that something might happen to Obama, and that's why she should stay in the race. I think all of those people are misinterpreting her comments. That is somewhat unfair to her. But she said it. She is the one running for president. She of all people should be aware of the dangers of saying something that could be misinterpreted in the middle of a campaign. She's in a hole. She really had better figure a way to dig herself out.

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