Blogs > HNN > Historians Should Defend HRC’s RFK Comments

May 25, 2008 8:53 pm


Historians Should Defend HRC’s RFK Comments



Hillary Clinton’s supposedly controversial invocation of Robert Kennedy’s assassination was not only benign, it was precisely the kind of thing historians do all the time. Trying to explain why she did not think it unreasonable to remain in the presidential race, Senator Clinton first noted that her husband’s successful 1992 campaign ran until June. Then, logically, reasonably, she mentioned the most famous June primary in American history, Robert Kennedy’s surprise win in California, which was followed by his assassination.

The fact that we are approaching the fortieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, and that his surviving brother Ted Kennedy has been in the news lately, made Clinton’s mention even more reasonable. As she mentioned while backpedaling, she -- along with many other Americans – has certainly had the Kennedy family on her mind lately.

Whether pro-Hillary or not, historians in particular should defend Hillary. Historians frequently refer to previous incidents to explain current behavior. To perceive hidden agendas in such analogizing is unreasonable. True, Robert Kennedy was tragically assassinated that June; but he also was running in a race that remained wide open that month too. Senator Clinton was in no way calling for an assassination or warning of one. Simply writing that previous statement emphasizes how absurd the charges are. Analogies by nature are selective. The analogizer has the right to pick or choose within reason, as Senator Clinton did in this case.

The real question, of course, is why people are so quick to pounce on Hillary Clinton’s words and impute such horrific motives to her. The answer points to one of the big surprises of this campaign season: the way the partly anticipated Clinton-fatigue has morphed into Clinton-disgust. Democrats who were the chief enablers of Bill Clinton’s hardball politics in the 1990s now profess surprise at both Clintons’ hardball tactics. The cheers have turned into jeers. Clearly, it is one thing when Democrats play tough with Republicans; that seems to be okay. But seeing the Clintons deploy their characteristic sharp-elbow tactics against a fellow Democrat - -and an idealistic African-American Democrat at that – has led to this Democratic wake-up call, slowed Hillary Clinton’s momentum at critical moments, and badly tarnished Bill Clinton’s legacy.

Still, in a long list of Clinton curveballs, sleights-of-hand, manipulations and lies, Hillary Clinton’s innocent Kennedy comments don’t rank. But, for most candidates, when even harmless comments cause massive headaches, that usually is one more sign that it is time to call it quits. So far, Hillary Clinton has refused to read any of those signs. Whether that obtuseness ultimately leads to victory or to even more backlash remains to be seen, but the smart money remains on the latter.



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R.R. Hamilton - 6/5/2008

I am completely neutral in this race -- I may vote Libertarian, but won't be happy even with that -- but I must agree with Ms. Liebman:

As I told my oldest daughter just last night, in my entire life I have never seen the media so completely in the tank for a candidate as I have seen with Obama. When Obama got the majority the other night, Keith Olberman (the posterchild for Bush Derangment Syndrome) said it sent "a tingle up my spine" -- and he was telling this to Chris "Tingle Up My Leg" Matthews. I just hope Keith and Chris and the rest of the media get Obama to autograph their kneepads when this is all over.


Per Fagereng - 5/31/2008

I find it amazing that serious people can get exercised by Clinton's silly remark, but ignore the facts of Robert Kennedy's murder.

The Los Angeles coroner ruled that Kennedy was killed by a shot from behind. Sirhan Sirhan was in front of Kennedy. His gun held seven bullets. At least eight shots were fired.

Why is there no outrage, or a quiet determination to uncover the truth?


Per Fagereng - 5/31/2008

I find it amazing that serious people can get exercised by Clinton's silly remark, but ignore the facts of Robert Kennedy's murder.

The Los Angeles coroner ruled that Kennedy was killed by a shot from behind. Sirhan Sirhan was in front of Kennedy. His gun held seven bullets. At least eight shots were fired.

Why is there no outrage, or a quiet determination to uncover the truth?


E. Simon - 5/31/2008

You know Timothy, it's facts like that which do nothing but take an honest campaign like Hillary's and turn it into a misogynistic hate-fest.


Timothy Stewart-Winter - 5/30/2008

Hillary said in the same breath that her husband didn't sew up the nomination until June, 1992. I think historians probably should dispute this. See Bill Clinton, MY LIFE ("On April 7, we also won in Kansas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. On April 9, Paul Tsongas announced that he would not reenter the race. The fight for the nomination was effectively over").


Nancy Brown - 5/30/2008

I agree. The reason this comment got blown up is because the Obama campaign jumped on it.
Obama has had several gaffes in the past week with huge historical timeline mistakes, but these have received scant notice.


Laura Liebman - 5/28/2008

"But seeing the Clintons deploy their characteristic sharp-elbow tactics against a fellow Democrat - -and an idealistic African-American Democrat at that"
...............................
I beg to differ. If anything sharp-elbow tactics and hardball politics have been deployed against Hillary by not only the obama campaign but by his cheerleaders and enablers in the media. This RFK flare-up only proves that point and is merely the latest manifestation. There has been false accusations of racism on the part of the Clintons not to mention plenty of misogyny. And Obama is anything but idealistic, he is a cynical manipulator of the worst kind, having used dirty tricks and hardball tactics against previous political opponents in the Illinois state senate race and the US senate race. If anything Hillary has treated this unqualified, lightweight obama with kid gloves. If any backlash is occuring, it is by Hillary's supporters who are tired of the hatred and double standards against her.