Clinton Touches off National PTSD

Senator Clinton’s reference to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June of 1968 does not seem to me consequential, for all the brouhaha it has provoked. She was just saying that many previous primaries have gone on into June, including that of Bobby Kennedy before he was cut down.

The idea that she was thinking of the possibility that her rival, Barack Obama, might meet a similar fate is absurd. But I saw pundits on cable t.v. intimating that it was plausible.

I fear she inadvertently stumbled into a hornet’s nest, though.

Because fears for Obama’s safety are widespread, and they are shared by Homeland Security, which gave him Secret Service protection 18 months ago.

It is well known that Colin Powell’s wife did not let him run for president because she was afraid he would be assassinated. Imagine the power of that fear to shape American life. Imagine if Powell had run and won, forestalling W. from ever coming to power.

Former Republican presidential aspirant (and apparently huge tool) Mike Huckabee recently went so far as to joke about Obama being shot at. He was speaking at a National Rifle Association event:

‘ Huckabee made an off-color joke during his speech in Louisville, Kentucky, when a loud bang was heard off-stage. “That was Barack Obama,” Huckabee quipped, “He Just tripped off a chair. He was getting ready to speak. Somebody aimed a gun at him and he…he dove for the floor.” ‘

The shadow that falls on African-Americans who devote themselves to public service at the highest levels is that of Dr. Martin Luther King.

In evoking the tumultuous year of 1968, Clinton was trying to remind people of the long and divisive Democratic primary. But without meaning to, she reminded them of April 4, not June 5, of MLK along with RFK.

I don’t think it is healthy that the information age causes such memes to circulate with such velocity that they are given far more significance than they deserve. Seeing Hillary abjectly and in a stunned voice apologize for any offense made me feel sorry for her. When you speak in public, you always risk misspeaking or having the audience misunderstand your intent. We make our presidential candidates speak constantly in public for 2 years straight, now. It is like a medieval form of torture. It is amazing that anyone runs this gauntlet.

Elections should be about issues, not about this sort of hothouse speculation about personalities.

But there is one sense in which her campaign, at least, bears some responsibility for her current straits. Clinton operatives behind the scenes have been smearing Obama as a Muslim, and it was they who dug up that photo of him in Kenyan clothes. Clinton even said Obama was not a Muslim “as far as I know.” The malice demonstrated in those actions laid the groundwork for people to believe that Clinton was capable of such hostility toward Obama.

The incident, it seems to me, does tell us two other things.

The first is that the strategy of the Clinton camp, of continuing to campaign even after victory at the polls became numerically impossible–in hopes that Obama might stumble and alienate sufficient numbers of superdelegates–was not crazy. I don’t approve of it, but that it could work or could have worked seems clear. It could easily have been Obama who stumbled yesterday. Ironically, it was Clinton.

The second thing the incident tells us is how traumatized the nation still is by those horrible killings 40 years ago, and how much unfinished business of healing those wounds there is. Hillary didn’t mean to pick at the scab. But she did. And we bled a little, all over again.

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