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When Bad Things Happen To Good Candidates

Well, it seems that pretty much everyone's all a-dither about Hillary Clinton mentioning the assassination of Robert Kennedy back in 1968 when discussing why she's staying in the race. Some say it was tactless and graceless; others see it as a veiled threat.

I don't.

I tend to take the historic view on such things, and in her own ham-handed way, Hillary was making a very valid point: sometimes bad things happen to leading candidates, and we'd be wise to make preparations for such events.

For example, in 1992 Ross Perot was making a very credible bid for the presidency on his own third-party ticket when he couldn't contain his inner wigginess any longer and self-destructed in a most spectacular fashion. He ended up proving a spoiler in that race, tipping the balance to Bill Clinton, but after his dust-up with the NAACP he never really recovered.

In 1988, Gary Hart was the Democratic frontrunner when he finally decided to address the questions about his marital infidelity and challenged reporters to follow him around. They did, right to Donna Rice's townhouse, where he spent the night. Splat, crash, burn.

In 1972, Thomas Eagleton was pretty much guaranteed the Democratic nomination for vice-president when his history of mental illness came out, and he went from rising superstar to has-been in an instant.

Also in 1972, George Wallace was making his own credible third-party play for the presidency, when a would-be assassin's bullet took him out of the race.

Hillary addressed 1968, so I'll skip that one over and go to 1944. It's certainly arguable that President Roosevelt should not have run for a fourth term, knowing his health would make an unplanned transition a certainty, but he did anyway.

And back in 1900, a young Republican upstart reformer was causing the party bigwigs all kinds of headaches. They finally hit upon the perfect plan to silence the little punk -- they gave him the "honor" of an office that had tons of prestige, but absolutely no real power. Then an anarchist with an unpronounceable last name ran into President McKinley, and those bigwigs suddenly found that that brash young pain in the ass they thought they'd rid themselves of was suddenly President of the United States. The 1900's equivalent of "oh, shit" echoed through the halls of power when Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office.

I can understand why Hillary Clinton chose not to mention Gary Hart. Not only is Hart still around and semi-active in Democratic politics, making mention of his fall extremely awkward, but the circumstances of Hart's fall bear uncomfortable echoes for her -- or, more specifcally, her husband's own problems with "bimbo eruptions" when he ran for president in 1992. Indeed, talk of Hart was very prominent when the stories about Bill's philandering ways started bubbling to the surface.

No, she probably thought it safer to remind everyone of a candidate whose downfall was purely external, a Democratic martyr whose assassination elevated him to near-saintly status, than to remind everyone of another Democrat who couldn't keep his pants on -- especially one who could still speak out. And while I don't think Hart is a "superdelegate," he certainly could have some say at the Democratic National Convention.

No, Hillary's mention of Bobby Kennedy is nothing more than further proof that the woman has a tin ear when it comes to public perceptions. It was clumsy, it was graceless, and it was just plain stupid to put it forth in a context like she did.

But the essential point she was raising is valid: in politics, anything can happen at any time, to any person.

And, far too often in our history, it has.


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Comments (11)

I think you're being delusi... (Below threshold)
Chris:

I think you're being delusional if you see this as anything but the veiled threat that it was. I cannot believe this woman is so vile all in the pursuit of power.

It wasn't a threat, so much... (Below threshold)

It wasn't a threat, so much as it was wishful thinking.

Well said, Jay. Anyone who... (Below threshold)

Well said, Jay. Anyone who truly believes that Hillary Clinton was, at best, hoping for Barack Obama's assassination or, at worst, activating a sleeper cell of assassins trained for this very purpose, needs to get some fresh air and stop watching so much TV.

Sorry, Jay, that dog won't ... (Below threshold)
Bob:

Sorry, Jay, that dog won't hunt. Hillary's stupid remark (just like her immediately preceding lie that Bill didn't wrap up the 1992 nomination until June, when he actually had it won in March) is not a sensible excuse for her staying in the race. If, God forbid, anything happens to take BHO out of the race, there's little question that HRC will be the Dem nominee. There's no good reason for any candidate (especially not Lady Macbeth) to be mentioning assassination.

It's obvious that Hillary i... (Below threshold)
vince:

It's obvious that Hillary is trying to implant ideas in an unbalanced persons mind, as well as give herself some lame excuse for continuing. There is no way a person as calculating and ruthless as her should be asked to be vice-president and hopefully she has held her last elected office ever.
She does give us all a reason for hope maybe the person who has the next better position in life to ours will have something bad happen so we can jump in and take over, immediately happy that we have hung out to be there when something went wrong.
She has also given me a brand new business model; have an extra one of every employee, just in case they are run over by a car, murdered by a robber, killed in an earthquake, struck by lightning, well, you get the picture.
She is now exploiting the politics of disaster because that is her last slim justification for being the absolutely tasteless, crass and clawing semblance of a human being that she is.
Now that she has completely revealed her true identity like an evil super- villain it is time for the super delegates who have not committed to make their choice and end her desperate posturing once and for all.
She has committed the foulest campaign game of any candidate in U.S. politics in my memory, publicly wishing that her opponent would die so that she can win. The most pathetic wish of all.

It's an intentiona... (Below threshold)
Adrian Browne:

It's an intentionally ambiguous remark for people to read what they want into it and to debate it.

yaaaaawn

I agree with Bob: if someth... (Below threshold)
kevino:

I agree with Bob: if something were to happen to Senator Obama, the party will, of course, turn to her as the nominee. Therefore, it is not an excuse for her to stay in the race. Beyond that, it is a totally crass, unnecessary, and self-centered comment - just what we can except from the Clintons.

Did you really write that w... (Below threshold)
sean o:

Did you really write that with a straight face? Anything can happen?... This so-called 'gaffe' (the headlines choosing that noun are radically euphimistic) so plainly reveals the not quite sane character and motivations of HRC the candidate that even her most die-hard supporters and apologists could not, on a human level, be less than greatly disturbed. I suspect from the callousness of the author that he was not alive at the time of the referenced events.

Dude, if you're going to ta... (Below threshold)
Houndcat:

Dude, if you're going to take the "historic view," at least get the history right.

In 1988, reporters saw Donna Rice leave Gary Hart's townhouse, not the other way around.

In 1972, Tom Eagleton was more than "pretty much guaranteed" to get the Democratic VP nomination when news of his mental health history broke. He WAS the Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee.

Also in 1972, George Wallace was running as a Democrat when he was struck by a would-be assassin, not as an independent. He had run as an independent in 1968.

And in 2008, there was no good reason for Hillary Clinton to raise the spectre of Bobby Kennedy's assassination. None. Had she recognized the gravity of her mistake and apologized graciously to Obama and the nation, she might have retained some hope of leaving the race with some modicum of dignity. Now she has forfeited that opportunity.

Hillary's assassination gaf... (Below threshold)

Hillary's assassination gaffe was not some ghoulish wish that Obama would die or a misinterpretation of history, it was just a tin-eared comment that exemplifies what a mediocre and incompetent campaigner she has been all along.

Par for the course.

Neither Hillary nor Obama w... (Below threshold)
epador:

Neither Hillary nor Obama would support violence against the other. An all out gangland war that would make the Sopranos look like Tom and Jerry would erupt and decimate the Democratic Party. No, the Chicago and Little Rock Godfathers will keep the peace and settle for character assassination rather than physical. For now.




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