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Posted by on May 25, 2008 in Politics | 3 comments

Clinton’s RFK Assassination Reference Irks Kennedy Family

If a lot of members of the Kennedy family had earlier broken with Senator Hillary Clinton in her drive for the 2008 Democratic party nomination, then consider her comments about Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, how it ties in with her desire to stay in the race and the way they were widely interpreted to now have created a bigger break — and sparked considerable anger.

Not only that, but some of them them think it’s the last hurrah of a “sloppy” campaign.

So says the New York Post in a story quoting unnamed Kennedy family sources. But as anyone who has worked as an editor or reporter on a newspaper knows, stories like these are NOT created by editors or reporters sitting around an inventing quotes. That happens rarely and when it does those journalists get the boot. So this is strong stuff:

Members of the Kennedy family are incensed over Hillary Rodham Clinton’s invoking the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy to explain why she’s staying in the race – and they think it could be the death knell of an increasingly desperate and sloppy campaign.

“That comment may be the last nail in her campaign’s coffin,” a Kennedy relative told The Post. “How can Hillary even use the experience argument when she repeatedly pushes the wrong buttons in her comments?”

An insider added, “I think people really felt that a line was crossed and that her campaign – and even her legitimacy as a politician – ended today.”

Said a second relative, “She no longer has only her husband to blame for the ill-chosen comments coming from her camp.”

That’s about as blunt as you can get. And the word “legitimacy” is particularly ironic: one of Clinton’s arguments she has been making, without using the word, is that rival Democrat Barack Obama’s nomination might not be legitimate if the Florida and Michigan delegations were not seated and its votes counted, a stance her campaign had earlier not taken but took once she needed those votes.

The Post piece notes that while high-profile Clinton supporter Robert F. Kennedy Jr. immediately defended Clinton’s remarks, ” others in the family’s inner circle are fuming”:

One cited “a perceived insensitivity” in her comment, made Friday before a South Dakota newspaper’s editorial board, especially with the 40th anniversary of RFK’s death two weeks away and Sen. Ted Kennedy battling a brain tumor.

“We were all sort of dumbfounded that she would say such a thing,” the insider said.

There was also anger outside the family. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), a Hillary supporter, told Bloomberg News that she said “the dumbest thing you could have possibly said.”

Note the Rangel was giving the press a re-run quote here. He called Clinton’s comment about her white voter support pretty much the same thing.

And the Rev. Al Sharpton ripped the comment as dangerous.

The Kennedy family insider added: “I know that many Clinton supporters in New York and New Jersey are sickened by her comments and that they are more concerned with Senator Kennedy’s health and well-being than they are her campaign anymore.

Clinton’s comment, which some analysts and some reporters say was blown way out of context, will likely have “legs” for a while in the news media for one reason:

Her defense of them was peppered with historical inaccuracies, the kind of errors and inadvertent or otherwise distortions that will cast doubt on her larger credibility. The Post again:

Clinton was explaining why she was still in the race against Sen. Barack Obama when she said: “My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June. Right?”

Then she added: “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”

That line, which she later said was meant to convey the fact that nomination battles can extend late into the primary season, also sparked outrage for touching upon Obama’s personal safety.

It was also just plain inaccurate, say historians, noting that Clinton’s drawn-out battle with Obama in a seemingly endless primary season is nothing like the 1968 and 1992 Democratic campaigns.

Bobby Kennedy was not in the midst of a long-fought primary battle when he was assassinated. He entered the race on March 16, 1968, less than three months before the June 5 shooting.

As for Bill Clinton, despite his wife’s perceptions, he’d won the nomination long before mid-June 1992. The race was essentially over by March 20, when Paul Tsongas dropped out and Clinton became the front-runner with a 7-to-1 delegate lead over Jerry Brown.

How do the bulk of prominent Kennedy family members view Obama?

Obama was chosen by Ted Kennedy to replace him in giving a commencement address at Wesleyan University’s. Many had considered Teddy’s endorsement of Obama a few months ago as the Kennedy family “passing the torch” to him figurative — but the commencement address is a bit more literal.

Meanwhile, Clinton has written a column in the rival New York Daily News, explaining why she’s still in the race. It’s part mea culpa and part reaffirmation.

Mea culpa:

I want to set the record straight: I was making the simple point that given our history, the length of this year’s primary contest is nothing unusual. Both the executive editor of the newspaper where I made the remarks, and Sen. Kennedy’s son, Bobby Kennedy Jr., put out statements confirming that this was the clear meaning of my remarks. Bobby stated, “I understand how highly charged the atmosphere is, but I think it is a mistake for people to take offense.”

I realize that any reference to that traumatic moment for our nation can be deeply painful – particularly for members of the Kennedy family, who have been in my heart and prayers over this past week. And I expressed regret right away for any pain I caused.

But I was deeply dismayed and disturbed that my comment would be construed in a way that flies in the face of everything I stand for – and everything I am fighting for in this election.

Affirmation is much longer. Here’s the end of it:

Finally, I am running because I believe I’m the strongest candidate to stand toe-to-toe with Sen. McCain. Delegate math might be complicated – but electoral math is not. Our campaign is winning the popular vote – and we’ve been winning the swing states we need to get 270 electoral votes and take back the White House: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arkansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Michigan, Florida and West Virginia.

But no matter what happens in this primary, I am committed to unifying this party. Ultimately, what Sen. Obama and I share is so much greater than our differences. And I know that if we come together, as a party and a people, there is no challenge we cannot meet, no barrier we cannot break and no dream we cannot realize.

However, even in the Daily News — and remember this like the Post is a powerful paper in her political home state — she did not get off scott free.

Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin has a column titled “Hil is her own worst enemy.” It reads, in part:

Context, as in “you’ve taken my words out of context,” is the last refuge of a politician caught with foot in mouth. That’s where Hillary Clinton is today, alternately explaining and apologizing. But with both feet in her mouth, she doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Gravity is the toughest opponent of all, even for a Clinton hellbent on a comeback.

Of course the meaning of words can be distorted if they are lifted from their surroundings. The problem for Clinton is that her reference to the assassination to Robert F. Kennedy is just as outlandish when everything she said before and after is taken into account.

There is no question she was citing the RFK murder of 40 years ago in the spirit of “anything can happen” and thus as a reason she should stay in the race against Barack Obama.

Which means she was thinking of murder as a momentum changer. Not a pretty thought in any context.

But the full context works against Clinton for a larger reason, too. The assassination remark is the latest evidence that her increasingly erratic campaign suffers from a severe case of split personality disorder.

One day it’s a focused machine, gobbling up votes in numbers big enough to stave off Obama’s nomination triumph. The next day the same machine spews out gaffes and B.S. as though it’s been sabotaged.

And that is the biggest problem:

Clinton’s campaign in recent months has been a series of toe-stubbings, a series of comments that created fiery controversy, and political tactics that have greatly polarized the Democratic party and deepened its divisions during a year when it was SUPPOSED to have a good chance of re-winning the White House. If voters — and superdelegates — project that to how she would govern in the Oval Office, it’s a notably unpretty thought.

Goodwin concludes:

This one matters most because the notion of Obama being assassinated has been much discussed. He is the first black candidate with a real chance to be President, and, not incidentally, received the endorsement of Ted and Caroline Kennedy, making him the symbolic heir to the Camelot legend that was twice felled by assassin bullets. She couldn’t have picked a worse point.

Still, myths aside, Obama is looking weak. In addition to Clinton’s pounding him in key states, President Bush and Republican nominee John McCain have taken turns using Obama as a piñata. His yes-we-can crusade has been reduced to explaining why he wants to meet personally with the leader of Iran, whose militias are killing American troops in Iraq and who pledges to wipe Israel off the map.

Obama’s views on the Mideast are so muddled the appeasement label is starting to stick, but Clinton is in no position to benefit. That’s the impact, full and final, of her mentioning murder in a political context.

The problem for Clinton is that it isn’t just one comment that some have taken — even if incorrectly — as cold-hearted, clinical and controversial. It comes amid a Hometown Buffet of hot-button and controversial comments from her and her husband, the changing of goal-posts by the campaign, and hideous relations with the press for the first part of the campaign.

Many skillful politicians have a good-will safety net with opponents and the press so if they fall, they take a hit but the net protects them.

Clinton broke through her net some time ago.

And now there is only one place to land…..

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