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Just a careless remark?

Associated Press | 5/27/2008, 8:54 a.m.

Just a careless remark?

“She’ll probably say she misspoke just like she did with the Bosnian sniper fire.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hillary Clinton cited the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968 as part of the reason she continues to stay in the presidential campaign.

Americans were horrified to hear Hillary Clinton refer to the June 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy while discussing her reasons for staying in the presidential race.

“My husband [former President Bill Clinton] did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June … We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California,” Clinton said during an interview with the editorial board of the Argus Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D., last Friday.

The specter of political assassination has long haunted the American psyche. Four presidents have been assassinated in office: Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy. There have also been 14 unsuccessful attempts to assassinate presidents, most thwarted before generating much publicity. However, many people remember the assault on Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley Jr. in 1981. A common attribute of these incidents is the mental derangement of the assailants.

A major responsibility of a national leader is to inspire citizens to reach for the higher good. With last week’s comments, Clinton shirked that responsibility. Violence is a serious problem in America, and such a careless remark could encourage one of Clinton’s supporters, even “… among working, hardworking Americans, white Americans …,” to attempt to forcibly remove Barack Obama from the race.

The 12th century conflict between King Henry II of England and Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, is the classic illustration of the consequences of intemperate language by a political leader. When Becket refused to submit to the primacy of the crown over the church, Henry reportedly said, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” Four knights then slaughtered Becket out of devotion to the king. Historians have since argued whether that was actually the result desired by Henry.

Clinton knew that her interview with the Argus Leader’s editorial board was being recorded for the paper’s Web site and would have instant broad circulation on the Internet. Newspapers, television news outlets and political pundits would then disseminate the story across the nation.

Clinton’s comments had a chilling effect among African Americans. Thoughts quickly turned to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and the numerous attempts on the life of Minister Louis Farrakhan. There has been great concern for the safety of Obama, who began receiving Secret Service protection in May 2007, the “earliest such security measures [have] ever been taken for a candidate,” according to The Associated Press. Clinton’s remarks demonstrated little sensitivity to the anxiety of African Americans over Obama’s security.

From Clinton’s perspective, the furor over her comments probably makes little difference, as she has already lost the black vote. There seems to be nothing that she won’t say or do to get elected. She concocted the story of ducking sniper fire in Bosnia to emphasize her foreign policy credentials. Everywhere she goes, she becomes a cultural chameleon, changing her persona to win votes. At first she supported the Democratic Party’s decision not to count votes from Michigan and Florida as punishment for those states holding their primaries earlier than party rules allowed. Now that the delegates from those states could be of use to her, she wants to overturn her own position.

This lack of authenticity is destructive to the character and integrity of the Democratic Party. The remaining primary elections will not reverse the pledged vote majority that Obama has already won. It is time for the superdelegates to act.