As Hillary Clinton prepares to end her presidential bid on Saturday, it is amazing that she did not do so two weeks ago. On May 23, Clinton was in boiling water over remarks she made that day to the editorial board of the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Asked why she was soldiering on with her presidential campaign despite Senator Barack Obama’s commanding delegate lead, Clinton said:
My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don’t understand it.
As the flames of outrage licked at the cauldron around her, Clinton attempted to douse those fires hours later in Brandon, South Dakota:
Earlier today, I was discussing the Democratic primary history and in the course of that discussion mentioned the campaigns that both my husband and Sen. Kennedy waged in California in June in 1992 and 1968, and I was referencing those to make the point that we have had nominating primary contests that go into June. That’s an historic fact.
The Kennedys have been much on my mind in the last days because of Sen. [Edward] Kennedy, and I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and particularly for the Kennedy family was in any way offensive. I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever.
For making political hay of RFK’s murder by Palestinian gunman Sirhan Sirhan 40 years ago today, Clinton merely offered a lawyerly “regret,” rather than a proper apology to the Kennedy and Obama families. (I regret the genocide in Darfur, but I need not apologize for it.)
As she so often has done, Clinton got away with this because the media dropped the ball. Some journalists observed that Clinton made similar remarks in Time magazine. With the notable exception of MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, few journalists were (or are) aware that Clinton has used RFK’s death to justify her campaign’s perseverance not once or twice, but on four occasions.
Asked if she jeopardized Democrats’ November prospects by remaining in the running, Clinton said this on May 7 in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, while a live CNN camera carried her response:
June of 1992, that’s when Bill really wrapped up the nomination, the middle of June after the California primary. You know, I remember very well what happened in the California primary in 1968 as, you know, Senator Kennedy won that primary.
That same day, as MSNBC’s Olbermann recalled in a Krakatoan “special comment,” Hillary Clinton said this at a Washington, D.C. fundraiser:
Sometimes you gotta calm people down a little. But if you look at successful presidential campaigns, my husband did not get the nomination until June of 1992. I remember tragically when Senator Kennedy won California near the end of that nominating process.
Clinton also cited RFK’s killing in a March interview with Time’s Rick Stengel:
We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A. My husband didn’t wrap up the nomination in 1992 until June. Having a primary contest go through June is nothing particularly unusual.
Some defended Clinton’s South Dakota statement as just words that were poorly chosen or perhaps tainted by fatigue. One such outburst might have been excused. But four such instances constitute an unforgivable pattern.
Others said that Clinton merely meant that campaigns often stretch past May into the summertime political conventions. This is a perfectly valid point that she could have made by referring to Ronald Reagan’s near-capture of the GOP standard from incumbent President Gerald Ford at their 1976 convention. Had she preferred not to use Republicans to justify her actions in a Democrat primary, she could have explained how Senator Ted Kennedy challenged President Jimmy Carter at 1980’s Democratic gathering. For a somewhat newer illustration, Clinton could have discussed the Dems’ 1984 convention, where former Vice President Walter Mondale defeated the Rev. Jesse Jackson and then-Senator Gary Hart of Colorado in a hotly contested floor vote.
Hillary Clinton has been politically active since at least her days as a Goldwater Girl in 1964. She has lived this history and knows it well. Rather than offer these more recent, peaceful examples to explain her persistence, she dredged up a 40-year-old political homicide to justify her seemingly endless campaign.
Call it reprehensible taste, morbid fantasy, or the ultimate in dog-whistle politics. In any case, she should have been hammered for these statements until she fled this campaign. But timing is everything, even in politics. Luckily for Hillary Clinton, she spoke in South Dakota on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. As Americans napped on the beaches, her despicable words soon washed out to sea.