You Never Use the "A" Word

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: May 24, 2008 11:49 AM
Sitting in yesterday for Hugh Hewitt, I was surprised that so many callers disagreed with my assessment of Hillary's "assassination" talk.  As I wrote last week in the wake of Mike Huckabee's joking aside at the NRA convention, "one never, ever, ever jokes about [or discusses] the possibility of a rival (or anyone, for that matter) being assassinated.  Especially when many  genuinely fear for that candidate's safety because of his race."

It strikes me as elementary that it's a baseline rule on which everyone, of all political stripes, should be able to agree.

There are two different ways to think about what Hillary said.  On the one hand, some callers essentially argued that she was simply referencing historical fact, and that there was nothing inherently wrong with what she said.  To me, that argument is way off base.  It was despicable for Governor Pat Brown, running against Ronald Reagan, to mention that an actor assassinated President Lincoln -- yet that, too, was simply historical fact, wasn't it?  What's more, her suggestion that her husband was running in a contested race until June  doesn't square with the historical facts.  Who would remember all this better than Hillary?

Then, on the other hand, there's the position that what Hillary said was wrong.  Within that rubric, there's a first position -- that the comment was simply a gaffe, brought about by fatigue, etc.  But if that's the case, how is it that she came to make almost exactly the same comment to TIME magazine back in March?  And looking at her remark yesterday -- "We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California" -- it's noteworthy that she doesn't mention that he was killed after winning a contested primary . . . she simply notes that he was assassinated.

That leaves one final possibility: That she thought there was some strategic advantage in playing on the fears about Obama's safety, suggesting that it's to the benefit of the Democratic Party for her to stay in the race, in case the unthinkable (except to her, apparently) happens.  It's a contemptible maneuver, but is there anyone out there who really doesn't believe that either of the Clintons are capable of such a calculation?  It's worth noting that Senator Clinton is a bright woman; her remarks weren't the result of an unexpected debate question (a la the Spitzer/illegal immigrant debacle) or a spontaneous attempt at humor (a la Huckabee).  They came in front of an editorial board, answering a question she surely had anticipated.

It's impossible for anyone truly to "know" the heart of another in a situation like this, but sadly, I think Michael Goodwin is right:

We have seen an X-ray of a very dark soul. One consumed by raw ambition to where the possible assassination of an opponent is something to ponder in a strategic way.

Don't misunderstand.  I disagree with all Barack's policies and think he is dangerously naive when it comes to foreign affairs.  But politics stops at the hospital door, and when it comes to matters of personal safety for all the candidates.  He will, I hope, be beaten like a bongo drum in the election -- but of course, remain healthy and safe.

The dangers confronting candidates are real, and they are serious.  And to me, it should be clear that one just never, ever invokes the specter of assassination on the campaign trail.