Sunday, May 25, 2008

Tone Deaf to History Or Just Plain Tone Deaf?

Rethinking the political tempest that started with Hillary’s statement to the editorial board of the Argus Leader; one has to wonder where this Democratic Party nomination fight jumped the shark. When did Hillary finally and conclusively loose the thread? How did such a smart woman say such a profoundly dumb thing?

As soon as her comment where unleashed on an unsuspecting public, the digestive by-product hit the electrically operated, rotating blade, air circulation machine. Huffing Post and other routine suspects went into overdrive. The invective directed to Hillary and all things Clinton was massive. Ms. Clinton attempted to back peddle but forgot one of the cardinal rules of politics: when you’re in a hole, stop digging. She made the mistake of trying to explain her remarks. What was required was a simple and abject apology. Sack-cloth and ashes plus the occasional shouting of “unclean” would have been a nice touch.

Our nation has a terrible history of political violence. The US was born in the violence of an armed insurrection against lawful authority. Luckily the victors got to write the history books and the insurrection became a glorious revolution. The leaders of the revolt became “The Founding Fathers” of a new government. They barely got settled in before other insurrectionists tried to push them out of power.

Things settled down a little bit and most of the violence in the New American nation was directed toward the luckless original inhabitants. But thanks to the issues of states rights and slavery anger flared up again. By the 1850’s Kansas was in the throws of civil conflict. With the election of Abraham Lincoln the whole nation plunged involved in civil war. Even the end of the Civil war did not end the violence. It was that war that set the precedent that echoes down to the present day; the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

After Lincoln other presidents were also brought down: James Garfield, William McKinley, and JFK. If that was not enough of a doleful list there were other attempts. Both Rooseveltes were shot at; Teddy got hit, Franklin did not. Harry Truman was the intended target of an assassination which was foiled. Tricky Dick had two near misses, one of assassins went on to shoot and gravely injure George Wallace. The other assassin was put of action before he could crash a plane into the White House. Gerald R Ford had two different women try to kill him. Carter only had one man try to end his life prematurely. Regan was the next attempt and the first president to suffer an injury from such an attempt since T.R. Roosevelt. Bill Clinton was the target of Francisco Martin Duran’s pot-shots at the White House. Fortunately for slick Willy the suited figures that Duran was plinking at were not Clinton as Bill was watching a football game elsewhere. Those are just the presidents that came under fire in the USA. Both Bushes have had their near misses. Pappy Bush was the target of a bomb scare. Bush Jr. might not be with us if Vladimir Arutyunian had a better arm and his RGD-5 hand grenade not been a dud. Also we must pause to remember that Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and RFK were also victims of an assassin’s bullet. Where would we be now as a nation if those men were not cut down so brutally in the prime of their lives?

Into this ghoulish history charged Hillary Rodham Clinton. She got her talking points and her history cross-wired and started one hell of a short circuit. Adding insult to injury she managed to double down on her bad karma with the Kennedy clan. First she stepped all over the 40th anniversary of RFK’s death; then she connected that past sorrow with the Kennedy’s present worries. The Kennedys were already steaming at her for the perceived slight against JFK. Her remarks about LBJ and MLK managed to put JFK way back into the shadows of civil rights history. There is no love in Hyannis Port for Hillary.

Keith Olbermann pointed out the other problems with Clinton’s statement in his Special Comment. Keith was his usual passionate self. Strip away the bombast and the hyperventilation. Strip away Keith’s obvious anti-Clinton bias. Strip away some of the excesses and there is a point to be made. Shoot the messenger if you will, but many people did see Hillary’s statement as way wrong. When you reach for the explanation that “I’m staying in race because my opponent might get killed” you have gone beyond the constraints of decency. Hillary idiotically fed the worst fears of her strongest opponents. She fed the idea that there is no level that she won’t sink to, no dirty deed she won’t do to win. In her pursuit of the nomination Ms. Clinton pulled a Wile E Coyote; she missed a quick turn, overshot and fell into a deep desert canyon. Keith had every right to channel Joseph Welch and ask the question of Clinton that Welch asked of Joseph McCarthy.

For sometime HRC has adopted an understudy role in the Democratic nomination struggle. The role is that of one who can step in if something happens to Obama’s nomination bid. If Obama’s bid suddenly collapses because of scandal or huge gaff; Hillary is standing by-ready for the challenge on day one. But what happened with the understudy is that she transformed herself into a vulture awaiting road kill. The casual way she brought up the possibility of assassination was hopelessly inappropriate. K.O. was correct on that point. It revealed a little too much of Hillary’s inner mind for anyone to be comfortable with. At best it was like handing over a large spiked club over to one’s worst enemy and requesting that they hit you over the head repeatedly with it.

Our sad history of political assassination is something that every politician in the US has to deal with. That history is one of the more unpleasant facts of political life in the USA. It is a deep scar in our national soul. It became our blackest sin when it was combined with our long sorry history of racial terrorism. That is why we really mourn the passing of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. King’s death says volumes about the blackest part of the American soul. We know about this part of us. We know this vile spirit stalks the land. We know this wraith can take human form and strike at the best and brightest amongst us. We are painfully aware that history can again repeat itself; that it can take the life of either of the junior Senators, either the one from New York or the one from Illinois. We are forever dreading that the worst of worst case scenarios will come to fruition: that a group of racist individuals or just one acting alone will soil our national soul with an unforgivable crime. We know that Barack Obama’s story could end as yet another American tragedy.

This is the rawest of raw political nerves. This is something we would rather not discuss. This is something that stirs deep emotion. This is why Hillary got caught in a perfect storm of political retribution. The high volume and relentless hectoring towards the junior Senator from New York is excessive. The high dungeon of Keith Olbermann and other pundits is over the top. At the end of the day though, a wise politician knows that trying to tap-dance your way though a mine field can be very bad for your political health. Hillary Clinton just stomped on a very big mine, is it any wonder she got singed?
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