Hitting a nerve …

Like a dentist’s drill hitting an exposed nerve Hillary Clinton’s remarks about RFK’s assassination bring back painful memories of 1968 .

Once again the taste and smell of that violent, blood-soaked year are in my nostrils — massive protests against an unstoppable war, the horror of gunshots aimed at political figures, race riots in major American cities, and police riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago.

One after another during the 60’s, spasms of violence rocked a generation of Americans and took from them the leaders who kindled hope for change. Jack Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas in November 2003. Malcolm X was killed in 1965.

But 1968 was an unparalleled paroxysm of political assassination that took first Martin Luther King Jr and then Bobby Kennedy. The grief and rage at their untimely loss has been locked inside for forty years. Ted Kennedy’s cancer diagnosis this past week had already started retrospective musings about the Kennedy family’s tragedies. Then Hillary’s careless, callous words probed the wound and exposed the raw nerve endings.

On the other hand, this visceral reaction to Hillary’s words from a significant chunk of the American public seems to be incomprehensible to others. “You are overreacting,” they say, ” She didn’t really say that.” They are handling this on an intellectual level, not responding emotionally to the memories evoked by mention of RFK’s assassination and the other violent events of 1968.

In some senses, you just had to be there and live through it to understand why some are reacting so strongly to Hillary’s mention of RFK’s assassination by Sirhan B. Sirhan.

As I reflect on the 40th anniversary of RFK’s death coming up in a few days I notice some parallels between the political situation in 1968 and 2008 that are worth mentioning.

In both 1968 and 2008 there is an endless foreign war that is deeply unpopular. Both the Vietnam and Iraq conflicts drain the U.S. Treasury and suck money out of domestic programs. In other words, we have guns but not butter.

Another way in which the campaigns of 1968 and 2008 are similar is rise of an insurgent “outsider” candidate within the Democratic party against the establishment “inside the Beltway” candidate. Barack Obama’s success in the face of all odds is similar to the rise of first Gene McCarthy and then Bobby Kennedy to challenge the anointed successor to LBJ, Hubert Humphrey. In 2008 Hillary Clinton is clearly playing the role of Humphrey, trying to garner the support of party insiders (the Super Delegates).

What many fail to remember is that there were only 13 primaries in 1968 — and they started later than they did in 2008, in February rather than January. Back then, most states chose their delegates through caucuses and other processes more reflective of the wishes of party insiders than the popular will as expressed in primaries. So after RFK’s death Humphrey emerged as the Democratic party nominee without ever facing the voters in a primary. He amassed his delegate lead through the courting of party insiders.

In the same way Hillary is attempting to overturn the popular will as expressed in primaries and caucuses and snatch the nomination from Obama. He is the candidate who has amassed the most pledged delegates through participation in primaries and caucuses.

If Hillary is successful in her coup by Super Delegates, the result is likely to mirror the 1968 election — a deeply divided Democratic party, disaffected Obama supporters and the loss of the Presidency.

Let’s not go down that road again.

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Explore posts in the same categories: 1968, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, Obama, politics, Robert Kennedy assassination

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