That time when Clinton refused to drop out of the race because Obama could be assassinated

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama take questions during a primary debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Photo: Stan Honda, AFP/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama take questions during a primary debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Photo: Stan Honda, AFP/Getty Images)
Originally published May 23, 2016 on RawStory

Call me sentimental but I’m a sucker for anniversaries. Take, for example, May 23 2008, when then Senator Hillary Clinton was asked if she was going to drop out of the primary race, given the Senator Barack Obama’s lead in delegates. During an interview with the editorial board of the South Dakota newspaper The Argus Leader Clinton expressed frustration with the way she was being pressured to suspend her campaign. I should add that I don’t find this part of her response inappropriate:

I don’t know I don’t know I find it curious because it is unprecedented in history. I don’t understand it and between my opponent and his camp and some in the media, there has been this urgency to end this and you know historically that makes no sense, so I find it a bit of a mystery.

But things took a turn for the worse when the editorial board asked, “You don’t buy the party unity argument?” to which she responded:

I don’t, because again, I’ve been around long enough. You know my husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere around the middle of June. We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. Um you know I just I don’t understand it. There’s lots of speculation about why it is.

Now this may seem like a Joycean or Woolfean stream of consciousness. But buried in it is the following argument:

First of all, I’m not gonna drop out now because it’s May and my husband Bill Clinton didn’t secure the nomination until June in California. Speaking of June and California, by gosh, dontcha know, it was that very month and in that very state when then Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Democratic presidential candidate was shot and killed. So, let’s be honest, my opponent could be taken out any second. And I have to be ready to go to the convention so I can defeat the Republican nominee. It’s really the patriotic thing to do. You’re welcome.

I’m not a presidential historian, but I think it’s safe to say that this was an unprecedented use of the potentially-looming-assassination-of-your-opponent-to-justify-staying-in-a-race. While innovative and trailblazing, murdered-Kennedy-dropping is impolite. It’s impolitic. It’s bad etiquette. It’s the presidential equivalent of wearing white after Labor Day or to another woman’s wedding. Except, I would argue, it’s way worse in that instead of violating a dress code, it exploits the national tragedy that was the murder of Senator Robert Kennedy.

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