The assassination holds an especially gruesome place in the political sphere. A split second can destroy a collective dream, ideology or potential peace.
Killings of this nature are far more significant than a murder – the crime becomes a statement.
Specific assassinations certainly exist in their respective context – Martin Luther King and Franz Ferdinand’s shootings took place within widely varied cultural climates, and with arguably different results – but mere mention of the fearsome verb can resonate far and wide.
That’s no more true than during the current primary here in the United States, where we seem to have a morbid love affair with assassinations and the myths they birth.
Every American child has received dozens of lessons on President Abraham Lincoln’s last act at Ford’s Theater, King’s fateful stay at the Lorraine Inn and John F. Kennedy’s trip to Dallas. The latter’s death remains an issue of contention and has spawned countless conspiracy theories, books and movies. Even those of us who weren’t yet born could describe that day in eerie detail.
The potential for assassination has surrounded this election season since last year, when Barack Obama received secret service protection following threats on his life. Obama became, quite famously, the first candidate of this race to get state-backed security. The reality of this threatened candidate’s endangered mortality has since become quite the talking point. And the assassination drama simply won’t quit. The reasons, however, may be deeper than just Obama’s candidacy.
Mike Huckabee fired first in this latest round of assassination gaffes. The former presidential candidate got only crickets when, during a speech to the NRA, he explained a loud bang back stage as someone taking a shot at Obama. The public was not amused and Huckabee later apologized. Considering all the flack Huckabee received, one would think – or hope – that politicians and pundits would steer clear of off-color references to assassination. Huckabee, it seems, simply broke the seal.
We’ll first address the most recent assassination reference. Former Washington Times journo and Fox News chatter box Liz Trotta gave viewers double trouble when she referred to Obama as “Osama,” then, after corrected her mistake, wondered if it wouldn’t be “good” if both men were “knocked off.” Here’s the video:
Trotta later appeared on Fox News to offer her most sincere apologies, which included a remark on how this is a “colorful” election and many others have been criticized for off-the-cuff remarks. Is that an argument for media moral disengagement, or something?
But, yes, Trotta’s right: people do need to watch their mouths. Just ask Hillary Clinton, who became a target after invoking Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination. The Senator, whom many have been pressuring to concede to Obama, was arguing why she should stay in the race and, in an awkward attempt to project a time line, reminded us of a dark June forty years ago: “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.” People were not pleased, to say the least.
Sensing an uproar, Clinton offered a tepid apology, but her “regret” for referencing that “trauma” proved to be too little and the Senator took pen to paper Sunday to again explain herself in New York’s Daily News:
I want to set the record straight: I was making the simple point that given our history, the length of this year’s primary contest is nothing unusual. Both the executive editor of the newspaper where I made the remarks, and Sen. Kennedy’s son, Bobby Kennedy Jr., put out statements confirming that this was the clear meaning of my remarks. Bobby stated, “I understand how highly charged the atmosphere is, but I think it is a mistake for people to take offense.”
…I was deeply dismayed and disturbed that my comment would be construed in a way that flies in the face of everything I stand for – and everything I am fighting for in this election.
It’s disturbing, yes, but one shouldn’t be that dismayed by the outcry over Clinton’s words. The potential tackiness aside, Clinton’s, Trotta’s and everyone else’s assassination references are given as much credence by this election’s cultural importance as by our collective fascination.
No one would argue that this will prove to be the States’ most impressive election in decades – and, perhaps, history. Not only will all three main contenders break barriers – gender, age or race – but they will have the task of redirecting a fragile and shell shocked nation. Nothing is as it was eight years ago. Nor should it be.
As in June of 1968 – and MLK’s last day in April of the same year – our nation remains in a severe state of flux. Not only are the candidates groundbreaking, but the “foundation” of American culture, marriage, has yet again been rocked toward liberalism. Iraq shows no signs of peace, tornadoes are ravaging America’s mid-section, the economy can’t seem to get it up and unemployment’s up, up and away. These are not times of peace and comfort. At the risk of being hyperbolic, America’s future hangs in the balance.
Voters sense the changing tide and our fear of violent disruption has helped bring the assassination issue to the forefront. It’s a bit of collective drama over what would be a disastrous turn of events: any one of our political leaders being assassination. All this talk almost makes it seem as if the press and public fear such a death inevitable. And that attitude could be far more dangerous than a simple slip-up.
Irish comic book writer Peter Milligan used our nation’s obsession with JFK’s death as a central plot point his DC Comic, Shade, The Changing Man. He writes, “[The Kennedy Sphinx] is American. It consumes. It eats. It’s easting away at America… The Kennedy Sphinx will keep eating America until America answers its riddle: Who killed John F. Kennedy?”
If present day America’s not careful, we’ll become too consumed by assassination worries to focus on the real task at hand: electing a new American president, not planning a funeral.