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Hillary Clinton as historian: a bad match

May 24, 2008 |  1:07 pm

Largely obscured in the understandable uproar over Hillary Clinton's Friday reference to the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy has been the fallacy of the basic point she sought to convey -- that there is nothing all that unusual about the trajectory of her battle with Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nod.

Before invoking the Kennedy killing in comments to a South Dakota newspaper that she quickly rued, Clinton said, "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary, somewhere in the middle of June, right?"

Actually, wrong in all but the most technical sense.

Bill Clinton became the hands-down front-runner in his party's contest 16 years ago in mid-March, when his main competitor, Paul Tsongas, exited the race. There was an outbreak of buyer's remorse a few weeks later ...

... when California's own Jerry Brown, who initially had been little more than a gadfly in the race, won the Connecticut primary.

But in early April, Clinton crushed Brown in the New York primary, all but ending the competition. And then he ended any doubt by easily winning in Pennsylvania in late April.

Yes, he needed to win the California primary in early June -- along with several others held on the same day -- to officially surpass the magic number of delegates required for the nomination. But it had been crystal clear to all for more than a month that he would do so, and the remaining primaries were mere formalities.

One would think Hillary Clinton, of all people, would recall that. And, given that she was a college student in 1968, one would think that she would recollect the year as a moment unto itself -- and know that since then, nothing has come close to duplicating it in politics or other ways.

Then again, as the Bosnia sniper fire non-incident demonstrated, Clinton' grasp of history apparently can be shaky, even when she was in the middle of it.

Clinton would be well served to simply characterize her fight with Obama, as she often has, for what it is -- one of the closest and most fiercely fought in U.S. history -- and not bother with comparisons.   

-- Don Frederick