Postscript: Actually, if there was any subliminal message in Clinton’s remark at all, it was probably an attempt to associate herself with the glamor and pity of the martyred Kennedy. After all, she has been one of the most hated and vilified figures in American public life for years, subject of repeated death wishes for her and her family voiced by some of the most prominent members of the political and media establishments.
When she was first elected to the Senate, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott “joked” that “maybe lightning will strike” to kill her before she could take her seat, as the Washington Post reported. High-profile conservative windbag John Derbyshire once “joked” that Chelsea Clinton should be put to death, as Stalin and Hitler killed the children of “enemies of the people,” because she “bears the taint,” the “vile genetic inheritance” of Clintonism. As I wrote way back in early 2001:
No vitriol or imbalance there, then. Buckley’s non-partisan approach finds an echo in his uncle’s august journal, National Review, where columnist John Derbyshire dipped his toe into the water of fairness with this recent piece, “I Hate Chelsea Clinton.”
…Not to be pedantic or anything, but as a service to readers we should point out that Mr. Derbyshire is perhaps incorrect in his attribution of the principle neca eos omnes, deus suos agnoscet to the ancient Chinese. Far be it from us to accuse Mr. Derbyshire – or indeed, any acolyte of the famously erudite Yale alumnus William Buckley – of being a pig-ignorant poseur or anything of the sort; and certainly, if Mr. Buckley and Mr. Derbyshire believe the ancient Chinese spoke Latin, why then, who are we to say otherwise?
However, in the interest of balance and fairness, we should note that most historians attribute the saying – which indeed may be apocryphal – to Arnold Amaury, a monk in the service of the Catholic crusaders who destroyed the Cathar heresy in southern France in the 13th century. Amaury was the spiritual guide of the troops besieging the town of Beziers in 1209. As the soldiers prepared for their final attack, they asked Amaury how to distinguish the good Catholics of the town from the despised Cathars. Amaury supposedly replied with the aforementioned expression of militant faith.
Again, not to be controversial in any way, nor to denigrate Mr. Derbyshire’s considerable achievement in researching the many ways that “great despotisms” have dealt with their ungrateful dissidents, we would also gently note that most reputable historians translate the phrase not in Mr. Derbyshire’s somewhat jocular manner but more straightforwardly and – dare we say it? – correctly as: “Kill them all; God will know His own.” And that’s just what they did, of course; the faith-based Crusaders slaughtered almost 20,000 people in Beziers that day.
This was in March 2001, before all the little Michael Savages and Glenn Becks and Ann Coulters of the world were hauled out from under numerous rocks in the post-9/11 era and given gargantuan, corporate-funded media platforms from which to spew their psychosexual hatred of Hillary. She has lived with the very real threat of assassination — and ceaseless, gleeful public talk of her violent demise — for a lot longer than Obama has.
Again, this is not a defense of Clinton’s candidacy, or even of her remark, which was not only clumsy but entirely irrelevant to the question of why she was continuing her campaign in the specific conditions pertaining to the 2008 race, which have nothing to do with the particular dynamics of the 1992 and 1968 campaigns. But her answer was no more witless or meaningless or dangerous than anything else we’ve heard on the campaign trail this year. And she is just as threatened by the invocation of assassination imagery as any other candidate.