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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

I spoke this weekend wth a couple of people about Hillary Clinton’s comments on RFK. At the risk of drawing conclusions from a sample size of two, I thought that their reactions might have been instructive.

The first person is a good friend of mine, a financial professional in his late 20s. He likes Obama, is lukewarm on McCain, and absolutely can’t stand Clinton, to the extent that he’d consider voting for John McCain if Obama named Hillary as his running mate.

The second person was an older woman that I spoke with at a Memorial Day picnic. College professor, very progressive, big fan of Obama, indifferent about Clinton, hates Republicans of any stripe. She was probably in her early 60s, and her formulative political years would have coincided with the Kennedy tragedies.

Each of these people are politically astute, but not the obsessive consumers of political news that I am, or that many of you probably are. But they’re also the sort of people who, for somewhat different reasons, you might expect to be greatly offended by Clinton’s RFK comments.

But neither of them were. Instead, they reacted with indifference when the subject came up, wondering what the big deal was.

It is possible that there are some sort of regional considerations in play. I live in the Midwest, and while we have ample respect for the Kennedys, we perhaps don’t have the same deep-rooted affection for them that you might find along the Eastern Seabord (or for that matter in much of the media establishment).

For the record, I found Clinton’s comments to be sloppy and somewhat unbecoming. But I didn’t find them instrinsically offensive in the way that, for example, Liz Trotta’s comments on Fox News were, or for that matter something like Clinton’s comments to USA Today on “hard-working” whites. Merely speaking of RFK’s assassiantion is not offensive. It is all about the context, and the context in this instance was ambiguous.

That is not to suggest that Clinton can claim any particular moral highground by attempting to stoke the flames of media backlash around this incident. The Clinton camp is so dedicated to their particular brand of smallball politics that they have made it more difficult for their candidate to appear above-the-fray, accountable and Presidential (forgive me for applying the most overused term in the American political lexicon). At the same time, I think the Obama campaign may somewhat overplayed their hand. This is probably not more than a 24-hour story that can’t be elongated without somebody looking craven.

But I’d be curious to hear what your friends and acquaintences are saying about Clinton and RFK at your Memorial Day barbeques.

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