What the hell? Fresh off his minor gaffe about the timing of the Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy assassinations, Joe Biden mused about what would have happened if Barack Obama had been assassinated before the 2008 Democratic convention as well. His point wasn’t so much to honor Obama as it was to attack you-know-who:
FMR. VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: My two political heroes were Martin Luther King [Jr.] and Bobby Kennedy. My senior semester they were both shot and killed. Imagine what would have happened if, God forbid, Barack Obama had been assassinated after becoming the de facto nominee. What would have happened in America?
I think of where we are at the moment. You know, none of you men are old — women are old enough, but a couple of you guys are old enough to remember. I graduated in 1968. Everybody before me was, drop out, go to Haight-Ashbury, don’t trust anybody over 30, everybody not getting involved. I’m serious, I know no woman will shake their head and acknowledge it, but you guys know what I’m talking about. Right? But then what happened? Dr. Ki— I only have two political heroes. I have one hero who was my dad, but I have two political heroes were Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. My senior semester they were both shot and killed. Imagine what would have happened if, God forbid, Barack Obama had been assassinated after becoming the de facto nominee. What would have happened in America?
Say what? Why would anyone even think to formulate such a counterfactual, let alone air it publicly? Especially if that person already has a firm grip on the polling for the Democratic presidential nomination? This isn’t so much a gaffe as a weird thought experiment from a candidate who seems to have trouble keeping his focus. Politico called it “an out-of-nowhere hypothetical” that attempted to celebrate his former running mate, by, er, imagining his murder.
It turns out that Biden’s intent wasn’t honoring Obama. Instead, Biden suggested that the election of Donald Trump was the political equivalent of an assassination:
Biden brought up the question of Obama as part of a discussion about what causes young people to become politically involved. He said it was the assassinations, but that young people today are being motivated to vote against President Donald Trump.
“Unless I’m mistaken, Donald Trump did for your generation what the loss of two of my heroes did for mine,” he told the students, adding, “What they did was make you realize, my God, we’re in trouble.”
This is sheer idiocy, both intellectually and morally. Electing a bad president — even if one accepts that is what happened in 2016 — is many quantum leaps away from assassinating people over their beliefs. For one thing, the former is temporary and reversible at the ballot box. An election is a legitimate process of choice by an electorate, while an assassination is an act of a single person or small group of people in defiance of an electorate. What caused the country to say “my God, we’re in trouble” in 1968 was the realization of the system’s vulnerability to the radicals on either side who used violence to intimidate and silence people.
And in that case, what happened to the country was the election of a Republican president later that year. Nixon took a tougher line on campus unrest, although his administration had little to do with the Kent State massacre. That was conducted by Ohio’s National Guard under command of Governor Jim Rhodes.
Biden’s recap of that shooting, however, did include a legitimate new Biden gaffe. Actually, it’s one in a string of Kent State gaffes:
Things changed. You had over 40 kids shot at Kent State on a beautiful lawn by the National Guard.
There were thirteen students shot in the Kent State protest, not over forty, four of whom died. The National Guard fired into a crowd of students who had refused to disperse but had not been armed, although two days earlier a protest crowd had torched the college’s ROTC building. Firefighters and police had come under attack from protesters when attempting to respond to it; rocks were thrown, hoses slashed, after which the National Guard was deployed. Nevertheless, as the presidential commission formed in response to this and other campus unrest concluded, “the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”
Why Biden keeps bringing up 1968’s assassinations, Kent State, and now fantasizing about another assassination in 2008 is anyone’s guess. Perhaps his team should whisper in his ear that voters are concerned about 2021, not 2008 or 1970 or 1968, and that Biden had better find more effective arguments against Trump if he wants to win a general election. He’s beginning to sound like one’s crazy uncle in the attic these days — charming, perhaps, but utterly embarrassing in public.