Editor’s Note: Nearing the 40th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination – which occurred on June 5, 1968, just after he claimed victory in the California primary – it is worth recalling the horrible damage to a nation that violent political acts can inflict.

That is why casual or joking comments about assassinations should draw stern rebukes from anyone who cares about democracy, as historian William Loren Katz notes in this guest essay:

A week later came some imitators: Senator Clinton underscored her point that one never knows whether one's luck might take a fortuitous turn, by citing Robert Kennedy's assassination in June 1968, just two months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The next day, an editorial cartoon of a squinty-eyed Senator Obama impaled on a sword, bearing the caption “My Own Words,” was featured in Pennsylvania's Wayne Independent. [May 23, 2008]

That Sunday “fair and balanced” Fox TV News weighed in. As she signed off co-anchor Liz Trotta urged "that somebody knock off Osama, um, Obama -- well both, if we could." Good night and good luck, indeed. [NYT, May 27, 2008]

The obligatory back-steps followed. Huckabee apologized, Clinton expressed regrets to the Kennedy family (not to Obama and his family), and Trotta apologized "to anyone I offended."

Mentioning the “A word” during any election season is no joke.

Gunmen have ended the lives of four presidents: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan narrowly escaped assassination attempts.

Candidate Robert Kennedy was slain, and candidate George Wallace was so severely wounded that he had to bow out of his campaign.

With a Black candidate in the field, any assassination reference has an even more sinister ring that cannot be stilled by "regrets."

After the Civil War dozens of southern African-American office-holders and the white officials allied with them were slain by Ku Klux Klan nightriders.

In less than a dozen years unrelenting white southern violence, intimidation and murders ended Lincoln's “new birth of freedom,” reversed acts of Congress and nullified three Constitutional Amendments.

By 1877, northern businessmen had aligned themselves with the southern white supremacist ruling class.

In the middle of the 20th century, dozens of racist murders of white and African American civil rights workers aimed to again block justice and equality. And on a Sunday afternoon in 1965 Malcolm X, defying death threats and lacking police protection, died in a hail of bullets in New York City.

If lynching is included, violent opposition to African-Americans' pursuit of either public office or other citizenship rights has rolled up a body count in the thousands.

History proves the “A word” is deadly serious.

Today fear and death are in the air. Thousands of U.S. soldiers have been killed and wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Millions of civilians have been killed, wounded or displaced.

The Republicans mock the idea of negotiation replacing military confrontation. And as candidate Obama's star has risen the “A word” has appeared.

Is it a perverse, desperate plea for a “white hope” named John McCain?
William Loren Katz is the author of Black Indians and forty other U.S. history books, and has been affiliated with New York University since 1973. His Web site is: williamlkatz.com .

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