February 25, 2008

Is This Helpful?

The ascent of Barack Obama to front-runner status has also given rise to some highly irresponsible talk in the media, mostly sotto voce, about the potential for assassination. The New York Times breaks this into the open, giving Obama more uncomfortable associations with Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy than those his soaring rhetoric had already generated:

There is a hushed worry on the minds of many supporters of Senator Barack Obama, echoing in conversations from state to state, rally to rally: Will he be safe?

In Colorado, two sisters say they pray daily for his safety. In New Mexico, a daughter says she persuaded her mother to still vote for Mr. Obama, even though the mother feared that winning would put him in danger. And at a rally here, a woman expressed worries that a message of hope and change, in addition to his race, made him more vulnerable to violence.

“I’ve got the best protection in the world,” Mr. Obama, of Illinois, said in an interview, reprising a line he tells supporters who raise the issue with him. “So stop worrying.”

Yet worry they do, with the spring of 1968 seared into their memories, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated in a span of two months.

Mr. Obama was 6 at the time, and like many of his admirers, he has only read about the violence that traumatized the nation. But those recollections and images are often invoked by older voters, who watch his candidacy with fascination, as well as an uneasy air of apprehension, as Democrats inch closer to selecting their nominee.

Why does the Times, and other media outlets, even make this an issue? Will talking about this make Obama or anyone else one whit safer? Of course not. The Times makes it worse by releasing Obama's Secret Service code name, which has usually been considered confidential. Karl Rove recently refused to reveal his, and he no longer has Secret Service protection.

In one sense, the debate over the potential for assassination gives Obama even more of a messianic veneer. King and Kennedy were both cast as martyrs, the former for more reason than the latter, after their murders. This focus on Obama as a prime target is giving him a pre-martyr sense, something Obama and his family certainly don't appreciate for very obvious reasons. He doesn't want to martyr himself -- he just wants to run for President. And while Obama probably likes people comparing him to Kennedy and King, he doesn't want to join them.

2008 isn't 1968. The Secret Service knows how to protect people to the extent they can be protected, and Obama has had their protection for almost a year. Nothing more can be done to keep him from harm. It serves no purpose to have public hand-wringing over his security or that of any other candidate, and it could encourage nutcases to test the Secret Service.

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