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The Guilfoile-Warner Papers

PORTRAIT BY KAREN CALDICOTT

The Bitterest Pill

Her campaign beaten and bruised, Hillary won’t concede defeat, and proves she’s willing to do anything to get elected. With a comeback unlikely, our commentators wonder what she’ll try next—now and after the election.

Kevin,

It’s not clear to me how or why the “ready on day one” candidate has decided that economists of all stripes have apparently been secretly allied against the interests of middle-class America, but if she does manage to win the presidency, she’s going to have a hard time finding anyone for her cabinet, lest she wind up with some of those pesky “experts.” The way she’s going, I expect that Hillary Clinton’s next announcement will be Jeff Foxworthy for Secretary of Education. (Everyone in America should be at least as smart as a fifth grader.) Or how about Larry the Cable Guy for Secretary of Defense? His “git’er done” catchphrase would be quite inspirational for soldiers facing their fifth and sixth tours of duty. Nothing says “I’m one of you” like hanging with the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. (Their reported revenues of $75 million a year might make them a little too rich for the current Clinton blood, though.)

This anti-knowledge, pro-ignorance platform has me thinking something strange, or maybe even mystical, is afoot. If she starts playing bass on her campaign stops, we’ll know she’s in the midst of a Freaky Friday-type scenario with Mike Huckabee. Come to think of it, Huckabee has been one of the few, or even only, conservative defenders of Obama’s relationship with Reverend Wright. Hillary, is that you? Are you in there? Blink twice quickly if you’ve switched bodies with a reactionary Republican.

As we all know, Obama got a lot of grief for his “bitter” comments and was soon branded with the dreaded “elite” label. But let me ask you: Which is more condescending, a thoughtful person expressing their honest (though perhaps impolitic) opinion, or someone who was born in the upper-middle class Chicago suburbs, educated at Wellesley and Yale, sat on the board of Wal-Mart, and slept next to the most powerful person in the world for eight years, now masquerading as a gun-loving, whisky-drinking, smartypants-hating, Iran-nuking, oil-cartel-battling regular gal?

Hillary’s pose is so obviously transparent that it’s literally making me mental to think that she’s benefiting from it. I’ve made plans to get out of the house tonight so I won’t be compelled to watch the Indiana and North Carolina election returns. I’m thinking I ought to be doing something better for my mental health, like catching a showing of Iron Man or driving railroad spikes into my forebrain.

 

* * *


John,

It’s now two days after the primaries (your letter having arrived from South Carolina by pony) and I suspect the market for boxing gloves autographed by Hillary Clinton has just about collapsed. Tuesday night on CNN, Clinton advisor Lanny Davis, while desperately trying to hold onto the case for Hillary as the nominee, looked like one of those 16-year-old American Idol contestants who grin and vamp their way through “In the Ghetto.” You just couldn’t believe from the level of his enthusiasm that he was listening to the words coming out of his own mouth.

That same night, over on MSNBC, Hillary’s former press secretary Lisa Caputo told MSNBC that “You can’t win a general election without getting white middle-class voters…. Let’s remember (Hillary) is the product of a white middle-class, working-class, upbringing.”

I don’t think we need to be reminded that Hillary is white, but by Wednesday the campaign was making her undeniable whiteness a critical part of its talking points.

The next day Hillary Clinton, the “Ragin’ Caucasian” herself, made an already infamous misstep by citing an AP poll that found “how Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”

However, it’s wrong to call this moment a blunder, which implies some sort of error. An accident. In fact, it was an awful and cynical tactic of desperation directed not at “hard-working, white Americans,” but uncommitted superdelegates, whose support she needed in overwhelming numbers. Of course you never heard Hillary’s campaign say exactly why as many as 30 percent of its supporters might vote for John McCain over Barack Obama. The Clinton campaign couldn’t say, “You need to support Hillary Clinton because a lot of her supporters would never vote for a black man.” So they put it in the code of demographic campaign-speak and hoped the superdelegates, the most pragmatic and valuable of all Democratic voters, would get the message.

And that, in the end, is why the failed pragmatism of her campaign can’t match the inspiration of Obama’s. Hillary’s best hope relies on our worst instincts.

Hillary should have bowed out earlier not for the sake of the party, but for the sake of her own dignity. In just a few hours she has gone from underdog candidate to ungraceful loser to the widespread target of mockery. Few would believe Hillary Clinton is actually a racist, and certainly in this election the knife of ignorance cuts both ways. I’m sure there are Obama supporters who would likewise never have voted for a woman (although not as many, according to Hillary). And obviously not every Clinton supporter who would either sit out the general or jump to McCain is a racist. We can’t ascribe such low motives to every voter who would threaten to defect. You and I even talked about the remote possibility, which had nothing to do with Hillary Clinton’s gender and everything to do with the Clinton campaign’s increasing despicability in its willingness to play the race card.

We have been left a cultural legacy that is not only inherently racist, but inherently sexist. (I can tell we live in a patriarchal society because in a matriarchal one the man’s pill would make him infertile and the woman’s pill would threaten to give her a four-hour orgasm.) If both candidates had sought to exploit our basest fears, this campaign really would have been a shitpool.

As it happens, only the Clinton campaign, in its final, desperate days, made the case that a good reason to support Hillary was that there were more racists among her supporters than there were sexists among Obama’s.

 

* * *


Kevin,

To be fair, it’s important to acknowledge that some Clinton primary voters aren’t going to vote for him because he’s Muslim, while others won’t support him because they, “feel like [Obama’s] the anti-Christ from the Middle East.” I will concede that if Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, we’re making a very big mistake nominating him for president.

One member of Hillary’s core demographic constituency who will not be voting for Hillary is my mother (67 years old, upper-middle-class, white). She’s voted reliably Democrat for all of her adult life and says she’ll leave the president slot blank if Hillary is nominated. When I asked why, she replied, “Because she’s a lying sack of crap,” only she didn’t really say “crap,” which kind of surprised me because she’s my mother.

In the wake of Tuesday’s results there’s been a raft of Clinton campaign post-mortems, offering the top five or 10 mistakes of her candidacy. The conventional wisdom focuses on strategic mistakes, like campaign messaging that missed the mood of the country, or a failure to aggressively organize in the caucus states, but to me, these all miss the tree for the forest—the tree being, as my mother so indelicately puts it, that Hillary is indeed a lying piece of crap.

Normally, being a liar is more of a job requirement than a liability for a politician, but Hillary has taken it to new levels, trying on different personas and policy platforms like a runway model switching outfits. The inevitable incumbent Hillary of 2007 gave way to the emotional Hillary of New Hampshire, and since Super Tuesday, she’s cast herself as the scrappy underdog that comes in two distinct flavors: conciliatory and combative. The policy stances have been just as varied, as she searches for a message that would resonate with the voters. The reason this hasn’t worked is because the meta-message of her entire campaign has been: “I’ll do anything to get elected.” The only mood of the country that she missed is a desire among the majority for elected leadership that does not reflexively lie out of expediency.

I think the reason there isn’t more of an uproar surrounding her George Wallace imitation following Tuesday’s results is because it’s clear that this guise is as insincere as all of the others. Hillary Clinton is not a racist, nor is her husband, but they will make coded quasi-racist arguments in order to try to gain an electoral advantage. It’s just gross. Even my mom says so.

I would like to feel sympathy for Hillary since, as you note, our sexist culture is alive and well, and there’s no doubt it has played a role in determining the outcome. Since before Texas and Ohio, Hillary has adopted a stereotypically male persona, ready to launch nukes, do shots, and shoot at shit. It’s a goddamn shame that identity politics have played a part in preventing us from ever really knowing Hillary’s true self. Carl Bernstein’s biography of Hillary suggests that at one time in her life she was a real progressive, very much of the McGovern stripe, but the battles of her husband’s presidency permanently warped her into whatever she needed to be at the moment in order to survive. She seems to measure herself by her electoral fortunes, so these must be very difficult days for her.

The pundits are busy flapping their gums about how Hillary will ultimately get out of the race and the impact that will have on hers and her husband’s legacies and that she risks permanent damage if she doesn’t do it gracefully. This seems like an awfully short view of things, even for political pundits. Political legacies have survived some pretty harrowing episodes, including driving off a bridge and drowning a woman (Ted Kennedy), committing treason (Reagan and Iran-Contra), and having sexual relations with that woman (Bill). If Hillary kicks and screams a little on the way out the door, she’s got plenty of time to recover.

On the other hand, if she kicks and screams all the way to Denver, we might have a real mess on our hands.

 

* * *


John,

I’m not good at predicting things. Like the time when I bought Madden ‘92 for the Sega Genesis and declared that video game graphics had reached a technological plateau. In 2004, in one of these dialogues, actually, I predicted Jon Stewart would leave The Daily Show within a year. And then there was last January, when, after buying stamps late at night from a vendor apparently not sanctioned by the U.S. postal service, I proclaimed that within six months Evanston, Ill., would be the Techtonik dance capital of the world. That last one still could happen, but prospects appear to be dimming.

Hillary continues to burn money and clean-coal rhetoric in West Virginia, hoping for some miraculous, last-minute Obama scandal that will save her campaign. There are two sensational legal battles churning in Chicago right now: the corruption trial of shady campaign financier Tony Rezko and the child pornography trial of icky R&B star R. Kelly. Hillary’s no doubt thinking if Obama’s name pops up in either of them, she’s right back in this thing.

She is also engaged in negotiations for her withdrawal. Hillary has $20 million in campaign debt and an army of staffers who will want to transfer to the Obama campaign. She might be angling for a number-two slot, which I suppose would do much to thin the bad blood of this campaign, although I also think the potential effects of this rancorous primary season on the general election have been overblown. November’s a long way off and I can’t imagine any of Hillary’s supporters have much belly-fire left after the embarrassments of the last week.

Besides, I suspect Obama needs someone with military experience, somebody with more of a Jim Webb/Wesley Clark vibe. In fact if Hillary wants to run again in 2012, she should announce tonight that she’s dropping out of the presidential race to enlist in the army. Hillary Clinton with a Bronze Star would be a political force, let me tell you.

Of course the next president, McCain or Obama, would probably just stop-loss the hell out of her until the election was over. See, I’m just no good predicting these things.
 

TMN Contributing Writer John Warner is the author of the preeminent guide to winning the race for the Oval Office, So You Want to Be President?, and is Chief Creative Czar of TOW Books. He teaches at the College of Charleston.

TMN Contributing Writer Kevin Guilfoile’s debut thriller, Cast of Shadows, was named one of the Best Books of 2005 by the Chicago Tribune and the Kansas City Star. His humor has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Maxim, and The New Republic. More by Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner