Before we get started on last week’s election developments (we are bi-monthly pundits after all, so we’ll wait until next time to discuss John McCain’s friends-with-benefits and why Ralph Nader hates America), I don’t think we did a thorough post-mortem on the Giuliani campaign. And since Giuliani’s political corpse was riddled with bullets and severed in two and had a butterfly pupa stuffed down its throat, let’s smear a little Vicks under our noses and give it a proper autopsy.
About two years ago, I had a discussion with a friend, a longtime New Yorker, who expressed skepticism that a Giuliani presidential campaign could ever get off the ground. I told him I wasn’t so sure. The evidence I had that Giuliani might actually fly was the ongoing media infatuation with Paris Hilton.
Because she’s one of the most famous people in America, it doesn’t need to be said that Paris Hilton is one of the most famous people in America. She is famous for a combination of inherited wealth, parental neglect, and alleged beauty. Except I don’t know anyone who sincerely believes that Paris Hilton is good-looking—anyone studying her with honest eyes would admit she has a face like a Horton and a body like a Who.
Paris Hilton has a sex tape, available at no charge on the internet, and despite the fact that I have been known to interrupt my college basketball channel surfing to linger on Discovery Channel exhibitions of elephants having sex or caribou having sex or meerkats having sex, I have never seen it. This is a startling fact. Do you know about the gorillas that were recently photographed having almost unheard-of face-to-face gorilla sex, and do you know that such coupling is technically known as “ventro-ventral copulation?” I do. That’s how much I’m into sitting on my couch watching other primates have sex. Nevertheless, I have never, ever, ever been tempted to watch Paris Hilton have sex, ventro-ventrally or otherwise.
Paris Hilton is currently starring in a feature film called The Hottie and the Nottie. The people tasked with making it clearly had no confidence moviegoers would accept the relatively homely Hilton as the eponymous Hottie, especially if they just cast another relatively homely girl as the Nottie. So instead they actually cast an actress who was way more attractive than Hilton and then glued a whole bunch of shit to her face. Matted hair. Pre-cancerous moles. Fake teeth. I think that’s an R2-D2 figure sticking out of her ear.
Truth is movie executives aren’t betting millions of dollars on star vehicles for Paris Hilton because they think she’s attractive. Movie executives are betting millions of dollars on star vehicles for Paris Hilton because they think other people think she’s attractive.
Giuliani survived as long as he did, and was able to raise as much money as he did, because of the same assumption. Everyone thought he was batshit insane, but they also thought other people were going to vote for him.
Giuliani failed, ultimately, because none of the crap he tried to glue to the faces of other, more attractive candidates ever stuck.
According to this analysis, the average showing of The Hottie and the Nottie had two people in it. Two people. Water Horse: The Legend of the Deep in its seventh week of release outgrossed Ms. Hilton’s movie by a six to one margin. The big question is whether or not this is a bigger failure than spending $60 million to win a single delegate. The irony is that Rudy and Paris couldn’t hack it even against weak competition like Fool’s Gold and Mike Huckabee.
We haven’t given the dissolution of the Romney campaign any virtual ink either, so I’d like to take a moment to give him the attention he deserves…
…and that’s about enough of that. What is there to say, really? He was a flip-flopping plastic creep who once strapped his dog to the roof of his car and declared that electing a Democrat would lead to Armageddon on his way out of the race. Classless douche. End of story.
It seems we may be on the verge of writing the obituary for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as well, as she tries a Giuliani-style rope-a-dope, camping out in Texas after getting battered by Obama in (as of this writing) 10 straight contests. She reminds me of the bully who finally gets challenged to a fight after school at the bike racks and then doesn’t show up, claiming the next day that she thought they were supposed to meet at the merry-go-round, where she was ready and waiting to kick your ass. Obama has embarrassed Hillary in the most recent series of contests, but for some reason, according to the Clinton campaign, none of those states really count. To extend my grade school analogy, Hillary seems to be banking her candidacy on a never-ending series of “do-overs,” hoping that she can declare victory after she takes one state out of the last 15.
And have you seen her latest slogan: that Hillary is in the “solutions business?” Do we really want to elect IBM as the president of the United States? Enjoy this little snippet from the speech in which she rolled out this precious nugget for public consumption: “Speeches don’t put food on the table, Speeches don’t fill up your tank or fill your prescription or do anything about that stack of bills that keep you up at night.” Actually, if you’re Rudy Giuliani or, say, Bill Clinton, speeches put lots and lots of food on the table, like millions of dollars’ of worth of food on the table with enough left over to provide enough prescription medications to keep even Rush Limbaugh content, and to loan your flailing campaign five million of your own money.
Your response to Hillary Clinton’s “words don’t matter” charge was smarter than the one provided by Barack Obama, who gave an inspirational speech (“I have a dream…Just words?”) that apparently wasn’t his to give. It was lifted from a speech given more than a year ago by his longtime friend and supporter, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.
It was an undeniable blunder for Obama to use unacknowledged elements of a pal’s speech, even if, as the senator claims, he and Deval have enrolled in some kind of rhetoric exchange program. At a minimum he should have foreseen that the Clinton campaign would find the earlier comments on YouTube and use them to grab headlines on the eve of an important primary. That put Obama on defense, even though Hillary is even more vulnerable on the borrowing issue than he is.
Here is Hillary in a recent debate with Barack Obama: “Whatever happens, we’re gonna be fine. You know, we have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope we’ll be able to say the same thing about the American people. And that’s what this election should be about.”
And this is John Edwards several months earlier: “That’s what’s at stake in this election. What’s not at stake are any of us. All of us are gonna be just fine, no matter what happens in this election. But what’s at stake is whether America is gonna be fine.”
But wait, there’s more. This is Sen. Clinton from a recent campaign speech: “If you can keep track of videos from Blockbuster, you ought to be able to keep track of people you give visas to who come into the United States.”
And this is John Edwards at a Miami debate five months earlier (one also attended by Hillary Clinton): “If we can figure out when someone is walking into a Blockbuster, we can figure out when someone comes into America.”
I don’t actually understand the Edwards Blockbuster analogy that Hillary Clinton stole. Are they saying the Department of Immigration has cameras in Blockbuster? Even if the government knows how many times I’ve rented Fast Times at Ridgemont High and that I only ever watch and rewatch the seven seconds after Phoebe Cates climbs out of the pool, what the hell does that have to do with illegals crossing the border?
Nevertheless, to understand why Clinton’s borrowing is worse than Obama’s, I’ve prepared some analogies of my own. First, consider what Obama did to his friend, Deval Patrick. Let’s say that last night I was out two-stepping at some tavern along the Monongahela River and I spotted a young and barefoot, curly-haired deli girl from the Giant Eagle wearing tight jean cut-offs and a red-checked restaurant napkin for a top. I suddenly remembered a line you used to great success when we were trolling the singles bars during the 2003 Appalachia Festival of the Book, a line that this gal would surely go all Patsy Cline for.
So I walk up to her and I pull my lower lip all the way out so she can see my tobacco chaw, big as a Bumblebee Hummingbird, and then I drop my cell on the bar—just the way you did—and I say, “Sweetheart, if the governor of Pennsylvania calls on this phone tonight, it’s because he heard your tongue might be trapped in the Skoal mine.”
Should I have given you credit for that can’t-miss line, even though it would have totally broken the mood? Probably. But you are my friend, and even though you were a thousand miles away at the time, you clearly would have supported me in my efforts to have anonymous, one-off hillbilly sex in the litter-strewn cab of a Ford F-150.
Now let’s adjust the scenario to describe what Hillary did to her rival John Edwards. Let’s say you and I were both in that Monongahela roadhouse and we simultaneously spotted the curly-haired supermarket deli girl. Each of us wanted to take her out to our respective F-150s and make dirty redneck love to her on a fry-scented bed of McDonald’s bags. But supposing, when you briefly turned your back for some emergency flossing and an Altoid, I approached the helpless object of our attentions and I used your awesome Skoal line to seduce her. By the time you turned around she and I would already be out in the parking lot with the heat and the Allman Brothers turned all the way up.
So to summarize, Barack Obama’s speech probably does not meet the definition of “plagiarism,” but Hillary Clinton’s speeches clearly meet the definition of “cockblocking.”
I’m not sure how it’s escaped my attention since he’s been in elected office for like 57 years and this is his second time running for president, but John McCain is one of the worst public speakers I’ve ever seen, including George W. Bush and Flava Flav. I’m talking like early-round American Idol-contestant bad. For all of our current president’s well-documented lack of eloquence at the podium, there seems to be an authenticity to his mispronunciations and malapropisms. McCain’s cadence, on the other hand, makes him sound like a nursery school teacher speaking to her class during story and Cheerios time. In an effort to make eye contact he slightly shifts his head from side to side, but his eyes remain obviously riveted to the teleprompter like he’s drawing oxygen from it. Honest to God, it gives me the creeps and has me re-thinking the possibility that I may vote for him if it’s McCain v. Clinton in the general.
That proposition looks less and less likely, though; Obama is winning by comfortable margins and Hillary is beginning to look like one of those aging sports dynasties that is far more feared for what they’ve done as opposed to what they can still do. Being a Chicago guy, it reminds me of the first Bulls championship year (1990-91), where they faced the Pistons in the conference finals after losing to them three years in a row. Everyone was wary of the Pistons and their obvious historical mojo over the Bulls, but the Bulls were clearly superior that year, having won 11 more games during the regular season, and they ended up crushing the Pistons in four straight before dispatching the Lakers in five and kicking off the celebratory looting and burning of cars on Michigan Avenue. Just like when the Pistons walked off the floor before time expired in the final game, denying the Bulls their due congratulations, Hillary seems incapable of publicly acknowledging Obama’s wins.
For all of the Clintons’ alleged fearsome political abilities, very little of it has been on display and Hillary’s current campaign messaging of “come on, he’s not that great,” and “so what if he’s good at giving speeches and inspiring people and raising money and winning primaries and caucuses, because that stuff doesn’t matter,” seems to have little chance at success.
It reminds me of the current Juno backlash. Ever since Juno became the little movie that could earn better than $100 million and some Oscar noms to boot, the haters have come out of the woodwork to try to remove this particular emperor’s clothes. They say the dialogue is over-precious, that the movie has no consistent ideology, that Juno herself is altogether too precocious and charming, that she isn’t real. Now, these charges about Juno all happen to be true, but people (including me) really liked the movie anyway. It’s authentic (enough) and charming and entertaining and nobody is in the mood for the culture scolds to come and steal that away.
Sure, Obama might get a little too soaring in his rhetoric and his supporters occasionally resemble a cult and his “We are the change we’ve been waiting for” slogan sounds vaguely Tony Robbins-ish, but obviously people are responding to it. They like it.
Clinton simply doesn’t understand the zeitgeist and she’s getting steamrolled because of it. Juno and Barack Obama appeal to audiences for similar reasons. They both retain the generous amounts of cynicism and snark that mark our generation, but also tap into a genuine desire to connect and do good.
Think of the appeal of the final scene of Juno with Juno and Paulie Bleeker serenading each other on the front stoop. Here are two characters declaring their love for each other, but they’re not all gross and kissy and sappy about it. It’s hopeful, but still restrained and cool.
Not to get all David Brooks on you, but I see Obama’s appeal in much the same way. Obama’s biggest remaining hurdle may be to prevent his supporters from getting too carried away, since being cool doesn’t work if everyone gets overheated. He seems to realize this, as well, as he delivered his most boring, policy-heavy speech of the campaign following his Wisconsin victory.
Hillary, then, has been reduced to our “comic book guy,” our national scold telling us we’re all wrong.
I’m no James Carville, but that looks like a losing position to me.