I find Hillary Clinton fascinating. I really do. I don’t agree with most of her politics (both her public positions and her process for achieving goals), but I think she’s incredibly interesting. I think she embodies a particular strain of American strivers, the ones who practice an aggressive form of in-the-box thinking: “so that’s the game, huh? Well I’m gonna learn all the rules and work harder at playing it than anyone!” Like Tracy Flick from Election.
Of course, the problem that literalist strivers like Hillary often encounter is that whatever the game is, often the players with personal charm, crowd appeal, creativity, raw natural talent and–sometimes–total shamelessness are the ones who get ahead. What’s more, everyone has experienced this in daily life. Life isn’t fair, we’re told from a young age.
And this is why Hillary’s book tour has failed to win many hearts and minds on the “she was robbed” front.
We’ve all experienced disappointment and failure in our romantic lives, our careers, sports and hobbies, the political causes and candidates we’ve supported, our families, financial decisions… It’s literally a universal human experience. And it’s also almost universal that the best advice anyone gets in a situation where you’ve just had disappointment is to take a philosophical view of it, to move on, learn what lessons can be learned, realize life isn’t fair, find dignity and reflection in defeat.
A good example of personal and professional redemption after an extremely tough, close presidential race, one which–in my opinion–was much more clearly “stolen” by forces supporting the other candidate, is Al Gore’s 2000 loss to George W. Bush. Like Hillary, Al Gore won the popular vote, but unlike Hillary, Gore’s defeat was crystallized by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision where two* of the justices voting to stop the recount in Florida (which it appeared Gore was posed to win) were appointed by his opponent’s father. After his defeat, Gore gained some weight and grew a beard, but came roaring back as a climate-change activist, winning the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize and the 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary for An Inconvenient Truth.
*To be fair/accurate, one Bush appointee (Clarence Thomas) voted with the majority and one (David Souter) dissented.
So last week I binge-watched most of the Hillary interviews I could find. I watched her interview with Rachel Maddow, with Jane Pauley, with Anderson Cooper and even the one with the hosts of The View, but the one that really provided an insight into how Hillary thinks was Vox’s interview by Ezra Klien, Vox’s editor-in-chief.
Ezra Klein is clearly a skillful interviewer and without breaking the “friendly interview” facade (Hillary several times refers to “we” and “us,” clearly including Ezra in her group), steers Hillary away from the “blame game” sound bites that the TV interviewers aim for and which Hillary (oddly) seems to relish giving, and asks some very pointed questions of historical importance: why didn’t you run a more inspiring campaign? Why the focus on process and “realistic” goals rather than big ideas and goals? Why didn’t you understand that Trump was a different kind of opponent? Why didn’t you understand that your personal brand is so tightly identified with politics-as-usual in what was obviously a change election?
Throughout the interview you can see that Hillary is uncomfortable with the bigger-picture questions but is very eager to dive into wonky details and any chance she can get to blame her usual suspects. But at the same time, I think this interview was more revealing than any of her others to-date (I haven’t heard the Terry Gross interview yet).
Hillary is a hyper-left-brain thinker who can’t empathize with artistic and imaginative personality types. Hillary refers several times to facts, the reality-based world she prefers to live in, but only speaks with disdain about big ideas and lofty goals. In her view of American political history, change is made in carefully measured increments through a series of compromises hammered out by people with a strong command of the complexity of the issues. What does she make of “I have a dream” and “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”? Didn’t she live through these events?
For Hillary, “The System” is made up of good people whom she knows well. Several times in the interview, Hillary defends “The System” and Klein even asks her about an occasion in the 2008 primary campaign where Hillary defended the role of lobbyists in US politics. Most Americans have a dim view of national politics, but for Hillary the Washington “swamp” is made up of real people just trying to do their best to make a difference. She says that America does best “between the center right and the center left,” i.e., the dead center, the status quo. In response to Klein’s questions about achieving big-picture liberal goals like universal health care, reading between the lines of Hillary’s responses it appears that her view is that electing a president who actually espouses difficult goals is the worst way to actually achieve them, since The System will resist any drastic change. In her view, the way to achieve something like universal health care is through years of incremental changes that, taken separately, don’t upset vested interests.
Hillary really doesn’t like rural dwellers. Towards the end of the interview, about 7 minutes from the end, the conversation turns to the topic of the political geography of the 2016 election, the popular vote and the Electoral College. Without hesitating, Hillary says that the Electoral College is an anachronism, and, doubling down, points out that the counties that voted for her represent two-thirds of the nation’s economic output, are more “optimistic” than the ones that voted for her opponent, and are more diverse and culturally progressive. This surprised me. I figured that Hillary would be more sensitive about this after her “Basket of Deplorables” gaffe. She’s basically saying that her voters are richer, are winners in today’s economy and aren’t backward hicks, and by implication her opponent’s voters are. She also doesn’t fail to mention that white voters voted for Trump because Trump stirred up their latent racist sympathies, and says outright that white women turned against her because their husbands and boyfriends told them that Hillary might go to jail. Now, I think there are some deeper psychopathologies at work here (see below), but it’s pretty clear that Hillary just doesn’t like people from rural areas. Partly, probably, because she was treated so poorly as the First Lady of Arkansas while Bill Clinton was governor there.
Hillary has unresolved grievances towards Bill Clinton. Anyone who’s been married, especially if you’ve been married a long time, understands that you never love everything about the person you love. If anything, there are certain tics, quirks, pet peeves and personality traits that only get more grating as the years go by. It’s interesting that Hillary Clinton, for example, is so clearly anti-hick, when her husband–while a highly intelligent Rhodes Scholar and by no means an intellectual lightweight–is culturally a hick. He was raised in a trailer park by a single mother in Arkansas. He still speaks with a hillbilly accent. He likes soul food and fat-bottomed girls. It’s interesting that the only real tidbit about the Clintons’ home life that has come out of What Happened is that Bill Clinton likes to rearrange the bookshelves. Really? A former two-term president, one who argued that Hillary was neglecting the white working-class voter, never said “I told you so” after the election? Even when Hillary had, as she admitted, had “her share of chardonnay”? For anyone who’s been married, it’s incredibly easy to imagine heated conversations and mutual incriminations. I’ve already tweeted that Hillary Clinton’s accusation of Putin’s “manspreading” smacks much more of emotional transference from Bill than a realistic assessment of the space occupied by the 5’7″, 160-lb Putin.
Plus there’s the tidbit, from Jane Pauley’s interview of Hillary on CBS Sunday Morning, that What Happened was written in the house next door to the Clintons’ main house in Chappaqua. Why would Hillary be spending so much time in the house next door to the mansion she shares with Bill? If you’ve been married a long time and have undergone a stressful ordeal with a lot of spousal disagreements, you understand why. I will go out on a limb and say this: I think that the Clintons are excellent candidates for a late-in-life separation or divorce. Their marriage has been defined by their personal political ambitions and quest for power. This year, 2017, is Peak Hillary. By 2020 she’ll be a footnote. The Clintons will be no more of a power couple than George & Laura Bush are, probably less so. That’s a reality they haven’t dealt with in the decades they’ve been together, and I doubt their marriage can survive it. Mark my words.