Day 56: Hillary Has Pneumonia

day-56
On Thursday, I took about 300 aerial photographs and re-watched All the Way, the HBO film about LBJ, on the plane.  I turned up the volume just as LBJ is entering the Capitol to make his first public remarks as president before Congress.  Still absorbing the fact of Kennedy’s assassination and his own sudden elevation to the presidency, Johnson, played by Bryan Cranston, is the cynosure of all eyes, cameras and former colleagues turning toward him in a swirl of suspenseful curiosity.  Meanwhile, the memory of a recurrent nightmare from childhood spools through Johnson’s mind.  In it, he hides in terror under the floorboards of a house during a Comanche raid.  Cowering in the dark, yet certain of his eventual discovery and death at the hands of an unseen enemy, he intones with grim conviction, “It’s only a matter of time before they haul me up into the light where their knives gleam.”

On Sunday, I caught the nightly news, which showed footage of an obviously unwell Hillary Clinton leaving a 9/11 ceremony and collapsing while trying to get into a car.  It came out that she had been being treated for pneumonia and dehydration.  Shortly after her collapse, Clinton re-appeared, waving at the crowd and asserting that she was just fine.  Having known since Friday that she had pneumonia, Clinton later justified glossing over it, saying “I just didn’t think it was going to be that big a deal.”

Part of me wants to believe that the electorate is capable of understanding what’s entailed in recovering from this common but dangerous ailment.  Hillary must rest, independent of a time-table; doing so needn’t have any ill effect on the prospect of her winning.  Let her surrogates fill the gap.  Let Hillary herself stay at home and wage a modern-day front-porch campaign.  Behaving commonsensically could be a path to victory.

But what if Johnson’s murderous vision of American politics is more realistic?  Will Hillary’s untimely illness destroy her chances?  As All The Way ends, Johnson’s dark vision of politics dogs him, even as the 1964 election validates his claim to the presidency.  As the adulation of devoted friends and supporters washes over him at his victory party, still that inner voice murmurs its grim prophesy:

But the sun will come up, and the knives will come out.  And all these smiling faces will be watching me, waiting for that one first moment of weakness.  And then they will gut me like a deer.

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Power Lines: Hillary’s Nomination

Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky wedding, NYC
Interesting to find this picture circulating on Twitter soon after Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination.  Of the millions of extant photographs of Hillary—whether taken from throughout her public career or in the company of her husband former president Bill Clinton—, the choice of this particular image to punctuate news of her unprecedented political achievement was almost shocking.

It pictures Hillary with her late mother Dorothy and daughter Chelsea, taken on the day Chelsea married.  Standing to one side of her aged mother, Hillary is the embodiment of conventional femininity and maternal pride.  She is simply a mother and a daughter, occupying a place in the generations celebrating a classic rite of passage.  Sartorially, the lady politician famous for her pantsuits has disappeared: if anything, her fancy dress wears her.

How far we have come, the picture telegraphs, particularly in light of Mrs Rodham’s story.  She managed to surmount a hard loveless childhood to raise and inspire a daughter who has bent tradition to become the symbol of something new in American history.  Mrs Clinton’s own ambitions, coupled with those of her husband, long ago catapulted them to the heights of political celebrity, a journey synonymous with radical social mobility.  The Clintons have grown dramatically more wealthy.  And who knows what the future holds for Chelsea?

Though a quintessential American success story, the Clintons are no longer representative of most Americans.  In that regard, Chelsea’s fancy wedding in Duchess County, New York, encapsulates everything that a segment of the American public dislikes about the Clintons.  The private and public lines of Hillary’s destiny are awkwardly entwined, as controversies over her email server make clear.

If this were a photograph of Kennedy men, taken back on the day of Jack’s wedding, say, how different our reactions would likely be.  Ah, yes, we would say: here is Jack getting married, perpetuating the Kennedy dynasty.  We might not pause to criticize the expense of his suit or the nature of his political ambitions.

Bill’s absence from the picture: yes, he may be absent.  Should Hillary become president, increasingly she will be writing her own story, and, as this photograph’s appearance on the internet suggests, the visual culture of the presidency, and women’s sense of their place in the nation, will also change.  The story line is being written even now, of the power lines that have gotten American women to where they are.

Image:
Photograph by Barbara Kinney

Related
Judith Shulevitz, How to Fix Feminism (NYT)

The Democrats: Anger in a Different Key

low-angle black and white photograph of a startled-looking Hillary Clinton
For years, the Democratic Party has pursued a comfortably centrist agenda while relying on identity politics to sustain its popularity.  It has pursued social good without much regard for economy or efficiency, and, primarily for that reason, has alienated many business interests and ordinary, thrifty, business-like people.  In Illinois, the good that individual Democratic officeholders seek to do hardly makes up for the many instances of criminal corruption and abuse of trust that stain the reputation of the party.

Though Democrats purport to fight the scourge of poverty and ignorance, that goal has lost its urgency, the how of it suffocated under layers of bombast and bureaucracy.  Even health-care reform, which has given millions of Americans better access to medicine and stands as this era’s chief domestic initiative, has driven up premiums and supplied fresh evidence of federal ineptitude.

Whatever Hillary Clinton’s merits (and they are many), she personifies the compromised condition of the Democratic Party.  Like her party, she wants to be all things to all people.  That very characteristic disables her from accommodating and channeling the ire festering in the hearts of the Democratic electorate, the ire that is powering the “Feel the Bern” movement.

However worthy her intentions, Clinton cannot step out of her skin.  She can’t disavow her wealth and celebrity, can’t ditch her myriad A-list connections, can’t dis-entrench herself from the inner workings of her party.  She can’t re-imagine Democratic ideology for fear of upsetting the apple cart that’s carrying her along.  And she can’t set herself at odds with the past without diminishing the legacy of her husband, Bill.   Being so closely identified with the ex-president is proving a big liability.  All these factors prevent Hillary Clinton from being the change agent Democratic voters want and need.

Bernie Sanders represents this constituency, which amounts to approximately 43 percent of all Democrats voting in this primary season.  Sanders doesn’t want to please anyone, and he (like Trump) isn’t very concerned about the tenability of his program.  Sanders’ goal is to redefine the purposes of the Democratic Party.  Sanders’ voters will be lost unless someone else comes along who can do this well.

It’s a shame, because the Democratic Party is ripe for radical reform.  It could transform itself into a proponent of internal economic growth, with a focus on the intensive cultivation of the nation’s human and physical capital.  It could be a party of peace, a party of green.  Once upon a time, the Democratic Party stood for reform, retrenchment, and economy.  Could the right leader make the Democratic Party great again?

Image:  “First Lady Hillary Clinton, Speaker of the House Tom Foley,
and House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt speak at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol,”
1993 photograph by Laura Patterson, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
For more information click here.

 

The Feminist Gap

There was something poignant (and grotesque) about the ‘scolding’ that Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem gave younger American women this week.  The subject was Hillary and the support that female voters—as women—supposedly owe her.  The tone was dire yet dismissive.  Madeleine Albright, revered for her achievements as a diplomat, essentially threatened wayward women with punishment, warning that if they didn’t ‘help’ Hillary they would go to hell.  Gloria Steinem, now a shocking 81, relied on sexual stereotyping to explain why some young women have chosen to vote for Bernie.  These women, she claimed, care only about ‘where the boys are’—lemming-like, they have gravitated to Sanders because ‘the boys are with Bernie.’  In other words, young women in Sanders’ camp suffer from an out-of-control sex drive!  Both Albright and Steinem asserted in different ways that young women had forgotten their rightful duty, which, in the eyes of older feminists, is to practice sex solidarity.  This tenet, so central to first-generation feminism, is outmoded and deeply unpalatable.

The desperate awkwardness of these protests points up a problem that Hillary is having.  How does her sex, how does the women’s movement, figure in her campaign?  Hillary never was much of a bra-burner; she never wasted much time railing against society’s constraints or male tyranny.  Instead, she crossed over early, believing that doors were open and assuming that full equality and freedom were hers.  She carved out a remarkable path, relying more on her own grit and talents than on the dictates of feminist ideology.

In some profound sense, Hillary is not free to tell her story, which is that of a woman who has been more in the public eye for more of her life than any other woman in American history.  Contrary to Steinem’s assumption about the fate of women, Hillary has not ‘lost power’ as she’s aged.  Instead, Clinton is one of the most well-known and powerful women on the face of the globe.

As Clinton has grown more unusual, more distinguished, and more famous, her capacity to pass as a representative woman has inevitably waned.  The fact is one to reckon with in the remaining campaign.

Why Hillary Should Declare, “I’m Worth It”

Who can stand the sexist attacks on Hillary’s speaking fees?

The questions aim to make voters aware that, while not in office, Hillary accepted huge fees for speaking to audiences that included big banks.  Like many effective campaign tactics, however, questioning the legitimacy of her fees also serves other, less-than-creditable ends.  The questions implicitly cast aspersions on Hillary Clinton’s essential worth, on her value as a veteran stateswoman, and on the integrity of the speaking engagements themselves.  The issue is a classic ‘dog-whistle’ tuned to the frequency of the envious and chauvinistic.

The underlying assumption?  Something must be wrong because Hillary couldn’t possibly be worth that kind of money.  Thank god Hillary is running for office!  She’s giving us an opportunity to express our resentment toward women who defy social norms and out-perform men.  How dare she make that kind of money in one day?

What’s clear from Secretary Clinton’s responses is that she doesn’t feel guilty.  She doesn’t feel implicated in the banks’ decision to pay up to hear what’s in her heart and brain.  Thank goodness she isn’t apologizing for the very legitimate demand within the business community to learn from one of the nation’s most experienced leaders.

But Hillary, for the sake of all women struggling against their own glass ceilings, you must go a step further.  You must assert that your experience and perspective on American politics are unique, and that, in the eyes of the market, you deserve your fees.

You might lose the anti-capitalist vote, but you’d win the gratitude of millions of American women who are tired of being treated as though they can’t possibly be worth as much as a man.

Scenarios of a possible presidential run

The watery, icy expanse of Lake Michigan under a sunset sky.  A pink building glows on the horizon.
At dinner the other night, a friend told me she’d read that if Hillary says nothing this month, that means she’s running.

Ah, yes; Hillary, who by dragging her feet is not doing any favors to her party.  If she doesn’t run, the decrepit condition of the Democratic party—with respect to both leadership and ideology—will become obvious, handing the Republicans a win.

If Hillary does run, the Republicans with the best shot at defeating her are Jeb Bush or Rand Paul.  Some people recoil from the prospect of another Bush presidency.  Yet others view Jeb as his own man, someone who’s competent and familiar, yet refreshingly new as a national figure. He would pull masses of moderates—both Republican and unaligned—back to his party.  Rand Paul could poll well with both wings of his party, while drawing off disaffected liberals whose concern for certain forms of freedom and whose desire to rein in an overactive and over-militarized state the Democratic Party has ignored for decades.

While many older Democratic ‘skirts and suits’ consider Hillary unbeatable, at this point the idea of a Hillary presidency has gone very stale. We’re tired of it already, and she hasn’t started running.  She is great presidential material, but the timing for a run is unpropitious indeed.

Hillary will be particularly vulnerable if she goes unchallenged in the primary.  I’ve seen articles seeking to discourage Elizabeth Warren from throwing her hat in the ring.  Observers fear that Warren will weaken Hillary’s support while exposing Hillary’s vulnerabilities.  Warren’s sudden (and I believe short-lived) ascendancy exposes the strength of popular frustrations that the prevailing centrist brand of Democracy has been ignoring.  For that very reason, Warren’s candidacy would strengthen the party and Hillary’s chances, by triggering a much-needed internal dialogue and influencing the positions that Hillary would carry into the general campaign.

Hillary merits the admiration and respect she enjoys today.  Can she kindle within herself the fresh ideological vision and spark of political genius that the country needs?

A feather in her cap, or a fire in her belly?

hard-choices

A feather in her cap, or a fire in her belly:

Such are the twin engines of a possible Hillary run.

They won’t both fire, though; only one.

If appetite consumed her, she’d have made her decision.

If a feather is her motive, she’ll surely lose.

 

Mrs Clinton is on tour promoting her book Hard Choices
published by Simon and Schuster.