Spiraling Toward Irrelevancy

Never has a blog title spoken quicker to the absolute truth than "Spiraling Toward Irrelevancy" ...


Column: "Hillary Clinton v. The Clinton Skeptic"

Friday, 11 January 2008 - 802 words

On the one hand, one cannot rightly blame Hillary Clinton for her mini-breakdown in New Hampshire. For almost as long as she’s been a candidate for president, Senator Clinton has gone substantively unchallenged and remained a dominant frontrunner, cherished by her party and throngs of strangers everywhere she spoke.

Then came Iowa and the shellacking at the hands of Barack Obama. Clinton’s carefully scripted off-the-cuff remarks and meticulously crafted distortions of current events didn’t appear to be helping anymore; every tried and true campaign stratagem seemed to become a perfect disaster, and when the fear of failure got to be too much, perhaps it occurred to her that the New Hampshire primary was coming precariously close to mirroring her own marriage: Someone younger and better looking was standing in the way of what she wanted, and there was nothing she could do about it. When it finally got to be too much, she broke down a little. And it saved her campaign.

On the other hand, skepticism should always be the fallback position when it comes to the Clintons. Likely that Senator Clinton doesn’t open her eyes in the morning without first wondering how it might impact her poll numbers. There is no earthly reason to believe that a woman who hasn’t displayed a spontaneous reaction in fifteen years suddenly found her emotional center – one day before the New Hampshire primary, which she was primed to lose badly – and decided to show everyone, as a means of conveying her resolute earnestness.

Had (then) First Lady Clinton, in the midst of explaining how a right-wing conspiracy was responsible for her husband’s serial infidelity, so much as batted an eye, or paused to blink, or wiped a phantom tear from her eye, perhaps one could reflect upon that display and take the New Hampshire stage show seriously. As it was, her bulldoggedness kept her from anything other than a forward assault, and with our knowing how Mrs. Clinton later reacted to Bill’s further dalliances (minus the conspiracy jive, add lamp throwing), it becomes even harder to believe Candidate Clinton is prone to choking up when reflecting upon the country’s potential.

Not convinced? Then take into account Senator Clinton’s batting practice at the expense of Access Hollywood last Sunday, wherein Maria Menounos subjected the senator to such hard-hitting questions as: “Do you have, like, regular woman problems?” “You’re alone on a Saturday, you don’t have any work to do: What do you do?” and, “Do you watch any reality shows?”

Of particular interest to Clinton skeptics, this gem: “Everyone is talking about Saturday’s debate. And you were criticized for getting angry; more people say angry and defensive. And it seems as though when a male candidate gets upset or voices their opinion, it’s okay. And now we’re seeing a female up there for the first time in a long time, and, and … or, ever. Are you – it seems like it’s not okay for a female. Do you – how do you express your emotions without tuning people out?”

This should have come as a shock to Senator Clinton, who not long ago took great pains to establish the fact she wasn’t being attacked because she’s a woman, but because she was ahead. “Well, I am passionate about what I believe,” Clinton replied, “and I am passionate about this country and what we need to do to change what is happening. And I know that you don’t get change by hoping for it, or demanding it. You get change by working hard to bring people together. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. And I want people to know that about me, and to know that I’m a fighter. You know, you can’t be a president who just says, ‘Oh, send me to the White House and everything will be wonderful.’ That’s not the way the world works. You want to be able to count on somebody to make the changes that they said that they will bring about.”

(For those of you keeping score, that’s “change” four times in one paragraph. And by the way, those of you taking such incalculable delight in President Bush’s problems with the language ought do yourselves the favor of attempting to diagram a few of the above sentences, and enjoy some giggles.)

The skeptic says: Something in the question about emotion finally underscored for the Clinton campaign the senator’s lack of reputation for pointless feelgoodism when compared to Senator Obama; when you’re a liberal, pointless feelgoodism matters. Worse having come to worse, it was decided that Clinton should break down slightly on Monday, lest the voters forget that Clinton is more than aware of what it means to undertake the solemn task of being president.

If it weren’t so brilliant, it would make the skeptic sick to his stomach.


New Column: "Notes on Iowa"

Friday, 04 January 2008 - 591 words

One could comfortably assume that once Iowa rolls up its sidewalks, we can go back to ignoring it for another four years. Regretfully, however, the closer we come to continuous election cycles, the closer we come to All Iowa, All the Time; the next crop of malcontents will start drifting in two years from now, meandering in corner diners and boring everyone anew. Ten months before Election Day, those of us with attention spans cannot help but feel utterly exhausted; all their faces and ideas already seem to blend together. Who do you support? Huckabamaclintmey. That’s my guy. Or gal.

Despite their inherent silliness, the Iowa caucuses do sometimes force pleasant occurrences. Senators Biden and Dodd thought enough of the results to finally get the hint and pull the plugs on their respective campaigns. Were that the senators could have had these moments of clarity months ago, and spare themselves (and us, the citizens they wanted so badly to serve) the indignity of one dopey, twitchy debate performance after another.

On the other hand, Ron Paul took his fifth place finish as a mandate and vowed to plunge headlong into New Hampshire, South Carolina, and presumably Super Tuesday where, after repeatedly being stomped like a hippie at Altamont, he might also get the hint. In the late hours, Greta Van Susteren wondered why Doctor Paul wasn’t invited to participate in a Fox debate, arguing that someone who has garnered ten percent of the caucus vote is a force to be taken seriously and should be allowed to sit at the adult table.

And for most candidates, that case could be logically made. In Doctor Paul’s case, ten percent of Iowa caucus goers means that every one of the State’s 11,232 “9/11 Truthers” took it upon themselves to trudge through the weather and voice their discontent at the Bush administration’s imploding Tower 7 (wink, wink) by casting a drunken shout for Paul, who has, by the way, suggested the United States should have no presence whatsoever in the Arab Middle East. Paul has the Howard Dean bug: He attracts too few serious people to him, and his foreign policy stance is demonstrably naïve.

More likely than not, Senator Clinton’s drubbing was simply the latest incarnation of Iowa’s State gesture: thumbing its nose at a frontrunner. Super Tuesday will sort all that business out. What we do know is that Clinton has made virtually no headway in endearing herself to people who, whatever their reasons, don’t like her; those who dislike her now are going to continue doing so (your author included).

It’s not just because Hillary Clinton presents herself with all the subtlety and nuance of a Triple H ring entrance (compare her caucus night speech to Senator Obama’s and you’ll see it). Unconsciously, she reminds millions of people – not just men, either – of the woman they’ve always disliked most: the nameless woman was (or is) shrill, needlessly domineering, dishonest, and irritating; she carries an undeserved sense of entitlement and, when faced with opposition, sees more fit to bulldoze through it, or curse it, rather than face it honestly.

If Senator Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, the story of how she combated this disconnect will be the great narrative. It’s not as though Democrats find themselves in a position where they must hold their noses and vote Clinton; standing opposite her is a man who, whatever his failings in political philosophy, comes off as more honest, fluid, well-meaning and, frankly, smarter. More than before, Hillary Clinton misjudges Barack Obama at her peril.