One way to see what happened Tuesday is that it was an anti-coronation backlash. Iowa said: We are not here to crown Queen Hillary. New Hampshire said: We’re not here to crown King Barack. The polls said they would. People don’t like to be told what they’re going to do.
Other ways to see it: Women saved her. The working-class sisterhood beat the white-collar snots of the mainstream media. Middle-aged women body-slammed young professionals who were carrying on as if history had never happened before because it had never happened to them.
Students were still on Christmas vacation. Hillary had been bruised in Iowa, and people are more inclined to give a second chance to a bully who’s been hurt.
The Democrats of New Hampshire resented the media pile-on, in which national reporters and editors, liberated by what they thought her impending demise, rushed to get on record as never having liked her. In this understanding of events it was the mainstream media that, in effect, showed up at Mrs. Clinton’s last rallies to chant “Iron my shirt.”
But the smartest thought came from a Democratic woman who watched from New York with experienced eyes. She saw it this way. When she was a young woman, she learned to drive on an old Buick. She drove it for seven years. Then she made some money and got to look at other cars. Showrooms, convertibles, long gleaming fins. But she’d come back from a test drive, get back into the Buick, and think: This old leather seat fits me, it feels good. Why complicate life? Why not stick with what’s comfortable? And she did.
She left Mr. Obama on the showroom floor.
I would say: All of the above. And more.
While everyone beats the hell out of the media, which is never wholly a bad idea, one should point out what everyone in politics and journalism knows: Hillary Clinton’s own people knew she was going to lose. Major supporters and fund-raisers thought so and said so, for weeks, off the record.
And they were not heartbroken about it. I saw no tears. They were shocked, not saddened; shaken, not stirred. One told me the problem was the campaign had been so obsessed from day one with showing she was a commander in chief that they never thought to urge her to be a woman among women. She used her sex—the boys are picking on me!—but she never assumed her sex. Then, tired and with nothing to lose, she allowed her eyes to well. It was an arresting sight because it suggested the presence of a soul in the machine.
Let’s look at the tears before they harden like resin into cliché. Quickly. She was taking questions in a diner, a woman asked how she does it each day, she started talking about how hard it is, and she got misty-eyed, her voice soft for once—conversational, not hectoring.
Exactly 100% of the people who saw it on the news and on YouTube had one reaction. It was to ask a question: Is that real or artifice? With the Clintons you always have to ask, which is the great Clinton problem.
In the end, Democratic women seem to have felt sympathy. I suspect the sympathy was connected to one great universal moment between men and women, the one in which in the middle of the fight she gets teary eyed and he, in terror and resentment, says, “Don’t go crying now!” as if her tears were a strategy and not . . . honest tears.
In any case, Democratic women showed no interest in parsing the exact level of narcissism betrayed by Mrs. Clinton’s choked tale of woe. They understood the moment, thought no less of her, and maybe more.
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But I think the crying moment, as it is called, though she didn’t cry, gained extra force because it occurred just as Mr. Obama, as a personality, was settling in as rather a chilly fellow. Sleek and elegant, yes, but cold, or at least cool at the core.
Barack Obama is up against a lot of tropes, a lot of assumptions and understandings about what it is to be young, gifted, black and a major political figure. He’s not Jesse Jackson, he’s not Dr. King, he’s not Andrew Young. He’s trying to break a mold, make it new, be who he is, anticipate expectations, upend clichés, startle you into seeing him clear. He plays down emotionalism in terms of his visage (not his words), keeps his guard up, wears dignity like a cloak. When he appeared with Oprah in Des Moines, she vibrated at the podium like a puppy. He came on cool and loping, always using his hands in the frame in a slow and deliberative manner, to show he never gets a tremor, doesn’t break a sweat. He’s cool. Is that a universally beloved attribute in a national candidate? Is it a plus that carries a minus?
Was what is called sexism part of the story? I suppose, and in a number of ways. When George Bush senior cries in public, it’s considered moving. Ditto his moist-eyed son. But in fairness, they have tended to appear moved about things apart from themselves, apart from their own predicaments. Mrs. Clinton was weeping about Mrs. Clinton. If a man had uttered Mrs. Clinton’s aria—if Mr. Obama had said, “And you know, this is very personal for me . . . as tired as I am . . . against the odds,” and gotten choked—they would have laughed him out of town.
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The night Mrs. Clinton won, she referred to the crying moment by saying she had now, with the help of New Hampshire, found her voice. After 60 years. “High five, fraudbot” was the reaction of the dizzy children at Wonkette, who had it about right. I suspect Mrs. Clinton was attempting to echo Eleanor Roosevelt, of whom it was famously said that she found her voice late in life, in the coal mines of West Virginia and in her husband’s White House.
But one must ask of Mrs. Clinton what one would never ask of Mrs. Roosevelt: Will the new voice have a new accent? She’s going down to South Carolina soon. This could get painful.
And if we are to believe the new voice will be a softer, more conciliatory and more engaging one, how to square that with what is going on at HillaryIs44.com, a Web site that is for all intents and purposes a back door to her war room? There you will see that federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will soon “destroy” Barack Obama in a “scandal” involving an “indicted slumlord” who is Mr. Obama’s “friend of 17 years” and with whom Mr. Obama has been involved in “shady deals.”
This isn’t a new voice, it is the old one, the one we know too well. The item was posted on Thursday, two days after Mrs. Clinton announced her new approach.
Between sobs she is going to try to destroy Mr. Obama. She is going to try to end him. She will pay a price for it—no one likes to see the end of a dream, no one likes a dream killer. But she will pay that price to win, and try to clean up the mess later.