Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard. — H. L. Mencken
My most recent one-to-one conversation with Hillary Clinton took place in October 1991, and I’ve been laughing at myself ever since.
It was an epochal day in Arkansas life. Only that morning, the Arkansas Gazette — the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi, and one of the best—had ceased publication. Many friends had lost their livelihoods.
We ran into the Clintons at a barbecue outside War Memorial Stadium before the last Arkansas-Texas football game in the Southwest Conference. For Razorback fans, i.e. almost everybody, that too was unsettling. Hating Texas on game day was an indispensable part of being an Arkansan. Would anything be the same again?
Days before, Gov. Clinton had announced his presidential candidacy and set off on a ludicrous “listening tour” of the state seeking voters’ permission. He’d promised to serve out his term, but President Bush no longer looked invulnerable. Calculations had changed.
Breaking the GOP hold on the South could change everything.
Diane had been an aide to our host, former governor and then-Sen. David Pryor—a loyal Democrat but no Clintonite. An Arkansas patriot, she gave the big lug a hug and said “Go for it!” I turned to Hillary, and, just to be a smart-aleck, asked, “Have y’all lost your minds? You’ll never have a private life again.”
In my sexist way, I’d simply assumed that the woman was the saner of the two Clintons, and was in thrall to Bill’s mad ambition. That’s certainly true at our house. I was writing a book, but had never covered Arkansas politics. I’d have called the Clintons friendly acquaintances, no more.
I teased Hillary about her well-known role brown-nosing a notoriously erratic but influential local columnist for the victorious Arkansas Democrat. She was known to phone him regularly for advice.
“The problem,” I remember her saying “is that there’s just no end to it. You’ve got to feed his ego every single day.”
We had a spirited talk about the vagaries of the press. Our mutual assumption was that the national media would be different.
And so it turned out to be — except worse, infinitely worse.
See, in a small state like Arkansas the press can be held accountable. In New York and Washington, not so much. Once reporters and pundits become celebrities in their own right, and there’s serious money to be made peddling bogus scandals and conspiracy theories, all bets are off.
And this was before the Internet.
Fast forward 25 years to last week’s Election Eve rally in Philadelphia. By now, I’d long understood that Hillary Clinton’s ambition may actually exceed her husband’s — if only because she’s anything but a natural campaigner. She has to grit her teeth every time. I read something recently about her attending more than 400 fund-raisers during her presidential campaign. 400!
(I believe I’d draw the line at four. So I guess I’ll never be president.)
But joking aside, I’ve been saying privately for months that if Hillary lost, I was going to be angry with her for running at all. As I’ve written, she’d be a fine president if she could be appointed. She’s a tough cookie with a brilliant mind and spine of steel. Nobody better in a tight spot.
However, watching her take the podium in Philly after Bruce Springsteen and a characteristically eloquent President Obama was a worrying reminder that she has little stage presence and distinctly limited oratorical skills.
Along with a tin ear. “Basket of deplorables” has to be the worst clunker in presidential campaign history. If you’re going insult half the population, why not be witty about it?
“The American people,” Mencken wrote, “constitute the most timorous, sniveling, poltroonish, ignominious mob of serfs and goose-steppers ever gathered under one flag in Christendom since the end of the Middle Ages.”
Sure it’s a little wordy, but it conveys the same thought.
Also, as I wrote some months ago, “accepting preposterous fees to speak to Wall Street bankers and then keeping the contents secret is no way to run for president.” Did what it’s tempting to call Hillary’s moral vanity prevent her from grasping how that would look to ordinary wage-earners?
It sure looked that way.
(Diane doesn’t agree with my writing these things. When they worked together on the Arkansas Children’s Hospital board, Hillary was kind and solicitous during a prolonged medical crisis involving our son, earning her lifelong gratitude.)
Even so, I believe Hillary’s analysis is correct. No FBI interference in the election, no President Trump. Alas, however, it’s a TV show. Too many people think they’d prefer watching Trump. Sure, he’s a moral cripple, an ignoramus, and an epic liar, but he can be entertaining.
I do hope she comes to think it was all worth it.
IMAGE: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves as she boards her campaign plane at the Westchester County airport in White Plains, New York, U.S., September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria