After being written-off and told to give up, Hillary has earned grudging respect
By Mark Simpson (Guardian CIF, 6 March 2008)
What is American voters’ problem? The media, on both sides of the Atlantic, has been telling them for weeks that dreary Hillary was “finished” and that Tuesday’s primaries were going to be her “Alamo” – and that Obama, the glamorous, smooth-talking 1960s tribute act, was unstoppable. The kindly Fourth Estate made it as clear as they possibly could which way the idiots should vote on Tuesday, practically hitting them over the heads with it, and what do they do?
Only go and hand “that woman” a stunning, breathtaking – and completely unforeseen by the pundits – comeback last Tuesday, pulling the coronation carpet from under Obama and Michelle’s smartly shod feet. The cheek of it! The racism of it!
So how did it happen? What gave the voters of Texas, Michigan and Rhode Island the nerve to defy their betters and hand Hillary victory? Well, it’s quite ironic, really. You see, it was Hillary’s willingness to become the very thing that she has been painted as being by a hostile media and Obama supporters (who for followers of a man who preaches so much about “unity” and “peace” can be awfully unpleasant).
Yes, of course, she was always something of a bitch anyway – how could a woman who got that far in politics not be? But in the run-up to this do-or-die primary she came out about it. Rather than shedding some tears this time, she presented herself as an out-and-proud battling bitch. She started to go after that nice Mr Obama head-on, claws out, instead of pussy-footying around, or letting hubby Bill do it from behind the lines – or hoping, vainly, that the press might subject Obama to anything other than adoring scrutiny. So she clawed him on his double-dealings over Nafta, she slapped him about over his dodgy links with slum landlords, kicked him in the nuts over his inexperience and his hot air. She became a backbiting face-scratching brawling battling bitch that you’d better not mess with.
Inevitably, battling bitch Hillary was portrayed as simply desperate and bankrupt by a disdainful media, but voters seem to have respected her for it. Voters, especially blue-collar Americans in places like Ohio already experiencing recession, have begun to see her as their bitch, able to fight their corner in difficult times – and, strangely, they’re less concerned than limousine liberals about whether this looks “cool” or “presidential” or not.
The Hillary’s now (in)famous “children” ad – “It’s 3am, your children are asleep, a phone rings in the White House” – announced the emergence of the new Hillary. Denounced by Obama as “the politics of fear”, it showed that at last she was prepared to play hardball, in public, and mess with Obama’s sainted hair. That because she was willing to run such a ruthless ad, she was the kind of person, the kind of woman, that was worthy of that office. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will be up against the party of “national security” – in wartime. A party that won’t hesitate to play hardball will Obama’s halo.
Obama’s eager use of the “children” ad as a cue to play yet again that increasingly grating record of his blamelessness, his virgin stainlessness – “The phone DID ring, she answered it and she made the WRONG decision!” worked against him. Plaintively reminding the public how HE didn’t vote for THAT war (because, actually, he wasn’t in the Senate back then) reminded them that innocence and inexperience can be much the same thing – making him look a bit too goody-goody for the White House, with all its sulphurous compromise. That, whatever else it is, the Oval Office is not a pulpit.
Besides, didn’t Hillary spend most of the 1990s – the last time America was popular and at peace – in that house, surviving everything the Republicans could throw at her? Doesn’t her face, the one the press constantly jeers at for being so much less pretty than Obama’s (a candidate whose face appears to turn caricaturists into lovesick teenyboppers), bear the scars of those battles?
The end of the ad, Hillary answering the White House phone in scarlet lipstick, has both a touch of 1990s nostalgia, and also one of timeless thrilling glamour – a hint of Joan Crawford talking to the board of Pepsi in Mommie Dearest: “Don’t fuck with me, fellas – this ain’t my first time at the rodeo!” Or maybe Ripley in Alien: “Stay away from her you bitch!” (though of course Hillary is both Ripley and Alien Mother).
Hollywood itself didn’t rely on hints, meanwhile. The hit Jack Nicholson “Who Do You Trust?” YouTube ad – “there’s nothing sexier on this earth, believe me gentlemen, than a woman you have to salute in the morning” – endorsed, not just Hillary’s candidacy, but battling bitch Hillary: since we know a loveable bastard like Nicholson wouldn’t respect a woman boss unless she was at least his match.
After being written-off and told to give up, and fighting on regardless, her literally grim determination has earned grudging respect. People look at her face, and all the tiresomeness of it, its lines, its bitterness, its frozen, career-woman trailblazer features, and take them as terrible proof of her commitment. For Hillary, it doesn’t look like a dream; it’s closer to a nightmare. And so, of course, is real politics as opposed to stadium-rock politics. The White House is something she deserves – in every sense of the word.
Meanwhile, people looked at Obama’s much younger, much prettier, much softer, much more pleasing face, basked in his Hawaiian smile, heard his soaring words and phrases, and decided that, while this is one American Idol that they very much like the sound and look of – one who makes them feel mighty good -he just ain’t half the woman that Hillary is.
Copyright Mark Simpson 2008