Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hillary Must Unleash The Hidden her

"[Raskolnikov] woke up late next day after a broken sleep. But his sleep had not refreshed;
he woke up bilious, irritable, ill-tempered, and looked with hatred at his room. It was a tiny cupboard of a room about six paces in length. It had a poverty-stricken appearance with its dusty yellow paper peeling off the walls..."

Thus Dostoevsky describes his anti-hero's insalubrious situation in Crime And Punishment. Of course - it's Dostoevsky after all - this is as much a delineation of Raskolnikov's psychological dilapidation as it is of the squalor of his physical surroundings. As such it can also stand as a surreal metaphor for Hillary Clinton's equally desperate position. She pocketed Rhode Island with ease, triumphed handsomely in Ohio and half-nelsoned her opponent in Texas till he cried "uncle". What more can a gal do? Well something she's never done before if she is to have any hope of breaking out of that grubby room with the barf-colored wallpaper.

For all the grit and resilience she continues to display the nomination remains irretrievably out of reach. Irretrievably? Just so. As Jonathan Alter shows in a must-read analysis as brilliant as it is inexorable, even in the bizzaro-world of this year's Democratic primaries she cannot possibly make up the lost ground. "It's the math, stupid!" will be engraved on her political sarcophagus. This intractable arithmetic, of course, reflects simply the votes and victories Obama skillfully wove into a noose for her. His fifty state strategy, his netroots mobilization and his quasi-Messianic appeal together with the Clinton campaign's many hubristic miscalculations and the candidates clunky performance have built the gallows on which she now stands.

Will a pardon arrive before the bolt is pulled on her trapdoor? How? The Democratic Party with the cunning of a dedicated suicide has already cut off all possibility of second thoughts. The oh-so-representative proportional system they've installed precludes any blowout of delegate wins in the sixteen contests remaining. Ditto Michigan and Florida re-dos. The egregious Super Delegate bloc - the deus-ex-machina designed specifically to thwart a Jesse Jacksonesque hijack of the nomination - is rendered as helpless as a deer in the headlights of Obama's post-racial New-Agey bandwagon. The Blacks are solid for him, and who could blame them. The Uppity Whites find he gives meaning to their vacuous Godless existences filled heretofore with latte, botox, Al-Gorery, and self-righteous political disaffection bordering on treachery. They're his to the end. The Youth - all Game Boy and You Tube - are enjoying the Coolness, Like, Of It All and won't quit. Hillary, who was supposed to break the mold, is left with the old FDR coalition (minus the now republicanized South), and since the Daddy of the New Deal died three score and three years ago that's never going to be enough.

This is a tragedy for Hillary but for the Dems it's an unmitigated disaster. The Obama balloon, buffeted by sudden journalistic squalls, is beginning to leak. The oratorical tour de force of his Iowa speech - a truly magnificent performance - cannot be reprised even on a monthly basis and not become diminished. You can lose your virginity only once. More often requires painful and expensive reconstructive surgery and a prudish billionaire's desperate bride. So it is with those outside the Democratic Primary constituency yet to be enthralled by the Big O. With them he must go it again. If nominated he must burst upon the national scene fresh and unheard a second time and then weave his spell over voters not congenitally disposed to respond to his eloquent and elegant Buy-The-World-A-Coke persona. This is impossible. Those now unmoved and those initially impressed who now see his performance as just a particularly tony version of the usual politician's shtick will not be won over. He is just another liberal - very liberal - demagogue selling the same shop-worn bill of goods that Lyndon Johnson glorified as the Great Society. The intervening decades have rendered a merciless verdict on LBJ's Utopia. Obama is, therefore, unelectable. This will be clear to even the Swooners long before November. When that happens even his core support will melt like sea-foam on damp sand.

If Obama is a sprinter with only enough stamina to last a couple of laps, Hillary is made by nature and nurture for the forbidding steeplechase of a Presidential campaign. She has, as they say in sporting circles, "a good engine". What she doesn't have is a personality which can be put on public display. Like Dracula she must flee the light. So, as with Nixon, another unappealing hard-done-by individual with rampant paranoid tendencies, she is in a constant battle to remain invisible while at the same time commanding the attention of all.

This takes its toll on candidate and campaign alike. She takes refuge in wonkery, conjuring up a blizzard of policy minutiae to hide within. Like the homely girl at the Prom, deserted by her reluctant date, she disappears into her usefulness to others, laughing unnervingly before the punchline, fetching drinks, doing a running repair on her glamorous friend's dress, rehanging a drooping banner, pretending not to notice when the Prom King cuts her dead. Hence all the silly lies, so profoundly humiliating when they are revealed, as she must know they will be - she was named after the conqueror of Everest; she is a life-long Yankee fan; she's "fine" with the philanderings of that sorry excuse for a husband of hers; she helped broker peace in Ireland.

McCain's campaign is founded on what he is, Obama's on what he hopes to persuade us he is, Hillary vanishes into what she promises to do for us. It's not really about her per se but rather about the fighter she is, the policy maven she is, the symbolic woman she is, the social worker she is, the sympathetic friend she is, the dedicated public servant she is. She has deconstructed herself into an array of functions she can perform rather than standing before us as a whole person possessed of a variety of abilities but greater, far greater than the sum of them. This is why she seems such a phony, why everything she does, laugh, cry, whine, rage, declaim, empathize, seems coldly calculated to the extent that if she jumped off a cliff we'd reckon she was trying to corner the suicide vote. There is no personal context but rather the opposite of context, a disconnect between the what and the who. We know everything about her and more but she remains essentially a stranger, like an agoraphobic neighbor who only comes out at night. We have as little "feel" for her as we believe she has for us. This is why, once you conceive a dislike for her, as so so many have, it remains a constant unvarying response as no real person breaks through the defensive carapace to mitigate the negativity.

What all this tin-pot psychologizing amounts to is that Hillary is the Dems best bet. Her drawbacks are many, especially against McCain, but she has potential. If she is to muscle her way into the nomination against all the odds she must unleash the hidden her or at least grit her teeth and allow us a meaningful peek or two behind the iron curtain of her day-to-day persona. The sight may not be for the squeamish but it will enable us to see her as a human being and not an automaton of ambition, entitlement and dissimulation. That, unless she's the type that secretly strangles puppies in her free time, can only do good.

Those of us who don't go into convulsions of rapture at political rallies know our leaders are flawed in many ways. We vote for them if we figure those weaknesses are not such as to make them unfit to govern. Sometimes we even support them because of their imperfections. But we must be get to know them before we can make that judgment. If any politician is unwilling or unable to grant us that insight Democracy will chew them up and spit them out.

And that's as it should be.

No comments: