The Magazine

Hillary Goes to Wal-Mart

From the June 23, 2003 issue: The latest skirmish in the Clinton wars.

Jun 23, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 40 • By MATT LABASH
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Fairfax, Virginia

IT'S HARD TO DESCRIBE the electricity one feels when crossing this Northern Virginia strip-mall parking lot to attend Hillary Clinton's "Living History" book-signing. But I haven't been this excited about Wal-Mart since my one-hour photos came back in 25 minutes. It makes me feel all sprightly and young again--as if it were 1998.

Hillary has yet to arrive, but already, her fans and detractors are sparring. On one side of the street, snaking out of the store through the lawn'n'garden section, are the Hillaryites. They carry umbrellas and folding chairs and squeeze-bottles. They look like public librarians and NPR pledge-drivers. They arrive as early as 9 A.M. to snatch up all 2,000 books and be in place to get them signed at 7:30 that evening. They are a patient, trusting people. And they will need patience to endure the taunts of their opponents, standing across the way on a median strip.

The Wal-Mart parking lot is shaping up to resemble an old-school gang fight. Except instead of knives and chains, the combatants use placards and really weak song parodies. The Hillaryites' tormentors are the Freepers, a fierce, warlike tribe from the Free Republic organization--a fire-breathing conservative band of Internet brothers who often call each other by their screen names, even in person. The gist of the Freeper complaint--one seconded by many mainstream book reviewers who are much less intense than they are--is that Hillary has been paid $8 million to perpetrate a fraud, one of the many tributary frauds being her claim that she didn't know her husband had relations with Monica Lewinsky until he admitted it in August 1998, seven months after the story broke.

The contempt expressed for Hillary is of a nature that even I, who labor in the vineyards of full-time Clinton-bashers, have rarely heard. Like many conservatives, they seem to dislike her more than Bill--presumably because Bill is regarded as a phony, but he at least lives his lies. Hillary, the thinking goes, is living someone else's lies, making her a phony squared. The Freepers take pride in not being full-time activists--"We all have REAL JOBS," says the business card of one of them. Still, they come off as dedicated protest professionals. They save money on placards by writing different messages on the front and back of their signs. And they bring fun costumes, like the guy wearing a full devil suit, who communicates, in his own understated way, that Hillary is the Princess of Darkness.

Dave Fordice, a Freeper mechanical engineer, is conducting a high-volume marriage seminar (What would you do if your husband serially cheated on you?), when he's accosted by a Hillary partisan in a postal service uniform, who goes, well, kind of postal. It's hard to understand her through all the foaming, but she says something about Dave not being God, which all of us--even Dave--know, because God probably wouldn't wear a "Fry Mumia" T-shirt, as Dave does.

The Freepers and the Hillaryites go back and forth, speaking like overheated bumper stickers, in a manner that resembles our political discourse through most of the nineties. A Freeper placard touts Monica's "Quote of the Century: 'I voted Republican this year, the Democrats left a bad taste in my mouth.'" "Boo!" say several of the Hillaryites. The Freepers start bleating like barnyard animals, then break into a chorus of "Sheeple Who Need Sheeple." "Loser!" cough the Hillaryites, now holding L-signs up to their foreheads. The Freepers are outnumbered about 200 to 1. But preparation is everything, and the Freepers seem to be getting the best of it.

The Hillaryites are frustrated, but a bellicose, heavyset woman starts trying to rally the troops by screaming "Bozo! Bush is a BOZO!" I scramble over to her and try to conduct an interview. But she's tasted blood and finds it difficult to stop. She tries to respond to questions and wage war at the same time. The effect is that of a Tourette's sufferer short of medication: "My name is Tina, and those are BOZO LOVERS! BUSH IS BOZO THE CLOWN! Hi, who you with? BOZO! Who do you write for? DOWN WITH BOZO!"