In The Selling of the President, Joe McGinniss details how Richard Nixon’s handlers micromanaged every aspect of his public persona in 1968, to craft an image for a fickle public that had rejected the longtime politician eight years before.
It is an easy bet that Hillary Clinton’s top strategists have dog-eared copies of this book close at hand. Clinton has been running for president nonstop since 2000, but earlier this month she announced her candidacy—on Twitter, no less. She tweeted, “I’m running for president. Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion.” Nixon’s people would be impressed.
To be sure, every candidate nowadays is intensively stage-managed, but there does seem something special about Clinton’s handling this second time around. Nothing is being left to chance. One can imagine the debate over her Twitter announcement: Should it be “average Americans”? No, no! People don’t like to be told they’re average. How about “regular Americans”? No. That suggests that some Americans are irregular. Hmm . . . better go with “everyday Americans”!
Clinton’s Twitter announcement suggests she plans to rerun the 2000 campaign of Al Gore: the hard-bitten class-warrior fighting for average—sorry, everyday—Americans against the malefactors of great wealth. Under the Clinton banner, this premise is absurd and obscene in equal parts, but it may prove successful.
It is absurd because Clinton has little in common with everyday Americans. She is fabulously wealthy, but not because she built a better mousetrap, saved a foundering company, or pitched a no-hitter in the World Series. And not even because she is a politician; lots of politicians attain wealth, but few do so by charging exorbitant speaking fees or commanding eight-figure book deals. Clinton is wealthy because she is famous, something only a handful of Americans can possibly understand, which is what really separates her from her fellow citizens.
She has been hermetically sealed in the bubble of celebrity for a quarter-century. People are starstruck by celebrities, and they don’t talk to them as they do each other. For all this time, moreover, she has been surrounded, layer upon layer, by handlers, strategists, policy wonks, pollsters, financiers—the list goes on. Her interactions with everyday Americans are mediated by armies of paid assistants.
Really, the only claim Clinton can make to understanding the travails of everyday Americans is her party’s platform. Endorsement of that document is a kind of sacrament that bestows the power of empathy upon every Democratic pol. This is perhaps the most absurd premise of the Clinton candidacy. By this logic, Democrats could in theory nominate a robot who merely spouted DNC talking points and it would be more empathetic than a living Republican.
Her candidacy is obscene because Clinton represents the apotheosis of the Democratic party’s post-Great Society hypocrisy. It used to be that the Republicans were the party of big business and Democrats the party of organized labor. The GOP charged that the Democrats were a bunch of socialists, and the Democrats responded that the GOP was a pack of plutocrats. But about 40 years ago, things started to change; labor began to decline, and new campaign finance laws allowed business to subsidize politics more thoroughly. In the 1980s, the Democrats responded by courting business energetically—yet they never ditched their claim that the GOP alone is elitist.
No two Democrats have been better at this sleight-of-hand than Bill and Hillary Clinton. Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign smashed all fundraising records; it also skirted the limits of campaign finance law, not to mention ethical propriety. One would think that the Clintons could not top that, but the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation seems to be operating on a more daring plane altogether. The details remain sketchy, but the foundation appears to be in part a slush fund collecting money from those looking to buy a piece of the Clinton restoration. And its donors are not the everyday Americans from whom Hillary Clinton is ordering Chipotle burritos. They are the heaviest of heavy hitters in finance, industry, and commerce, and they include foreign governments (the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, etc.) that have contributed millions of dollars.