Roosevelt Island, N.Y.
Reporters milled about, waiting for Hillary Clinton to make her grand entrance. Would she come by boat? Perhaps—small police cruisers bobbed up and down alongside the little island in the East River, with Manhattan on one side and Queens on the other. Maybe she’d parachute in? Less likely, but choppers flew over several times.
In a holding pen at the back of the crowd, the perpetually anxious press corps interacted with numerous Clinton advisers, greasing sources and catching up on each others’ personal lives. Karen Finney, who the day before talked on national TV about how unknown the real Hillary Clinton was, gave hugs and politely conversed with members of the media who had been unable to have the same sort of interactions with the candidate herself. John Podesta, the campaign chairman and former White House chief of staff, briefly made the rounds. And various local politicians made themselves available, trying to find their way into the biggest national political story Roosevelt Island had ever been a part of.
In all, 550 media members had requested credentials just to see the perfectly staged and orchestrated event. We did not know exactly how the event, or the ensuing campaign, might unfold. Except, we figured, it would be on a grand scale.
On the main stage, Echosmith played their recent hit, “Cool Kids.” She sees them walking in a straight line, that’s not really her style, the young female singer belted. They all got the same heartbeat, but hers is falling behind. The several thousand assembled for Clinton’s first public campaign rally of the 2016 presidential contest bopped along under the hot sun.
I wish that I could be like the cool kids cuz all the cool kids, they seem to fit in, the song went on. I wish that I could be like the cool kids, like the cool kids.
Eventually, to the great letdown of the more imaginative, Clinton simply walked out. About three hours after the first attendees were admitted, there, toward the H-shaped stage set that mimicked her logo, came the celebrity candidate, slowly glad-handing her way toward the lectern and teleprompter.
The reporters, myself especially, were speculating about the minutiae of the event (how exactly Clinton would come to the island, for instance) because of how predictable we knew the actual speech would be.
It would be a focus-grouped, poll-devised litany of liberal pabulum, meant to appeal at once to the largest sum of voters likely to support her and to specific groups. It would be unfocused in its scope and incredibly small in its prescriptions.
Much like the picture-perfect setting itself, the speech would be carefully planned, with very little room for error.
A large theme would be her family—more precisely, her mother, and not her father or the former president of the United States she calls her husband. “My mother taught me that everybody needs a chance and a champion. She knew what it was like not to have either one,” Clinton said. “And, because some people believed in her, she believed in me.” And because Hillary Clinton’s mother believed in her, she believes she can be president of the United States.
Clinton paid homage to the United Nations building (visible just above her right shoulder), which elicited a decent round of applause. And she praised the two most recent Democratic presidents—her husband, whom she awkwardly avoided simply calling by his first name, and her former boss, Barack Obama.
The assembled crowd was also treated to several references to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for whom the island we gathered on is named.
And then came the meat of the speech: “America can’t succeed unless you succeed,” Clinton said, raising her voice. “That is why I am running for president of the United States. Here, on Roosevelt Island, I believe we have a continuing rendezvous with destiny. Each American and the country we cherish. I’m running to make our economy work for you and for every American.” (The crowd waved the little American flags the campaign had handed out as they cheered. Visually, it was a model, made-for-TV rally.)