March 29, 2008 3:00 AM
Where did the magic go?
About this business of Hillary coming under intense sniping, I have some sympathy. The Clintons got away with this sort of thing for so long that you can’t blame them for wondering how they missed the memo advising that henceforth the old rules no longer apply. Bill, being warier, was usually canny enough to set his fantasies just far enough back in time that live cable footage was unlikely to be available — his vivid memories of entirely mythical black church burnings in his childhood, etc. But Hillary liked to live a little more dangerously. The defining fiction arose back in the mid-Nineties when she visited New Zealand and met Sir Edmund Hillary, the conqueror of Everest, and for some reason decided to tell him he was the guy her parents had named her after.
Hmm. Edmund Hillary reached the top of Everest in 1953. Hillary Rodham was born in 1947, when Sir Edmund was an obscure New Zealand beekeeper and a somewhat unlikely inspiration for two young parents in the Chicago suburbs. If any of the bigshot U.S. newspaper correspondents on the trip noticed this inconsistency, they kept it to themselves. I mentioned it in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph at the time, but like so many other improbabilities in the Clinton record it sailed on indestructibly for years. By 2004 it was preserved for the ages in Bill Clinton’s autobiography, on page (gulp) 870: “Sir Edmund Hillary, who had explored the South Pole in the 1950s, was the first man to reach the top of Mount Everest and, most important, was the man Chelsea’s mother had been named for.”
Eventually, when it was noticed that Hillary was born six years before the ascent of Everest, Clinton aides tried assuring skeptics that her parents had seen a press interview with Sir Edmund in his beekeeping days, Mr. and Mrs. Rodham apparently being the only Illinois subscribers to The New Zealand Apiarist. Then, in the early days of her presidential campaign, Senator Clinton quietly withdrew the story, by which time the damage was done. Edmund Hillary passed away a couple of months back, and, as I recall, the New York Times headline read: “New Zealander For Whom Senator Clinton Named Dies; Also First Man To Climb Everest. Senator Clinton Was At The Summit To Greet Him, After Landing Under Heavy Sniper Fire From The Abominable Snowman.”
There’s something weird about the need to tell quite so many unnecessary fictions. Yet Senator Clinton might reasonably have expected the sniper-fire landing in Tuzla to have been like the late-1940s epidemic of beekeeper-inspired Chicago christenings, something planted in the record that no one dares question. Perhaps Burt Bacharach, after his recent anti-Bush anti-war album, might have remade his old song for Gene Pitney as a Hillary campaign anthem:
Oh, I was only Twenty-Four Hours In Tuzla
Only one day pinned down under fire
The jet exploded in flame
But danger’s my middle name
What a surefire smash it would have been. First week, straight into the Billboard Hot One Hundred at Number Seven with a bullet. Alas, Senator Sir Edmund Hillary Danger Rodham Clinton couldn’t have foreseen that the Democratic primary season would dwindle down to the Palm Beach recount replayed as a civil war: Two 50-50 candidates slugging it out, but both Democrats — and so the party’s formidable skills at the politics of personal destruction and its fierce determination to win at all costs are now turned in on itself: As Edwin Glover said of the British defenses at Singapores, the guns are pointing the wrong way. The other day I gave a talk and a Democrat in the audience demanded that I disassociate myself from the sleazy attacks of some Republicans who’ve been referring to “Barack Hussein Obama.” I said I’d be happy to disassociate myself from (Clinton supporter) Bob Kerrey who’s been floating the whole nudge-nudge-Hussein-the-secret-Muslim thing, and to disassociate myself from (Clinton supporter) Bill Shaheen who’s been pushing the Obama-spent-most-of-the-Seventies-selling-cocaine rumors, and to disassociate myself from (Clinton supporter) Andrew Young who’s boasted that Bill Clinton has slept with more black women than Obama. And golly, after I’d got through disassociating myself from all the Democrat sleaze about Obama, I had no time to peddle any sleaze of my own.
It may be that when the Democrats do settle on a candidate — which, on present form, seems likely to be about 48 hours before Election Day — the party will then do its usual thing and unite around the winner in order to slay the Republican dragon. But it’s not unreasonable to calculate that significant elements among both the Clintonites and the Obamaniacs will be disinclined to reward the other side for what they’ll see as an act of usurpation. I have no time for Obama and I think he’d be a disastrous president. But he’s your ticket out if you’re a Democrat who can’t face the thought of giving your party to the Clinton mob for another decade. And evidently quite a lot of Dems feel like that.
Why? Where did the magic go? Well, the show got miscast. I wrote a decade ago that Hillary was like Margaret Dumont to Bill’s Groucho Marx. He goes around leering at cocktail waitresses, waggling his eyebrows and his famously unlit cigar. And Hillary would stand there seemingly oblivious to the subpoenaed dress and DNA analysis and all the rest: In double-acts, the best straight men (or women) are the ones who appear never to get the joke, and that was Hillary in the late Nineties, standing on stage alongside Bill night after night with her rictus grin and droning in the robotic cadences of that computerized voice in your car that tells you to fasten your seatbelt that “I. Am. So. Proud. Of. My. Husband. And. Our. President. Bill. Clinton.”
But you can’t recast: You can’t put Margaret Dumont in the Groucho role. In their heyday, the Clintons ran a thuggish operation fronted by an ingratiating charmer. Now the charming facade’s gone, and the backroom thuggery is ineffective. The Clinton campaign’s letter to Nancy Pelosi suggesting that she might like to “reflect” (if you know what we mean) on her call for the super-delegates to support the winner of the popular vote (ie, Obama) was notable not for its menace but for its clumsiness: Few sights are more forlorn than an enforcer who can no longer enforce. The Clinton letter reminded me of Elena Ceausescu still trying to pull the don’t-you-know-who-I-am routine even as the firing squad were taking aim.
But on she staggers. Even if she can’t win, she can deny victory to Obama, and to her party. As they say in showbusiness, it’s not important for me to succeed, only for my friends to fail.
© 2008 Mark Steyn