Once you’ve reached a pinnacle, you can’t keep whining that you’re only teetering because you’re a woman. You’re teetering because the pinnacle is slim, sharp and lonely, and you can only remain there if you belong there, or if you have one hell of a safety belt supporting you. Those that belong there make the pinnacle look easy, the rest impale themselves or fall. Or they loll about in the safety belt, and stagnate.
I wrote that a long time ago, back when Katie Couric was complaining that her dismal ratings at CBS were due to sexism. They weren’t. They were due to her being the wrong person for the job.
I’m not sure why I remembered this tonight. I imagine it’s because Hillary is a woman who has been at the pinnacle for a very long time, and she has never looked less at-ease; she has never looked this covered in flop-sweat, this soon. Peggy Noonan calls it Clinton’s “unglainly glide”
Hillary Clinton’s announcement followed by her dark-windowed SUV journey into deepest darkest America was the most inept, phony, shallow, slickily-slick and meaningless launch of a presidential candidacy I have ever seen. We have come to quite a pass when the Clintons can’t even do the show business of politics well. The whole extravaganza has the look of profound incompetence and disorganization—no one could have been thinking this through—or profound cynicism, or both. It has yielded only one good thing, and that is a memorable line, as Mrs. Clinton glided by reporters: “We do have a plan. We have a plan for my plan.” That is how the Washington Post quoted her, on ideas on campaign finance reform.
I mean, even Ruth Marcus noticed.
You know it’s not going well when someone has to play it this safe, this soon. Hillary, already at the pinnacle, is feeling so insecure, so inclined to the teeter, that she is trying very hard to remain still, and stay very, very quiet, so as not to tumble — all while giving an impression of dynamism and purpose.
It doesn’t work that way. Better to teeter and fall than to render oneself immobile in a desperate attempt to hold on to a spot that perhaps you never ought to have ventured out to.
For now, she is relying on the “safety belt” of the press — the members of the mainstream media who are chasing after her stale “Scoobie Van” like Keystone Kops, and diligently sticking to the “how’d you get to be so great” script they agreed to decades ago.
Only Hillary — truly, only Hillary — could slipthrough “server-and-deleted-emailgate” as easily as she did (recall how annoyed she seemed that she even had to pretend to talk to the press about it a few weeks ago, and remember, too, the first question, “would all this fuss be made if you were a man?”)
It’s very strange, really. The private-server story (and the foreign donor story!) was one that — for a day or two — even mediafolk seemed to think was serious, and mattered, until it wasn’t, and it didn’t.
Hillary knows she is teetering, and not because of sexism, but because of her own overreach, her own disingenuity, her own sense of entitlement and barely-concealed boredom as she takes on a campaign she very likely believes she shouldn’t actually have to bother with; it’s 550 more days of lip-service and pretense, sacrificed to mere tiresome process, when the symbology of her presidency is so urgently needed!
But Hillary also knows something she didn’t know in 2008: should the opportunity present itself, the press will throw her over in a heartbeat for a lighter, more graceful candidate — one with a more compelling story and less historical bulk to deal with. They did it once before. Compared to the Slog of Hillary, Candidate Obama was featherlight on their shoulders, on their way to the top.
Here’s the truth: If the press took all of the stories and untruths and scandals attached to Hillary and then pretended that she was a Republican — and reacted accordingly — Hillary would be over and done, and planning tea parties with Baby Charlotte, right now. But she is a Democrat and the party bench is very thin — and, to be cheeky, there is no strong gay candidate whose presidency would be equally as “historic” — so Hillary is getting a monumental pass, and she has to know that, too.
Which is why she is being so very careful, and so very still and empty, as she holds to her spot at the top.
It might be a pass too far. On some level, self-respecting journalists have to be bothered by it — they have to know that they are propping up the very sort of Nixonesque creature they were so proud to pull down. If they are bothered by that, then all they need is a good-enough reason to push Hillary aside, in order to save their credibility.
Noonan seems to allude to this truth, as well:
in the case of Mrs. Clinton we are going to see the press act either like the press of a great nation—hungry, raucous, alive, demanding—or like a hopelessly sickened organism, a big flailing octopus with no strength in its arms, lying like a greasy blob at the bottom of the sea, dying of ideology poisoning.
. . . Mrs. Clinton isn’t grilled, is never forced to submit to anyone’s morning-show impertinence, is never the object of the snotty question or the sharp demand for information…No one pushes. No one shouts the rude question or rolls out the carefully scripted set of studio inquiries meant to make the candidate squirm.
For now, the press doesn’t want her squirming, any more than she wants to squirm, because she’s barely hanging on to that lonely, sharp pinnacle toward which she has directed her entire life. For now, there is no one else the narrowly focused press can see, waiting in the wings.
For now, there is just the sound of wind blowing up the legs of a woman who dares not even breathe too deeply, as she holds still. There is farcical talk of burritos and Scooby-Doo as they all head to Iowa to see the everyday creatures locked in place.
550 more days of this? Unendurable. Someone will have to crack. Or maybe we all will.