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Patron Saint of Lowbrow Sinners

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Illustration by Rodrigo Corral  

She isn’t a phony,” went the best explanation of Holly Golightly, “because she’s a real phony.” And now, thank goodness, so is that other transplant to New York, Hillary Clinton—an authentic politician at last.

For 30 years, until she started losing, politics to her meant only policy, in both the wonkish and Elizabethan senses of the term: I need a briefing paper on improving Medicare reimbursement for Lasik surgery; and I need you to lose these billing records. The thought of enjoying, even craving, physical contact with the large, T-shirted, camera-clicking masses on the rope line? All those people waiting to have their pain felt and their backs slapped? No, she looked upon that as Bill’s thing, all of a piece with the fries and the poon and the rest of his grubby appetites. She never liked it or required it, not even in her own first Senate race, during which she allowed herself to be presented, in one upstate county after another, like some princess bride who’d been magically imported to succor the depressed kingdom.

But this time out, as the Democrats got ready to embark on another of their periodic self-purifying rituals, she turned out to be the designated sacrifice, the past life that needed to be cursed and stoned by the tens of thousands of low-cholesterol, high-tech progressives gathered to have the new prophet wash away their sins in the Willamette River. What was left for her to do? Only to accept the love of the lowbrow sinners who didn’t want to repent. She could tumble into bed with the less educated and more prejudiced and just plain tasteless, the way Bill had spent a lifetime seeking relief from Hillary Clinton with girls who looked like Paula Jones.

Thank you so much! She shouted it every Tuesday night she had a win, but it was only after the wins could no longer do her any good that she meant it, that she actually felt the raw, rude, you-go-girl love that would now get her up in the morning, out of the hotel, and over to the breakfast grill near the soon-to-be-shut factory. Thank you so much!—for getting me through the night.

At one appearance in West Virginia, shown on cable news the day of the primary, the out-of-state viewer could hear her, without a trace of embarrassment or parody, pronouncing the word something as “sump’m.” To those who’d already left her for the other candidate, the one who’s above politics, the one who’s going to bring us to a post-political era, it was a repellent, sad little display, confirmation that they’d made the right choice. But to those of us who don’t like our politicians pure, who believe that Eugene McCarthy and Jerry Brown ended up accomplishing rather less in the world than Lyndon Johnson or even Huey Long, it was a moment to be enjoyed for its sheer can’t-help-herself shamelessness.

The chilly scold who’s been around forever has discovered her own id and appetite, and if the puritans of the blogosphere would also relax for a minute or two, they might realize that Hillary is now a more appealing creature than she’s ever been before. Good for you, say those of us who could never stand her. To see her drinking bourbon and stuffing her face and bellowing into the mike is to feel the way her mother-in-law, that good-time gal Virginia Kelley, must have felt when she finally saw Miss Priss take off the glasses and put on some makeup.

It’s become armchair-shrink c.w. to say that, deep down, Bill Clinton did not want his wife to win. It’s easy enough to see why: If she had, she’d instantly have been the more historic figure of the two. And how else to explain, other than by subconscious sabotage, the constant political blundering this winter and spring by the smoothest real phony of them all? Hillary’s got a dozen new reasons to hate him all over again, no?

No. The smart psychological money says that once this is over, the two of them will be more comfortable with each other than ever before. However he’s failed and betrayed her, from South Carolina to South Dakota, something more important has happened between them. She gets him now, understands the biggest, best, and juiciest part of him in a way she never did. She can at last turn to him and, quoting Linda Tripp, say, “I’m you.”

The nature of appetites is to grow, so once the Obama campaign or presidency has failed, she will start getting ready for those crowds again, and her preparations won’t include bothering to lose those ten pounds she seems to have put on these past few months. Her new showbiz equivalents will be Lena Horne, after she learned to growl like Aretha, and Barbara Cook, after she traded the ingenue’s pinafore for the caftan. Noisier and better, Hillary will be the one who gets handed the pen when she’s pushed through the other guy’s health-care bill, an honest-to-God useful, compromised piece of legislation on behalf of all those plebs who stuck with her after the last dog died.

She may turn out to be really sump’m.


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