Skeptical of the idea that the Clinton machine could stomp its way to the Democratic nomination, crushing all comers underfoot like a stylishly pant-suited Godzilla.
That is, until the juggernaut made me laugh. Now, I am concerned, indeed.
The diesel that drove the Clinton machine in the 90s was Bill Clinton’s charisma. His downhome guffaw and charm covered a multitude of sins. The new Clinton machine, however, is fueled by a woman who comes across about as warm as flounder skin, and as real as a fish tale.
Lately, though, the icy Hillary we’ve known and loathed lo these many years has shown signs of warming more convincing than “An Inconvenient Truth.”It all started on YouTube. In 2007, YouTube seeing its political potency rising after the legendary “macaca” incident of 2006, decided to invite all the presidential candidates to talk directly to YouTubers via a special video message.Each candidate’s message, from the Kuciniches to the Mitts, has been highly publicized in banner ads all over YouTube’s high-traffic site. The You Choose ’08 Spotlight offered a high-profile opportunity in new media for each candidate. It also offered a test.
Most candidates’ messages were adequate but boring. Mitt Romney asked YouTubers what they thought was the biggest challenge facing America today. Responses ranged from “getting young people to vote” to “protecting ourselves from politicians” to a special message from “Dead Osama.”
McCain asked what people thought was the most important issue not getting enough straight talk, “from me or anybody else.”
John Edwards asked YouTubers what they would do to change the country. One public school teacher said he’d do his part by teaching his students how they can make a difference, undoubtedly by voting Democrat and protesting the war (keep an eye out for physics teachers named “David,” conservative parents.)
But Hillary took a different tack. A smart tack, a—dare I say it?—funny tack. She looked at the YouTube universe—its hordes of mediocre singers and awkward lip-synchers, its legions of dedicated kitten-bloggers, its Jackassian pranksters—and decided to ask it the only question for which she could possibly get a useful answer.
When it comes to original video, YouTube is a great place for viral video, fun video, dirty video, stupid video, quirky video, and creative video. It has been and will be home to history-changing gotcha moments and blistering 30-second ads. It is not, however, generally a great place for a policy debate, and Hillary was smart enough to take a fun community and put it on a fun task.
She took the opportunity to poke some fun at herself, promising she wouldn’t sing the song in public, and replaying that horrendous rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” she got caught bellowing at an Iowa campaign event.
A disturbing thing happened while I was watching that video. I smiled. At Hillary Clinton.
Hillary garnered many responses, many votes at her campaign website, and the video has been viewed more than 550,000 times.
Her follow-up YouTube video was even more disturbing than the first. God help me, I laughed. Not at Hillary Clinton, but with her.
She once again took the opportunity to be deftly self-deprecating, letting the camera “catch” her swaying absent-mindedly to the music. She embraced the ridiculousness of YouTube by featuring YouTubers who had chosen to sing a campaign song for her. And, best of all, she poked fun at her own idea by running clips of YouTubers who called her question, “insulting,” “disappointing,” “stupid,” and “are you freakin’ kidding me?”
And, thus, Hillary became the confident, good-humored foil to the few ultra-hip but ultra-haughty members of the YouTube nation. Well played, Senator.
But surely that was just rehearsed good humor and practiced warmth, right? More convincing than usual, but less reproducible than orgone.
But then came the Democrat debate Sunday night, and, there was Hillary having herself a couple laughs and even dishing out one or two.
First, she laughed at Wolf Blitzer’s implied joke about her long-time involvement in the health care issue. Hillarycare was a legendary political disaster, and one she put behind her gracefully by acknowledging her previous failure before segueing into the fact that every other Democratic candidate is now pitching a similar plan.
MR. BLITZER: Senator Clinton, you've been involved in this issue, as all of us remember --
SEN. CLINTON: (Laughs.)
MR. BLITZER: -- for a long time. What do you think of Senator Obama's plan?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, I'm thrilled that universal health care is back on the national agenda. You know, as we remember back in '93 and '94, we tried to come forward with a plan. We weren't successful -- I have the scars to show for that experience. But I am convinced that now, when the Democrats all are coming forward saying this has to be a national goal, we then can try to get the political will.
She laughed at Sen. Gravel’s joke about her jet-setting around with Bill Clinton on his ambassador duties in a Gravel administration.
MR. GRAVEL: How would I use him? I like Clinton as a roving ambassador around the world. He'd be good. He could take his wife with him, who will still be in the Senate. (Laughter.)
SEN. CLINTON: (Laughs.)
A warmer, naturally funny candidate would have come up with an appropriately acidic zinger for Gravel but she gets points for not arching her eyebrow and huffing.
Finally, Hillary outsourced her funny effectively on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
And I just want to end by saying Barry Goldwater once said, “you don't have to be straight to shoot straight,” and I think he was right, and I believe we should open up our military.
She got one of the few applause lines of the night while avoiding responsibility for the Clinton-era policy, and reminding centrist voters afraid she’s a New York liberal statist that not only can she can quote Goldwater, but she agrees with him on at least one issue.
And, if that ain’t enough to crack you up, later in the debate she called Bill Clinton “my dear husband.” Now, that’s a knee-slapper.
I’ve always been skeptical of the Hillary juggernaut, but if the Ice Candidate can learn to make us laugh, we may all be laughing that we may not weep during a Clinton administration.