Early last week, as Hillary Clinton’s monster Mystery Machine van rumbled its lonely way down I-80, stopping only occasionally to interact with carefully selected peasants and purchase overpriced Mexican food, someone on Twitter pointed out that the only way Hillary’s Quixotic quest to endear herself to her countrymen made sense was if you thought about it like this: sometime, in the not-so-distant future, someone with a lot of love to give and a healthy sense of masochism creates an approximation of a bordering-on-geriatric female. He dresses her in a pantsuit, fluffs her bleached hair into a bowl cut, gives her some programming guidelines, and sets her out into the world on a quest to understand and appreciate humanity until she can finally feel their emotions, just as if she was born a real boy (or girl — I’d hate to be considered sexist).
It’d be a difficult odyssey for the robot. Commander Data, for example, spent years teaching himself to feel, with only the aid of a specially designed “emotions” microchip and an orange tabby. Skynet took years to become sentient. The Terminator went through several draft iterations before becoming effective enough to return back for John Connor. RoboCop had the advantage of having already been human. Hillary Clinton, of course, faces a more strenuous battle than most other heartless, mechanical creations born out of the accidental embrace of power and ambition. And from the looks of it, the life span of an ordinary presidential campaign will not be enough time in which to do it.
Hillary Clinton’s giant, unmarked black van meandered out of Chappaqua after her announcement video, barreling down the highway into a place a Clinton has seldom seen: the heartland. Shielded by Secret Service agents, accompanied by senior staff, and armed with the comforting knowledge that, once in Iowa, she’d be meeting with people as rich as she is, Hillary Clinton embarked on her quest to become one of the “little people.” She stopped for gas that she didn’t pump, and ordered lunch from the crosstabs of a demographic poll. She met with hand-selected Real Americans and failed to notice tip jars in minimum wage restaurants, and though she once tried to make a populist point about CEO wages, couldn’t locate a credit card in her wallet that wasn’t already registered with her aide.
There’s something special about watching all of this in motion. I hadn’t thought, before she announced, that Hillary Clinton could be so damned entertaining. Hillary Clinton is a progressive masquerading as a moderate masquerading as a populist masquerading as a progressive. In the 1960s, Hillary Clinton was the poster child for that weird breed of second wave feminist that thought a job as a public interest lawyer or a professional nuclear arms protester was the kind of fulfilling work in which you could meet an ambitious husband, who would one day drag you to elected office on his coat tails, after you failed at every other endeavor. She’d have to distract the voters with her pristine smile and Laura Ashley dresses, which only barely concealed her Little Red Book, but by building a brand on the appearance of reliability, she’d set herself on the path to her own electoral achievement. She might have longed to declare a Marxist reappropriation of wealth on the floor of the Senate, but she’s since been forced to pretend that Wall Street bankers aren’t so bad, while she watches the rest of her generation of geriatric causeheads openly embrace Elizabeth Warren.
Now, Hillary has to transform herself into a populist, which isn’t easy when your staff has to vet anyone you so much as look at, let alone anyone who is allowed to speak in your presence (she’s at least solved the problem of that “real America smell“ by incessantly drinking water during her Iowan interviews). Iowa was a missed opportunity. After all, although Clinton promised that she’d drink her way across the state, she barely stepped foot in the dirt of flyover country, even though a photo opportunity with the world’s largest frying pan or a couple of circus train wreck memorials that dot the Iowa stretch of I-80, Pabst Blue Ribbon can in hand, would have made for excellent social media fodder — better than her anti-climactic video rollout. And even though massive crowds of several human beings were seen along her parade route, Clinton never made an unscheduled departure.
But it was certainly fun to watch her attempt to try, regardless.
It’s hard to think about it, but we’re only in April of 2015. There’s still almost a year until Super Tuesday, and Hillary Clinton is only the first Democrat to announce. Regardless of whether she thinks the party should hold a coronation, she’s still at the mercy of others’ ambitions. Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley, Joe Biden, Bill de Blasio, and Elizabeth Warren have all been named as alternate successors. And Iowa won’t come easy to the woman who lost it to a Gen-X upstart with a whole three years of national governing experience under his belt. Meanwhile, almost every Republican contender, universally acceptable or not, is one generation behind her. Most have parents or grandparents that were immigrants. All have young families. Some are bilingual. Two are legacies, but only one to a father who owns an oil rig and not an Internet television conglomerate. They all know how to speak to the common man. Some of them know Dr. Seuss by heart.
Meanwhile, like an early computer that runs on punch cards and desperation, Hillary Clinton is barely creaking to life, whirring and processing, taking snap polls of Ohioans to decide what to put on her burrito.