The sell­ing of the new Hil­lary

She’s got the medium with­out the mes­sage

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Suzanne Fields

Joe McGin­nis, a young writer who got ac­cess to the ad­ver­tis­ing agency with the Nixon ac­count in 1968, changed the way we thought about elect­ing pres­i­dents with his best-seller, “The Sell­ing of the Pres­i­dent.” The very idea that a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date could be pack­aged like a tube of tooth­paste, a can of shav­ing cream or a pack of cig­a­rettes was shock­ing. Amer­i­cans held elec­tions as some­thing close to a sa­cred trust, and the cover of the McGin­nis book fea­tured Richard Nixon’s face on that pack of cig­a­rettes, sug­gest­ing (this was be­fore “Mad Men”) that Madi­son Av­enue would stoop even so low as to sell a can­di­date for pres­i­dent and that the can­di­date would ap­prove.

Hu­bert Humphrey, who lost to Mr. Nixon that year, was quoted in a blurb for the book jacket, con­ced­ing that it was his ap­peal to au­then­tic­ity that failed, but he was glad he had kept his heart in the right place. “

It’s an abom­i­na­tion,” he said, “for a man to place him­self com­pletely in the hands of the tech­ni­cians, the ghost writ­ers, the ex­perts, the poll­sters and come out only as an at­trac­tive pack­age.” Such sen­ti­ment seems poignantly touch­ing nearly a half-cen­tury on. Sell­ing a pres­i­dent is the way it’s done. No­body is sur­prised that pol­i­tics is mostly about pack­ag­ing. No one rails against the de­cep­tion and the ma­nip­u­la­tion, and all the mod­ern cam­paign buzz is about how well the de­cep­tion and ma­nip­u­la­tion is work­ing.

From this per­spec­tive, Hil­lary’s but­toned-up, tightly con­trolled dig­i­tal in­tro­duc­tion of her can­di­dacy does not bode well. The pack­ag­ing is oddly dec­o­ra­tive, with­out sub­stance, and con­fuses rather than clar­i­fies. She talks about want­ing to be a cham­pion for the mid­dle class, of­fer­ing an ath­letic metaphor for go­ing for the gold. She’s more cheer­leader than strong leader for those whom she af­fects to cham­pion. It’s hard to be a cham­pion when you’re lead­ing ac­ro­batic cheers.

To make sure ev­ery­one knows ex­actly who the cheer­ing is for, she serves up video vignettes of stereo­types ea­ger to es­cape from lives where the deck is stacked against them. The open­ing cam­paign com­mer­cial is a mish­mash of the fully evolved voter pre­par­ing for to­mor­row: Two gay men hold hands and talk about get­ting mar­ried, a black cou­ple ex­press their joy at an­tic­i­pat­ing the birth of their son, a man trains his dog to quit eat­ing the trash, an Asian col­lege grad­u­ate en­ters the real world to get a job, an ex­cited child tells how he’ll wear a fish cos­tume in the school play.

It’s cor­rectly mul­ti­cul­tural. Two His­panic busi­ness­men talk about busi­ness in Span­ish, and a fat boomer lady, who ob­vi­ously didn’t get Michelle’s memo about “good nu­tri­tion,” en­thuses about her ap­proach­ing re­tire­ment. This may or may not be fas­ci­nat­ing, and it’s not clear how Hil­lary in­tends to make every­body happy and earn their vote. The medium is not the mes­sage be­cause there is no mes­sage. But the images are pretty and smooth.

Hil­lary has hired a se­nior mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive at Coca-Cola, Wendy Clark, who worked on “mass­mar­keted brands” and is there­fore “dig­i­tally savvy.” Ad­ver­tis­ing Age mag­a­zine says she’s known for im­part­ing “a hu­man­iz­ing fo­cus” to ad­ver­tis­ing, but this is no Coke ad. There’s no com­puter-gen­er­ated Co­caCola bear who, like Hil­lary, is al­ways cool un­der fire. Things might go bet­ter with Coke, but there’s no guar­an­tee that they’ll go bet­ter with Hil­lary. The New Hil­lary might not go bet­ter, in fact, than the late and unloved New Coke.

Like Coca-Cola, Hil­lary has been around a long time, and so has her hus­band, and to­gether they’ve never been a “pause that re­freshes.” Bill was con­spic­u­ously ab­sent from Hil­lary’s pre-cam­paign, but NBC’s “Satur­day Night Live” re­minded us that the Bubba we learned to know so well may be gone, at least tem­po­rar­ily, but he’s not forgotten.

A hys­ter­i­cally hi­lar­i­ous Hil­lary ob­sesses with tak­ing a selfie as Bill sneaks up to nuz­zle her neck with his chin, and mar­vels at the pro­lif­er­a­tion of video tech­nol­ogy. “If they could do that in the ’90s,” he says, “I’d be in jail.” Hil­lary’s an­nounce­ment is por­trayed as un­leash­ing eight years of pent-up anger for re­jec­tion the last time she ran, and she be­comes the frus­trated al­ter ego that could never be­fore show it­self. It’s an eerie sur­ro­gate for the real-life Hil­lary in her real-life video try­ing to hide her real-life new per­sona.

With a frozen satir­i­cal smile that has the look of fa­mil­iar­ity, Hil­lary in the mock an­nounce­ment grabs the cam­era and shouts with the nar­cis­sis­tic fe­roc­ity of a tyrant, that this time, “Cit­i­zens, you will elect me — I will be your leader.”

Satire some­times works and of­ten it doesn’t, but this is the satire that tells the real-life story, praised by Bill O’Reilly of Fox News on the right and by Ian Crouch of The New Yorker on the left. Ev­ery­thing is satire now. Suzanne Fields is a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times and is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.


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