It’s been nearly a year since I had a heart-to-heart with Hillary, before she announced her bid for the presidency. It was pure fancy then, when she and I dished politics over coffee and croissants in a New York cafe, and it was pure reverie again — some may call it delusion (and, they wouldn’t be wrong) — when I sat down with her in a St. Paul bar and shared my feelings about her campaign over some stronger beverages. I didn’t know what her favorite cocktail was, but I thought she deserved to kick back and relax. So, I took the liberty of ordering us some top-shelf bourbon — hers neat and mine with one of those trendy monster ice balls that melts very slowly, creates a creamy texture and takes the edge off.
The flames were soothingly spellbinding, and hers was the best seat in the house. The week had been bitterly cold, with the temps hovering around 0-degrees. We, in Minnesota, expect this from our winters, but she had spent several days before this campaigning out east and southeast. I figured her blood was thin and I imagined her nerves frayed after losing big in New Hampshire to Bernie. We stared into the fire — she probably pondering Nevada and South Carolina, and me wondering how to break the silence.
I’m sure she was looking for a break following the annual Humphrey-Mondale fundraising dinner, where she and Bernie had spoken. The night before, they had debated in Milwaukee. Soon, she would be headed to Nevada to campaign before the caucus February 20. It’s predicted that’ll be a tight one like Iowa. Then after that, back east again for the South Carolina primary. Maybe she’s looking forward to that, since she’s favored to win. Yet, she can’t — nor won’t — underestimate Bernie’s growing popularity. It’s a long and winding road before the convention in July.
I cleared my throat. “I had an interesting discussion with my oldest daughter recently. You’ll be happy to know she’s supporting you. In fact, she thinks Bernie’s unrealistic and his followers are nuts. Sounds like several of her friends feel that way too. It’s ironic really, because they live in L.A. … La-La Land. That’s right … They think Bernie’s too out-there.
“One thing my daughter said that made me stop and think was ‘Hillary gets criticized for being too establishment, but that’s how things get done — by being part of the establishment.’ Also, she likes you, says she thinks you’re really smart and believes you want to be president for all the right reasons.”
Sure, I was schmoozing big-time. After all, I was invading her space. But, it was all true. I just wanted to lead with something I thought would make her feel good. Last time we were together, I told her I didn’t think she should run and that I couldn’t promise voting for her, for several reasons. One being the gender issue, which my daughter and I also talked about.
“We agreed that Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright should shut up and stay home. Bill too … He’s not doing you any favors either, reminding everyone how much he embarrassed you.” I stopped there — regretting what I said about her husband; I sipped on my drink and stared into the fire, focused on the pulsating, red-hot embers and wondered who she could count on to win some votes for her. What a lonely life.
I decided not to tell her that I had gone to the Bernie rally in St. Paul the end of January. It was mostly out of curiosity, but then I ended up being swept up in his passionate message and the excitement of the crowd — at least 20,000. Hillary just doesn’t have that same appeal. She argues that her agenda is more realistic, that she’s a pragmatic progressive. But, that logic may work against her because it basically says she’s willing to compromise in order to accomplish her goals. Take a look around, Hillary … The electorate — on both sides of the aisle — is not in the mood for compromise.
It appeared she hadn’t taken a drink of her cocktail, and I was thinking I might have another. This time, however — unlike when we had coffee together — she wasn’t obsessed with scrolling through news feed on her cell phone. Her attention moved from the fireplace to the late-night talk show on TV over the bar to the sporadic, loud laughter of young women at the table behind us. The latter seemed to warm her more than the fire; her mouth and eyes melted into a soft smile with each howl of amusement.
My focus returned to our table. Hmmm, I thought, I might as well drink that bourbon if you’re not going to.
Besides, I paid for it. So, I reached across the table, wrapped my hand around the cut glass and lifted it to my lips. It was coolish on my tongue but burned as it slid down my throat. Cleared my sinuses too. I don’t know why it’s called neat without the ice.
“Here’s another irony for you. By all accounts, there’s a great divide between our generation’s and our daughters’ generation over support for you, some think it’s because younger women take for granted all the equality their mothers fought for, and they don’t feel the hell that Madeleine Albright talks about. Of course, Chelsea is in your corner. But my daughter, in a sense, was talking me off the ledge … She was afraid I was feeling too much of “the Bern.” Funny, huh? Truthfully, I was feeling what a lot of others — both sexes — feel about you: mistrusting, especially because of your ties to Wall Street, and disconnected because you are so private, and we common folk don’t feel we know you.
“Then again, I have to admit that I only know the you that has been portrayed in the media over the past 25 years as a lying, scheming, over-ambitious bitch. Jeesh, it’s sad, isn’t it? The stuff men can get away with? I mean, you were blamed for your husband’s philandering, and you’ve been reviled for your ambition. And, not just by men. We women can be even more cruel with each other. I’ve recently begun to ask myself if I’m being sexist in my feelings about you. When we had coffee together, I told you I thought you should just stay home and enjoy being with your granddaughter. Would I say that to Bernie or Joe Biden? I don’t think so.
“I saw you after Iowa, on a CNN Town Hall Q & A in New Hampshire. You came on after Bernie. He was good, but you were better. I was impressed with how real and honest you were. When asked by a young man for a promise that you wouldn’t take us into another war, you answered, in so many words, ‘I can’t promise that, because after everything else has been exhausted that may be the best decision for us and the world.’ You let down your guard when talking about how difficult all the criticism of you — you as a person — has been, and how you’ve endured it with daily spiritual readings and gratitude for the opportunity you’ve been given to affect change.
“But even before that, I was rallying for you … ironically, because of the gender issue. I’ve never wanted to vote for you just because you’re a woman. But, when the Republican Party and the media began pushing Rubio to the front because they don’t want Trump or Cruz to be nominated, and because Rubio is a young, handsome, non-white man, I got ticked. I thought, ‘Not again! This is too much! He’s a one-term senator who’s bored with his Congressional job!’ So, I’ve been telling a lot of people that I don’t care about the supposed, numerous skeletons in your closet, I just want a woman in the White House. I want you to break the glass ceiling and make it easier for other women to get there. Besides, I really believe you’ll be a good president … if you get there.”
She was standing now, her red coat buttoned up, its black fur collar pulled up high around her cheeks, and her security detail gathering around her. My glass was empty again, so it was time for me to wrap it up too. I stood and steeled myself to face the frigid, midnight air as well. We walked past the bar to the door.
“My daughter did agree with me that you were stupid and careless with your top-secret emails. That really bugs me. I know, I know … Others have done the same thing, but you’re running for president, so — of course — it’s going to be a big deal.
“She made me laugh tho’, when she said, ‘I bet she won’t make that mistake again. That would really be stupid.’ ”
Outside, a black stretch limo idled at the curb. I turned slightly right toward my car, parked a few spaces up. Then as she slid into her limo, I shouted out as I would to a girlfriend, “Good luck in Nevada, and take care.”