Hillary Clinton is indomitable. Famous. Funny. Fearless. The Euclidean center of political gravity. Because of who she is and what she is, because she is a woman in a world where women aren’t supposed to be Hillary Clinton, because she is the yardstick against which the innerati measure their own accomplishments, the slightest whiff of vulnerability triggers a feeding frenzy.
The “innerati” are a motley group of high achievers scattered along the Acela corridor — reporters, pundits, bloggers, politicians, strategists, opinion makers, operatives and insiders who frame the national debate. By luck, effort or circumstance, they are in a position to determine what America thinks and talks about. And more than anything, they want to talk about Hillary Clinton.
Protestations notwithstanding, their obsession with her is not just about political rivalry, clickbait, or journalism. It is rooted in their need to belong.
The innerati speak about Hillary Clinton in tones that betray ambition, frustration, admiration, insecurity, envy, and competitiveness. Will she run or won’t she? Is she the frontrunner or isn’t she? How much money does she make? Does she use a private email account or doesn’t she? Who gets to be on the inside with her? Who’s out? Who has access? Who doesn’t?
The innerati want to be ‘in’ for existential validation. To them, Hillary Clinton is the definition of ‘in.’ They gravitate to her like moths to light, yearning to be part of her orbit. Falling short, they try to cut her down.
Schoolyard antics shaping our public discourse.
Forget her unparalleled record on women’s rights, the astonishing scope of global good done by the foundation that bears her family’s name, the example of self-discipline and achievement she sets for girls around the world.
No. For the innerati, it’s all about process. Not the what but the how. Not the substance of emails, but the servers. Not the facts but the optics.
For decades, the innerati have indulged in one Hillary Clinton feeding frenzy after another, methodically constructing mountains, only to see them crumble like molehills. Each time, there’s a breathless hope that she’s finally been taken down, cut down to size, put in “her place.” A “woman’s place.”
But something funny keeps happening. Hillary Clinton only becomes stronger, more respected, more significant, and more popular.
The public sees beyond the negative frames. The chasm between the real Hillary Clinton and the caricature, between the person and the portrait, has become clear. The pervasive and predictable anti-Hillary themes have failed. “Too ambitious.” “Represents the past.” “Will do anything to win.” “Calculating.” “Secretive.” “Polarizing.” These tropes have served the innerati for so long that they instinctively return to them. They’re doing it now. To no avail.
I have a personal take on why Hillary Clinton’s reputation is so resilient. Early on a Sunday morning in the summer of 2006, a week after she had hired me as an advisor and after an outbreak of violence in the Middle East, my home phone rang. “Peter, it’s Hillary, I was just calling to make sure your friends and family in Lebanon are OK.” It immediately struck me: the reason Hillary Clinton has so many fiercely loyal friends and advisors, so many fans and supporters, is because of her character, her friendship, her loyalty.
It sounds tautological but she is who she is because of who she is. A singular human being, a unique combination of inner fortitude, intelligence and vision.
During a particularly vicious sexist attack in 2008, Hillary Clinton used the phrase “tip of the spear” to describe her role as a woman aiming at the ultimate glass ceiling.
That glass ceiling hasn’t been shattered in a quarter millennium for a reason. The innerati’s obsessive quest to dull the spear, to pwn Hillary Clinton, may not be gender-biased on an individual level, but the collective effect is to try to set up insurmountable obstacles, to block her path.
That’s what the institutional sexism that has kept that glass ceiling intact will look like if Hillary Clinton runs for president in 2016. Not a direct attack on her gender, not cheap shots about her hair or clothes, not vaguely misogynistic insinuations, but a gleeful mob effect at the slightest suggestion of weakness.
If she runs, for the sake of my young daughter, I hope she powers through it. I hope the spear finally hits its mark.