Sunday, September 30, 2007


On Election Night 2008, when Democrats are watching Hillary Clinton's concession speech and wondering how we blew another one, we should look back to this day. It's the day when the tide began to turn and the "liberal media" began rooting for a Democratic defeat -- as many of us knew it inevitably would.

Today, in The New York Times, there are not one, not two, but three articles focusing on the Absolute #1 Burning Issue of Our Time -- Hillary Clinton's laugh. How weird is it? How forced is it? What does it say about whether we can possibly endure four years with her in the White House?

(All of this, of course, was inspired by a Daily Show segment on the laugh that ran earlier this week. When Giuliani wins, I hope he thanks Jon Stewart in his speech.)

First, in the news section of the Times, there's Patrick Healy, with an entire article about the laugh, which runs nearly 1,000 words:

The Clinton Conundrum: What's Behind the Laugh?

It was January 2005, and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton had just finished a solemn speech about abortion rights -- urging all sides to find "common ground" on the issue and referring to abortion as "a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women."

Stepping offstage, she took questions from reporters, and found herself being grilled about whether she was moderating her own pro-choice position. And suddenly it happened: Mrs. Clinton let loose a hearty belly laugh that lasted a few seconds. Reporters glanced at one another as if they had missed the joke.

But nothing particularly funny had occurred; it was, instead, a deployment of the Clinton Cackle....

Look out! The laugh! It's escaped from the lab! And it has capital letters!

Next there's Maureen Dowd, who, in the course of reminding us yet again that electing Hillary will give us four consecutive presidents from two families (gosh, Mo, I never noticed that before...), invokes the laugh, after quoting -- with no apparent disapproval -- a rebuke of Hillary Clinton so sexist and antediluvian it could have come from an Alan King comedy routine on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1965:

Others do not underestimate her relentlessness. As Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, once told me: "She's never going to get out of our faces. ... She's like some hellish housewife who has seen something that she really, really wants and won’t stop nagging you about it until finally you say, fine, take it, be the damn president, just leave me alone."

That's why Hillary is laughing a lot now, big belly laughs, in response to tough questions or comments, to soften her image as she confidently knocks her male opponents out of the way. From nag to wag.

(I'll ignore the fact that Wieseltier signed the PNAC call for an attack on Iraq dated September 20, 2001, and remind you instead of something a bit more germane with regard to Wieseltier and women: his rhapsodic words of praise a couple of years ago for a memoir by a woman who's obsessed with anal sex -- the title of which was The Surrender.)

Finally, there's Frank Rich, who's now apparently decided that (a) Al Gore was 100% responsible for losing in 2000 (never the mind the fact that he didn't really lose, that Nader screwed him, and that the press really screwed him) and (b) that Hillary Clinton is repeating Gore's mistakes (never mind the fact that Rich's column is just the sort of Hillary-bashing by the press that can bring about her defeat, which means Rich is part of the problem he's blaming Hillary for). Rich blames Hillary for being too wooden and for laughing too much. I'll quote this at length so you see just how much time he spends on her affect, rather than on what she's saying:

...almost every answer she gave last Sunday was a rambling and often tedious Gore-like filibuster. Like the former vice president, she often came across as a pontificator and an automaton — in contrast to the personable and humorous person she is known to be off-camera. And she seemed especially evasive when dealing with questions requiring human reflection instead of wonkery.

Reiterating that Mrs. Clinton had more firsthand White House experience than any other candidate, George Stephanopoulous asked her to name "something that you don't know that only a president can know." That's hardly a tough or trick question, but rather than concede she isn't all-knowing or depart from her script, the senator deflected it with another mini-speech.

Then there was that laugh. The Clinton campaign's method for heeding the perennial complaints that its candidate comes across as too calculating and controlled is to periodically toss in a smidgen of what it deems personality. But these touches of intimacy seem even more calculating: the "Let's chat" campaign rollout, the ostensibly freewheeling but tightly controlled Web "conversations," the supposed vox populi referendum to choose a campaign song (which yielded a plain-vanilla Celine Dion clunker).

Now Mrs. Clinton is erupting in a laugh with all the spontaneity of an alarm clock buzzer. Mocking this tic last week, "The Daily Show" imagined a robotic voice inside the candidate's head saying, "Humorous remark detected — prepare for laughter display." However sincere, this humanizing touch seems as clumsily stage-managed as the Gores' dramatic convention kiss.

This is how she's going to lose -- every bit of trivia the press can fixate on will move to center stage, rather than Iraq or health care or income equality or any other legitimate issue. We probably could have guessed that the Times campaign-beat reporters would do it, and Dowd obviously would do it, but I'm sorry about Frank Rich.

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