Monday, August 24, 2009

Hillary And Dave

Both Hillary Clinton and David Letterman are enjoying unexpected comebacks in the crisp autumn of their lives. Once surly, Hillary and Dave are at present superlative examples of glowing prosperity. Not too long ago, both seemed relegated to their respective dustbins of History, interesting footnotes at the turn-of-the-millennium and nothing more. David Letterman, particularly, was not in a good vertical. Except for a few brief periods, Jay Leno consistently beat David Letterman for most of the last 16 years. Existentially speaking, Hillary's 11 straight primary losses to Obama was not dissimilar. That type of beating exacts a terrible toll on a man. Then, quixotically, Leno stepped aside for a late prime time show, turning over the field of battle -- and Dave's coveted Tonight Show Johnny Carson seat -- to his successor, Conan O'Brien.

The pendulum swings. "After a walloping good start in June," writes Tom Shales in WashPo, "(Conan O'Brien's) ratings plunged into the fruit cellar." David seems nowadays -- if it is possible -- far more at ease than he has ever been. The self-loathing and touchiness are still recognizably there, but there is also a prosperous glow a -- dare we say it? -- healthy, almost warm confidence. Letterman, at least from the point of view of this observer, appeared to take an almost acute joy in taking down Sarah Palin (which he still does, now and then, in his monologue). He pored over those Palin punchlines with what can only be properly construed as a manly zest. Never had David Letterman ever been more relevant. Letterman's rise, curiously, coincided with the shambles of the Republican party. Letterman's sharpest comedic bit before Leno left the fray was his brilliant "Great Moments in presidential Speeches."

Don't believe anyone who tries to sell you on the narrative that Hillary Clinton is not happy as Secretary of State (we all have an off day). Promoting the rights of women, the world's majority population, is something Hillary has done her whole adult life. It is her destiny. Now she takes her core issues across the globe in the service of her country. As the President wrestles with health care -- been there done that quagmire, says she -- the Secretary of State is basking in the august prestige of international problem-solving.

Both Hillary and Dave, believe it or not, are originally Midwesterners, children of the American heartland. David Michael Letterman was born on April 12, 1947 in Indianapolis; Hillary Rodham Clinton was born on October 26, 1947 in Chicago, Illinois. Roughly six months separates the two of them in age, and the total distance from Chicago, IL to Indianapolis, IN is 164 miles. Both have been known to reflect a certain modern Midwestern surliness -- Letterman legendarily so. Hillary Clinton, who had been deemed "inevitable," showed an edge in the latter-half of the Presidential campaign of 2008. To the delight of older voters, waitresses, Dunkin' Doughnuts Democrats, the overlooked and left behind -- the Hillary Clinton Middle Class Express found its fire. Too late. Though she didn't acknowledge it at the time, the defeat in North Carolina marked the end of her campaign.

There, too, the pendulum swings. After the primary, Hillary did her part. In Unity, New Hampshire, she proved herself bigger than her own ego. But there was an air of sadness in the New England crisp. We won't have Hillary to kick around anymore -- and all that. From Richard Wolff's Renegade:

"Obama was under no illusion about the legacy of the long primary season. During one transition meeting, Obama said he wanted to offer Clinton the diplomatic job. 'I'm really interested in pursuing this, but I know she has some hard feelings coming out of this campaign.' Emanuel and John Podesta, the former Clinton official who ran the transition, assured Obama that she was over those hard feelings now. Obama smiled and said, 'Believe me. She's not over it yet.'"

Perhaps Hillary Clinton still isn't fully over it. Only combatants who have survived the gladiatorial fundament that is Presidential politics can truly answer that question. But she is now the 67th Secretary of State of the United States of America. Clinton, the third woman SecState, is in a position of incredible power, bringing her lifelong issues into the global arena. And David Letterman -- left for dead, clinging, back then, to the flimsiest of demographic victories (and Letterman-friendly media-ites) -- is now, unquestionably, "The King of the Night." Dave is the biggest cat in the forest of the night.

Of course it did not have to be that way. It is not too hard to conceive of an alternate reality in which both Dave and Hillary, festooned with loserdust, left behind by History, embodied bitterness. Fortunately for us it didn't turn out that way. The two Midwesterners did good, late in life, after enduring highly public setbacks and, in the process, found their groove. And our society is so much the better for it.

Something, perhaps, for the Town Hallers with their primal scream therapy to keep in mind?

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