This morning, I woke up and I was Hillary Clinton. It surprised me, of course, to wander into the bathroom, bleary-eyed, and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Even without my glasses, I could make out the resolute shape of Hillary’s hair as compared to my own wild curly locks. My neck was thicker, my shoulders slightly wider.
I squinted and saw Hillary Clinton squinting back at me. I held my hand in front of my nose and examined every knuckle and liver spot. Yep, I was definitely Hillary Clinton. I read Kafka in high school, so I’m aware that these things can happen from time to time.
I showered and put on a fresh pantsuit from my closet that was inexplicably lined with endless pantsuits. I chose an eggplant purple set with a pair of black pumps padded with Dr. Scholl’s gel inserts. I sipped a mug of coffee and picked at a bran muffin as I read through the 118 pages of my morning briefing. My Spanx were already bothering me and it wasn’t yet 7:30 a.m. The sun broke through the drapes, and I looked out at a bright blue September sky. I had a sudden urge to play hooky, borrow my staffer Jason’s baseball hat and Prius and take my grandchildren to a park. I imagined sharing an ice cream cone together. It’s such a beautiful day. But I remember that I have never played hooky in my life, because I’m Hillary Clinton.
“It’s time to go,” someone says, and I know it is. I sense that it’s always time to go. I am escorted to the debate prep room. Two mock podiums stand side by side in a room filled with folding chairs filled with staffers and strategists. The walls are lined with a haphazard wallpaper made from multi-colored scraps and Post-Its, scrawled with Sharpie in all-caps reminders:
* DON’T SHOUT!
* SMILE MORE!
* DON’T SMILE TOO BIG!
* NOT TOO MUCH DETAIL!
* DON’T SOUND LIKE THE NAGGING WIFE!
My rehearsal debate partner joins me on the mock stage. He is wearing a blue suit with a red power tie and an American flag pin. I glance at his protruding belly and notice that he is not wearing Spanx. I shake his hand and look him in the eye. He is coated in a thick layer of bronzer. He whispers through a stiff smile that he would enjoy watching me burn at the stake. His job is to rattle me. I am overwhelmed with the urge to knee him in the crotch.
We begin hours of mock debate interrupted by my highly paid strategists, sometimes mid-sentence, to coach me in this delicate dance that’s more like a boot camp behind the scenes. I’m standing wrong. I’m explaining too much. I’m parsing words. I’m rolling my eyes. I’m sounding shrill. Vast amounts of knowledge about policy and foreign affairs and even the interpersonal dynamics of world leaders are lined up on my tongue, three-deep in my jowls, ready to march forth in a parade of facts and logical reason, but as soon as I start to release them, Ed and Cynthia on the front row of folding chairs begin to groan. This is the job I’m paying Ed and Cynthia to do, to groan and act disinterested when I get “too wonky.”
I am reminded to include as many of the pre-written one-liners as I can, but to do so “naturally.” We need soundbite moments, they say. The debates are won in soundbites.
“It doesn’t matter that you know more,” says a voice from the back row. “It doesn’t matter that you’re more qualified.”
“It doesn’t matter that he’s lying,” says another. “People don’t care.”
“If you attack him, he’ll have sympathy when he counters.”
“Remember, you’re seen as unlikeable, crooked.”
“The bar for him is so low,” says the first voice again. “All he has to do to win this is to show up and not sexually assault you on camera. And not because of the sexual assault. Because it’s you and that would gross people out.”
My rehearsal partner has just brought up Benghazi again in a response to a question that began with why he hasn’t released his taxes. He has already mentioned my emails 17 times. Ed and Cynthia high-five each other. They love it when he says Benghazi.
I lean into the microphone and look at the actor next to me. “I envy you,” I say to him, but I see the real guy this time, the man-potato covered in fool’s gold. He smiles. He loves to be envied. “I envy the simplicity with which you see the world. I think it must feel... tremendous, to borrow a word. I sometimes wish I didn’t know what was on the line, It might give me a moment of peace.”
A voice from the back row again: “Yeah, I get where you’re going with that, Hillary, but it doesn’t really work.”
I nod. I wonder what my grandchildren are doing right now. I think about that ice cream cone in the park. I take a sip of water and another question from the moderator. It’s about my emails.
BEFORE YOU GO
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