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JOHN BRUMMETT: Science, art and politics

by John Brummett | April 26, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Don't make me do it, I pleaded.

I spent a lot of time decades ago with Bill Clinton. I thought I had valuable insight into him in 1992. But I never knew Hillary very well, and she didn't like or trust me.

So, give me a pass on this one, would you, please?

That's pretty much what I said on the couple of occasions in 2016 when Amy Chozick, covering Hillary's presidential campaign for the New York Times and a book she would write, wondered if I could fill in a blank or two from those early Clinton days in Arkansas.

What I know or think about Hillary Clinton--I've written. The last time I talked with her was briefly at a White House Christmas party in December 1993. I don't remember what was said. I only recall that her reaction on seeing me indicated that some guest-list compiler was going to get chewed out.

Since then she's lived several lifetimes--first lady, Whitewater, Monica, Paula, vast right-wing conspiracy, Obama, secretary of state, nearly 66 million votes for president. And she's done it in plain view of the national media.

I had Clinton fatigue. I had nothing to add.

But ... I went out and bought the first copy of Chozick's book, Chasing Hillary, that was sold Tuesday morning at Wordsworth Bookstore.

You can't help gawking at a car accident. Here was a grotesque wreck from 2016 that you could still drive by--for a fresh and even closer look--in 2018. And Chozick is a sterling writer, as her front-page essay in the opinion section of the Sunday Times, drawn from one of the chapters, had shown.

Chozick makes several references in the book to the "nut graph" of her campaign articles for the Times.

The "nut" paragraph comes after the lyrical or attention-getting first paragraph or the opening anecdote. Its purpose is to contextualize and summarize. It's to say, "This is the reason we wrote this story. This is what we think it means, and what we will now elaborate on with detail."

As an editor said to me once, if you get past the third or fourth paragraph and don't yet have a nut graph, you're into deep ... stuff.

Here I am, halfway into this column and only now getting to the nut graph.

Here it is: My strongest reaction to a passage in the highly readable book came on Page 235 in a paragraph not about Hillary, but Bill. It explains why she lost. It explains why Democrats will probably soon win again. It explains why America will remain malignantly divided either way.

To summarize: Bill was on the phone daily railing to Hillary's young campaign manager, Robby Mook, that Hillary was not attempting the kind of connection with white working-class voters that he formed decisively in 1992 and 1996. Mook was humoring him, believing Bill's time had passed. Mook was certain his technical data proved that Hillary would win by consolidating urban liberals, suburban women, minorities and young people. After hanging up, Mook sometimes would do an imitation of Bill holding forth on how he connected to white working-class people. Chozick writes that Mook and the youngsters around him knew what everyone else under 40 knew--which was that white working-class voters were leaving Democrats and never coming back, and that it didn't matter.

Mook was right until he was wrong.

If James Comey hadn't done what he did 11 days out, it wouldn't have mattered that Hillary made no effort with white working-class people in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. But when your data leads you into playing for an odds-on inside straight, an old-fashioned deal of the cards can land a stray one into your otherwise winning hand.

Everything else being equal, Mook's data will work into the future for Democrats as the nation's demographics change. White folks will become less pronounced in the electorate, as will those who do old-fashioned work. But, if circumstances ever render things unequal, which is to say that if stuff happens, then Democrats will need broader appeal.

Anyway, what kind of political party is it--and what kind of country is it--when you only seek to appeal to a fraction of that country so that you can lead all of it?

It's a political party no different tactically or cynically from the Republicans. And it's a country that will become even more hamstrung, if that's possible, in trying to reach a governing consensus on decent solutions to pressing problems.

Demographics and algorithms cannot be argued with. But, sometimes, they can be what you die by if you choose to live by them.

Bill wanted everyone--not just groups--to love him. That reflected his insecurity. It also fueled his winning politics.

Politics is a science except for the part that's art. Bill won artfully. His wife lost scientifically.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 04/26/2018

Print Headline: Science, art and politics


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