Carla Carlisle on Hillary Clinton


The other day, Hillary Clinton stopped by and asked if she could have a chat. I was so surprised to see her standing at the back door that I shooed the dogs out of the kitchen and said: ‘Come on in. Have a seat. Do you want a cup of coffee?’ As soon as I started grinding the organic 100% Arabica bird-friendly beans in my burr grinder, I regretted it. I switched off the noise of elitism, reached for the instant and put two heaping spoonfuls in the John Deere mugs. I set the milk bottle on the table beside the sack of white sugar. ‘I want your take on this,’ she said. ‘What went wrong?’ I stared at the floating dots of freeze-dried coffee as I thought about her vote for the war in Iraq and, even more maddening, her stubborn refusal to apologise for that vote. ‘Let me begin by saying you never looked better. Your hair is fabulous.

The colour and the cut. Just think all those years you were trying to find your voice and you found your hairdo. What a gift.’ ‘I’ve always had
good hair. Even when it was brown,’ she said. ‘Well, now you’ve really hit your stride. Throughout the cam-paign, you’ve been luminous. Even when you were worn out, you glowed.’ ‘Touche Eclat. Would you get to the point? I want answers. You are my perfect demographic. Older white woman. Baby boomer. Traditional childhood. Ivy League. Wife and mother.

Why, we’re practically twins.’ Lord, have mercy. ‘Believe me, Hillary, your clothes have been perfect. The well-cut jackets, the radiant colours. For 15 months, you’ve never put a sartorial foot wrong. Even the jewellery. Not too big, not too rich. And no one fussed at you for not wearing a flag pin in your lapel.’ The conversation hit a certain lull. ‘Carla, what’s happened to the red-hot feminist? Do you use your “Sisterhood is Power-ful” T-shirt to mop the floor?’ This hurt. My feminist fervour may be stuck in the mud of country life, but I pride myself on a reliable female instinct. For instance, I’d never have hired Mark Penn to be a tractor driver, much less my chief strategist.

Mr Penn based Hillary’s whole strategy on an early win in California that would put her over the top because she’d pick up all the state’s 370
delegates. Except, as every student of The West Wing knows, it’s the Republicans who have a winner-take-all system, not the Democrats. A very
big mistake. ‘Look,’ I said quietly, ‘I realise this is none of my business, but for months I’ve been studying your jawline. It’s as taut as a 20 year old’s. What’s the secret?’ Hillary’s eyes glazed over, but how could I tell her that folk just felt a little crazy after 16 years of Bushes and Clintons? That visions of Jeb Bush following her, and Chelsea following Jeb began to make 1776 seem like a daydream, and the farmer in me wanted to point out that she got the grassroots thing wrong. Building an organisation is like feeding the soil before drilling. And having a go at ‘elitism’ was wrong.

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We’re the generation that glowed with pride when Pablo Casals played his cello in the White House and the Presi-dent had a dinner for Nobel Prize winners, celebrating the elitest and the best. We’re not saying that the President has to speak French, but we’re worn out by eight years with a
President who can’t speak English. ‘Look, Hills,’ I said. ‘Let’s have a Good Dog Ale with a Jack Daniels chaser, and go out and shoot a few rabbits for supper.’ She signalled to her Secret Service men. ‘Sorry. I don’t have time. I’ve got to get ready for Denver. But I’m disappointed in you. I’d counted on a little more common sense. I hope you don’t think you’re funny.’ As she left, I started to quote William James ‘A sense of humour is just common sense, dancing’ but I reached for the Jack Daniels instead.