What is it with the Hillary cult?
As a lifelong Democrat who will be enthusiastically voting for Bernie Sanders in next week’s Pennsylvania primary, I have trouble understanding the fuzzy rosy filter through which Hillary fans see their champion. So much must be overlooked or discounted—from Hillary’s compulsive money-lust and her brazen indifference to normal rules to her conspiratorial use of shadowy surrogates and her sociopathic shape-shifting in policy positions for momentary expedience.
Hillary’s breathtaking lack of concrete achievements or even minimal initiatives over her long public career doesn’t faze her admirers a whit. They have a religious conviction of her essential goodness and blame her blank track record on diabolical sexist obstructionists. When at last week’s debate Hillary crassly blamed President Obama for the disastrous Libyan incursion that she had pushed him into, her acolytes hardly noticed. They don’t give a damn about international affairs—all that matters is transgender bathrooms and instant access to abortion.
I’m starting to wonder, given the increasing dysfunction of our democratic institutions, if the Hillary cult isn’t perhaps registering an atavistic longing for monarchy. Or perhaps it’s just a neo-pagan reversion to idolatry, as can be felt in the Little Italy street festival scene of The Godfather, Part II, where devout pedestrians pin money to the statue of San Rocco as it is carried by in procession. There was a strange analogy to that last week, when Sanders supporters satirically showered Hillary’s motorcade with dollar bills as she arrived at George Clooney’s luxe fund-raiser in Los Angeles.
The gushy indulgence around Hillary in the Manhattan media was typified by Vanessa Friedman’s New York Times piece, “Hillary Clinton’s Message in a Jacket,” after last week’s debate. Evidently oblivious to how she was undermining the rote sexism plank in the Clinton campaign platform, Friedman praised Hillary for “playing the clothing card” against Sanders: Hillary’s long white jacket made her look like “New York’s white knight,” riding to the rescue.
Gee, that sure wasn’t my reaction. My first thought was: “Why is Hillary wearing a lab coat?” My second was: “Isn’t this a major gaffe—reminding people of abortion clinics?” My third was: “The big belted look is not recommended for those broad in the beam.” For all the complaints about an alleged higher scrutiny suffered by women candidates, affluent politicians like Hillary can afford glam squads of stylists and an infinite range of clothing choices, hairstyles, and cosmetic aids. Male candidates with their boring cropped hair and sober suits fade into the woodwork when the queen bee flies in.
The protective major media phalanx around Hillary certainly extends to her health issues, which only the Drudge Report has had the courage to flag. In assessing possible future occupants of the White House, the public has an inalienable right to know. I was incredulous at the passive gullibility of the media, including the New York Times, last July, when a woman internist, identified as Hillary’s doctor, released a summary letter about her health that was lacking in the specifics one would normally expect in medical records. Does anyone really think that world-renowned Hillary, whose main residence for years has been in Washington and not Chappaqua, has as her primary physician an obscure young internist in Mount Kisco, New York? It’s ludicrous on the face of it.
And what about that persistent cough? “Allergy season,” the hacking Hillary claimed on a New York radio show this week. (“You all right? Any mouth to mouth CPR?” joked a host.) I’m just a Ph.D., not an M.D., but I’ll put my Miss Marple hat on here. Am I the only one who noticed Hillary’s high-wrap collar, pallid, puffy face, and bulging eyes during her choleric New Hampshire primary concession speech in February? (Another unusually high collar followed the next morning.)
My tentative theory is that Hillary may have sporadic flare-ups of goiter, worsened under stress. Coughing is a symptom. High collars mask a swollen throat. In serious cases, an operation may be necessary. Is this chronic thyroid condition disqualifying in a presidential candidate? Certainly not in my view, but I don’t like being lied to—by candidates, campaign staffs, or their media sycophants.
Hillary’s road map to the Democratic nomination was written by “Tricky Dick” Nixon, who after his acrimonious defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial race doggedly restored his standing in the GOP by doing the “rubber-chicken circuit,” building up the grass-roots connections that allowed him to win the White House six years later. Similarly, Hillary has spent the years since her 2008 loss to Obama in deepening and tightening her relationships with state and local Democratic politicians, community leaders, and urban ministers nationwide—for whom she has assets of infinite largesse.
When pro-Hillary media taunt Bernie Sanders about what his campaign has or has not financially contributed to lower-level Democratic races, they are foolishly exposing Hillary’s modus operandi. Nixon’s rubber chicken has turned into one mighty gilded bird.
I once had an abortion in Tokyo. I was living in Japan with my now ex-husband. We were on shaky ground in a new marriage, for the academic program he was in, an elite Japanese language program for Westerners, was the most difficult in the world. It was also a notorious destroyer of marriages because of the nonstop demands. We had discussed having children later in the marriage, when we returned to the States.
Condoms can fail. We were on holiday. I got pregnant. He was not happy. He felt that we were not ready. He felt that I would have to return to the States alone to get the proper pre-natal care. He wanted me to get a Japanese abortion.
So after soul-searching, tears, upset, and my not wishing to leave Japan and him--I am an East Asian scholar--I went to a Japanese clinic where they inserted small rods of seaweed into the cervix. These had some kind of reaction with the chemistry of the pregnancy, and the pregnancy ended.
The thing was, the Japanese did not think that abortion was the taking of life because of their Buddhist belief in reincarnation. No one knew for sure when a soul that was reincarnating would enter the foetus. And if the soul could not enter one body, it would choose another to reincarnate. So one was killing the vessel of the soul, but not the soul itself.
Thus, there was no guilt associated with the termination of pregnancy. It was as though there were another foetus available among the millions and millions of sentient beings. It was a karmic loss, for the mother and for the soul in transit in the eternal bus stops of existence. To have a precious human body is important in Buddhism because it is the vehicle through which one can obtain enlightenment. It is a privilege to not be an animal or any lower form of rebirth. One can work for the salvation of mankind as a bodhisattva if one has a human body, so in that sense, there may be karmic repercussions, but in general, the termination of a pregnancy had less trauma surrounding it.
It’s a different perspective, but one I think worth taking a look at. I should say that I have been a Buddhist since school days, although as a lapsed Catholic, I am sometimes a lapsed Buddhist.
Thank you for your extraordinary letter, with its amazing revelation about the non-mutilating use of natural seaweed to induce abortion in Japan. I will never forget the powerful climax of Naomi Wolf’s brave 1995 essay, which still impresses me after all these years: “Memorial services for the souls of aborted foetuses are common in Japan, where abortions are both legal and readily available. Shinto doctrine holds that women should make offerings to aborted foetuses to help them rest in peace.”
Despite its recurrent calls for multiculturalism, Western liberalism remains locked in a narrow secular mindset that I think has proved disastrous for art and culture. I feel very fortunate to have attended college in the 1960s, when ideas about both Zen Buddhism (the legacy of Beat poets) and Hinduism filled the air. Native American and Mexican vision quests were also a common theme. Although I am an atheist, I maintain that the highest form of multiculturalism is the study of world religions. Our present politicized, victim-obsessed multiculturalism has proved to be an abject failure—simply yet another ostentatious platform for the white bourgeoisie to expiate guilt for its own privilege and affluence.
Your description of Buddhist beliefs as they pertain to abortion is truly sublime—an expansion of moral imagination about a highly sensitive subject that is routinely treated with stony frigidity by egocentric Western feminism.
I appreciate your thinking, agree with an alarming lot of it, and I was hoping you could talk a little more about why you think drones are unethical. I don't think drones are any more unethical than war and perhaps more ethical because we are targeting the actual decision makers and warmongers. I understand the collateral damage--little kids on the screen, squeamish remote-control flyers reluctant to kill non-combatants--but there is a lot more collateral damage in boots on the ground combat than in targeted kills. Folks at home just don't get the visual. I also understand the veering-off-into illegal murders, but frankly we're there already and have been since at least Vietnam. It's the CIA's and NSA's specialty. Once we've made the decision that it is okay to kill enemies of our state, why split hairs over the delivery system? This seems related to me: why are we allowing "contractors" to fight our wars? There is fuzzy accountability back to the military and absolutely no transparency to their organizations and actions. It just seems too easy, in my opinion, to fault Obama's "unethical" use of drones when we aren't discussing the morals of the way we conduct war and our foreign policy in general.
I'm an Army veteran by the way. No combat, but I did have to face questions civilians don't.
I am very appreciative of your letter. One of the things I am proudest of in my checkered career is the forum that my Salon column has provided over the decades for letters from active and retired servicemen and women. There is a tradition of military service in my family. During World War Two, my father was a paratrooper in the 11th Airborne Division in the Philippines and occupied Japan. His group had been slated to drop into the compound of Tokyo’s Imperial Palace but were spared from certain decimation by the two atomic bombs and Japan’s surrender. His cousin was a pioneering WAVE, one of the first women to serve in the U.S. Navy. One of my uncles was a paratrooper wounded at the Battle of the Bulge; two others served in the Navy, and another was a Marine. My grandfather was a member of the Massachusetts National Guard, and a younger uncle was a longtime member of the New York National Guard, where he was an artillery specialist (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree).
Hence it is not from an anti-military perspective that I say that the U.S. military, in my view, remains seriously over-extended and exploited around the world by the callous, self-serving decisions of career politicians in Washington. I regret that Rand Paul proved to be such an inept and unsophisticated presidential candidate, because I strongly agreed with his libertarian stance about an immediate cessation of our fruitless and counter-productive interventions abroad (typified by Hillary Clinton’s catastrophic blunder into Libya). Perhaps it will only be a president with a history of military service who will have the will and courage to shut down our far too numerous and costly military bases scattered around the world, a Cold War legacy that has long outlived its usefulness. We must always have a strong military and remain vigilant—but our servicemen and women should be permanently stationed at home, near their families.
As for drones, I deplore their now routine use as casual instruments of undeclared war, with unknown and unknowable numbers of accidental civilian casualties. The U.S. forfeits the ethical high ground by its indifference to the tragic real-life consequences of its miscalculations or outright errors. The developed world looks grotesquely distorted when it treats raining terror down on third-world nations as business as usual. I found Medea Benjamin’s 2012 protest book, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, both disturbing and convincing. And I continue to be alarmed by the collusion of Washington bureaucrats with local police departments in funding the acquisition of drones, which endanger the basic civil liberties of all American citizens.
I greatly enjoyed your column on song lyrics, and it was good to see you return to the subject you covered so well in Break, Blow, Burn. I quite agree about the incredible power of Joan Baez's vocals and words, and that Dylan's "Desolation Row" is his magnum opus. And this led me to wonder what your thoughts are regarding Leonard Cohen, as a poet and lyricist? Cohen is not nearly as well known as Dylan, and I have to admit that I only came to know his work over the past decade, but I find there's a depth to his poetry that is unique in the history of popular music.
Bronx, New York
Well, this is a sticky wicket! I love Canada (where fair play is national dogma) and have gone out of my way for decades to evade Canadian journalists’ questions about Leonard Cohen, who has iconic stature for them as a singer, composer, and novelist.
There can be no doubt about Cohen’s manifest intellect, emotional depth, and productivity. The problem for me is first, the labored, lugubrious monotony of his sepulchral singing style (I feel like I’m trapped with Morticia in a Charles Addams cartoon) and second, the painful over-calculation of his lyrics, which often seem designed for the page rather than for performance. There’s no room for intuition, inspiration, ecstasy, surprise—every promising detail seems buried in rationalist preconception and plodding delivery.
Leonard Cohen belongs to the Susan Sontag generation of existentialist Big Think—the drearier the better. Sontag’s zany brainstorm for cheering up the shell-shocked citizens of war-torn Sarajevo was to stage Waiting for Godot amid the ruins. Cohen’s version of hip feels like a paralyzing, suffocating stasis. Would a few spoonfuls of syncopation kill him? He clings to words and doesn’t trust music. His verbal overkill parallels the convoluted preciosity of French post-structuralism (he was born in Quebec).
“Suzanne”, of course, became a late 1960s counterculture classic, but it was because of Judy Collins’ gorgeous, luminous delivery, freed from Cohen’s heavy hand. “Tower of Song” had promise for me, but it’s dithered away in painfully self-conscious cleverness. My favorite Cohen song is “First We Take Manhattan”—I adore anything apocalyptic—but the best thing in it is the rippling Euro-disco beat, borrowed from the school of Giorgio Moroder, my idol.
I sometimes wonder if there’s a Canadian malady in all this, because I’m always reminded of Cohen when I watch Klute (1971), starring Jane Fonda as a mercurial New York call-girl. The acclaimed Canadian actor Donald Sutherland stands around in that film like a big, moist-eyed mope (Basset Hounds on Broadway?), as Fonda with her pioneering shag-cut gamely tears up the scenery in one fabulous outfit after another.
So I’ve come to suspect that Canadians, with their vigorous, jut-jawed frontier past, somehow revere Leonard Cohen for his subtle, soothingly baritone erasure of conventional masculinity. It’s all self-flagellation without the inconvenient Catholic baggage. Whipped cream, anyone?