I can actually see, to some extent, the point of conservatives’ complaints about the Obama-Hillary 60 Minutes interview. It was softbally, and Steve Kroft’s one real question—to Clinton, about whether she felt any guilt or remorse over Benghazi—she totally didn’t answer. But here, conservatives, is what you are missing and what you need to reckon with. Americans—except you—like these two people. Most Americans look at the pair of them—this black man who is still remote in some ways and this so-familiar woman who is now aging before us and allowing herself to look just a little frumpy—and feel reassured. Most Americans are cheering for them, and hence, most Americans probably wanted a softball interview. We have thus passed an important portal in American politics: Democrats are now the regular guys. Conservatives are the weirdos.
First, about the interview. These are not two of your more forthcoming interview subjects. I’ve never sat with Obama, but I have interviewed Clinton on a number of occasions, including one big 90-minute-or-so sit-down back in 2000. She told me some very interesting things: she likes Thomas Hardy, she was overwhelmed by her visit to the Olduvai Gorge, she takes a keen interest in ancient civilizations, she loves the Three Stooges, and she knows the theme song to The Flintstones. But on policy, she gave me nothing. A total Heisman. My heart sank to the floor as I listened back over the tape and realized that answer after answer wasn’t going to make news after all. Obama is no different. Rare is the interview that finds him saying anything genuinely arresting.
But he did say something interesting to Kroft, and she did too, which was this: they were both wholly believable and ingenuous when they were talking about their own political relationship. When Obama said, in reference to repairing the ruptures of 2008, “I think it was harder for the staffs, which is understandable, because, you know, they get invested in this stuff in ways that I think the candidates maybe don’t,” I thought: that rings really true. And I’d bet most Americans did too.
Obama and Clinton talked, in other words, like mature adults, and they sold it as genuine because it was genuine. And I’d contend that it made most people watching feel something like: Well, these are very smart and self-assured people, and they’re mostly pretty likable, too, and agree or disagree with this or that decision they make or action they take, I feel like my country is in pretty good hands with them. And yes, to invoke the hackneyed litmus-test question—I’d drink a beer, or a pinot, or in HRC’s case a shot of Crown Royal, with them. To everyone but right-wingers, that was the vibe Sunday night—a victory lap, and a victory lap that no one begrudged them.
They’re the real Americans now. It’s not that they have changed, but that America has. The measures for real Americanism are no longer clearing brush, hunting elk, hopping on top of various animals, dropping one’s g’s (in speech, I mean), and speaking in intentionally ungrammatical apothegmatic frontier “wisdom.” The new measures? Not completely sure yet. But we do have now the collective realization that those were fake measures—some Harvey Mansfield–inspired Potemkin Village of “real America.” Also, the collective realization that it’s probably on balance not at all a bad idea for the president not to be “just like us,” which was the folk wisdom of a decade ago, but in fact a little smarter than most of us.
The Republicans? It’s not just the extreme ideology. Of course it’s that, but it’s more. The whole shtick is old. Where once the Middle American ear may have been soothed by that low Cheney rumble belching out its grave assessments of the world situation, today it is accosted by all those caliginous Southern accents warning of socialism and collapse, and thinks: will these people ever shut up? Georgia Congressman Paul Broun told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that Obama “upholds … the Soviet Constitution.” On any given week, I could fill a whole column, or two, with such nuggets. Enough already.
While Obama and Clinton were speaking, so was Paul Ryan, to a conservative gathering, where he said: “There are two ways to respond to defeat: Either you can deny it, or you can learn from it. I choose to learn from it. The way I see it, our defeat is all the more reason to lay out our vision with even more specifics—and with a broader appeal.”
What he’s saying there, and throughout the speech, is that the GOP isn’t going to change its stripes a bit. “Broader appeal” means I suppose better (read: more dishonest) packaging for a bunch of reactionary policies that Americans don’t want.
Conservatives, you can call me and others like me all the names you want, and you can whine about the evil CBS all you want. But Kroft and his network were actually in touch here with the pulse of the country, which wants Obama to succeed and Hillary to go have a nice long rest (and, maybe, get ready for 2016). Meanwhile, even Roger Ailes has gotten sick of Sarah Palin. Get the picture?