Content May 2008

Only Connect

The digital age demands that political candidates be authentic and accessible. But please—hold the carrots.

Illustration by Richard Thompson

"Let’s do lunch,” Hillary Clinton e-mailed me on Tuesday, September 4, at 11:18 a.m. For a narcissistic moment, I thought maybe she actually wanted to get together and was using a circa-1989 coinage (one that had slipped well past ironic-referential mode by 1994, roughly to where “That’s how I roll” is today) as some kind of inside joke. We had, after all, met for about 30 seconds at a company-sponsored fund-raiser not long before, where my co-workers and I had been asked to wait in a long line in order to have a quick interchange with the candidate and then a grip-and-grin. We had snobbishly refused to get in line but then thought, Why not? Maybe we can say one day that we met her. It was … brief. “Let’s talk, you and me—about whatever you’d like,” her e-mail went on, as if she were continuing our conversation. “Our hopes. Our goals. Our work. The weather. Maybe even politics.” Then the clincher: “I think it would be fun to have you over for lunch, at my table, in my home in Washington.”


On Thursday, September 6, at 11:19 a.m., Bill Clinton sent me a follow-up note. Apparently his wife had filled him in on the impending festivities. “Dear Michael,” he wrote, “I hear you might be having lunch with Hillary—do you mind if I drop in?” Wha-hey! This was turning out to be quite a party.

Turned out that might was the operative word. Only one supporter would be invited, along with a friend, and you had to donate to her campaign by midnight Friday to qualify. I declined. But Bill and I were getting quite chummy. On September 25, at 11:20 a.m., Bill got in touch again: “You, me, a TV, and a bowl of chips.” The intimacy was making me sweat slightly. “There are two things in this world that I love more than anything else,” he confided, “my family and politics. So you can imagine just how fired up I get when Hillary is on the stage debating the issues that matter to our country.” I know, it’s almost sexual. Bill was passing along the good news that three lucky Hillary supporters would be invited, each with a guest, to watch an upcoming debate. “We’ll sit down in front of a big TV with a big bowl of chips, watch the debate, and talk about the race.”

I didn’t want to offend Bill, but what with his recent heart problems, maybe “a big bowl of chips” was not exactly what the doctor ordered. Hillary shared my concern, bless her heart, even in the middle of a heated primary campaign. Two days later, September 27, at 10:48 a.m., she couldn’t contain herself any longer. “Dear Michael,” she wrote, urgency clearly visible between the lines. “I hear you might be watching a debate with Bill.” Indeed, I might be. “Can I ask you a favor? Bill mentioned ‘a big bowl of chips’ in the email he sent you Tuesday. If you are one of the three people who get the chance to join him, can you make sure he eats carrots, not chips?”

It turns out that Glenda, Clare, and David were the three lucky winners of the “bowl of chips” offer from Bill, as he helpfully informed me on November 6, at 2:16 p.m., in an e-mail titled “Glenda, Clare, and David” (Bill must’ve slept in—these e-mails were coming later now). He even sent along a link to a video of him and Glenda, Clare, and David watching Hillary debate. The video showed that there was more than just chips and carrots on offer, lovingly panning over peppers, pretzel sticks, and other evidence of a well-appointed spread. “Pizza!” Bill exclaimed as he walked in. And I was able to learn that Bill subsequently ate both chips (with dip!) and carrots as he watched his wife on the flat-screen TV. According to everyone in attendance, she did a great job. Bill helpfully pointed out to Glenda, Clare, and David how she countered but did not attack, and effused that the country was really looking for solutions, not empty rhetoric. After the debate, Hillary called in, and Bill put David on the phone. Since we all know that she worries, he made sure to tell her that he had gotten Bill to eat some carrots after all.

Watch Bill Clinton enjoying refreshments with Glenda, Clare, and David

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Michael Hirschorn is an Atlantic contributing editor.

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