The snow is falling lightly. My thoughts are racing darkly. I’m feeling something foreign, something I’ve never felt before. It takes me a moment to identify it.
I’m feeling sorry for the Clintons.
In the 27 years I’ve covered Bill and Hillary, I’ve experienced a range of emotions. They’ve dazzled me and they’ve disgusted me. But now they’re mystifying me.
I’m looking around Scotiabank Arena, the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it’s a depressing sight. It’s two-for-the-price-of-one in half the arena. The hockey rink is half curtained off, but even with that, organizers are scrambling at the last minute to cordon off more sections behind thick black curtains, they say due to a lack of sales. I paid $177 weeks in advance. On the day of the event, some unsold tickets are slashed to single digits.
I get reassigned to another section as the Clintons’ audience space shrinks. I’m still looking at large swaths of empty seats. It was four years ago Canadians were clamoring to buy tickets to see the woman who seemed headed for history.
It’s a sad contrast with the sold-out book tour of Michelle Obama, who’s getting a lot more personal for the premium prices. But introspection has never been within the Clintons’ range.
I can’t fathom why the Clintons would make like aging rock stars and go on a tour of Canada and the U.S. at a moment when Democrats are hoping to break the stranglehold of their cloistered leadership and exult in new faces.
What is the point? It’s not inspirational. It’s not for charity. They’re not raising awareness about a cause. They’re only raising awareness about the Clintons.
It can’t be the money at this point. They hoovered more than $2 billion in contributions to their campaigns, foundation and philanthropies.
After the White House, the money-grubbing raged on, with the Clintons making over 700 speeches in a 15-year period, blithely unconcerned with any appearance of avarice or of shady special interests and foreign countries buying influence. They stockpiled a whopping $240 million.
“What scares me the most is Hillary’s smug certainty of her own virtue as she has become greedy and how typical that is of so many chic liberals who seem unaware of their own greed,” Charlie Peters, the former editor of The Washington Monthly, told me. “They don’t really face the complicity of what’s happened to the world, how selfish we’ve become and the horrible damage of screwing the workers and causing this resentment that the Republicans found a way of tapping into.” He ruefully worries about the Obamas in this regard, too.
In the era of Trump, greed is grand. The stock market is our highest value.
Some in Clintonworld say Hillary fully intends to be the nominee. Once more, in Toronto, she didn’t rule it out, dodging the question with a lame joke. She carries herself with the air of a president in exile. Her consigliere, Philippe Reines, has prodded reporters on including her when they write about 2020 candidates.
Bill has given monologues to old friends about how Hillary knows how she’d have to run in 2020.
After losing to Trump, that’s delusional. Some Obama associates say the former president has some regrets about throwing his support solely behind Hillary and knows he misread the anger and frustration of voters.
Her approval rating is at a record low of 36 percent. The Clintons refuse to be discarded. It has been their joint project for half a century to be at the center of the public scene and debate. The way that the whole thing came crashing down in 2016 is too hard for them to bear. They would like to rewrite the ending, but there is no way to do that.
Nothing they have done lately suggests that they have learned anything, including their obtuse post-#MeToo comments about Monica Lewinsky, who has been far more candid and sympathetic in the 20th anniversary retellings of the impeachment saga. The Clintons are still unable to hold themselves accountable. The formerly golden couple who dominated their party for nearly three decades is traveling North America in a bubble, shockingly un-self-aware.
Their pathological need to be relevant in America is belied by a Canadian arena, where stretches of empty seats bear witness to the passing of their relevance. It’s a pity.
—Maureen Dowd is a columnist with the New York Times.