Ross Douthat was tweeting about this earlier. He has no answers; neither do I. Which may explain why even Hillary allies like David Brock aren’t keen on the idea of a biopic before the election. It sounds helpful to her campaign in theory (hence the RNC’s opposition) but when you try to telescope the last 20 years into a string of heroic moments that explain how Hillary became Hillary!, what do you come up with? What are the glorious triumphs that the screenwriter would be sure to showcase so that viewers would say, “Ah yes, this is why she’s presidential timber”?
I think Hillary is very impressive and likely to be our next POTUS. But her career to date doesn't fit the conventional biopic frame AT ALL.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) August 8, 2013
@DouthatNYT Surely she can/will be portrayed as a sympathetic victim in each of those moments?
— alexmassie (@alexmassie) August 8, 2013
@alexmassie Oh, sure. But weird to have a biopic in which your steely future-president heroine spends her political career being a victim.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) August 8, 2013
My reply to Douthat was that her “heroism” consists entirely of soldiering on through these episodes of victimization. He agreed, but noted that when it comes to glorifying people for their martyrdom, at least Joan of Arc won some battles along the way. Which battles did Hillary win? She lost on HillaryCare. She beat Rick Lazio, a second-tier candidate, to win a Senate seat in a state where she had a huge electoral advantage as a Democrat and vastly, vastly more name recognition. She botched her chance to become the first woman nominee in 2008 when she and her team were out-organized by Obama (especially in caucus states) despite starting out far ahead in the polls and having her very popular ex-president husband campaigning on her behalf. She bounced back to become America’s top diplomat, but the “accomplishment” that’s most often mentioned from her tenure is how many miles she and her team logged in the air conducting shuttle diplomacy. Beyond that it’s Benghazi and the Russian “reset” that she championed, which is going amazingly at the moment. There are good movies that can be made about Hillary, but like Douthat says, the drama would be driven by the ordeals she’s endured in pursuit of power, not by what she’s achieved with power once obtained. What kind of campaign commercial is that? It’d be like making a miniseries about Nixon in 1968 to tout his candidacy and focusing on him keeping a stiff upper lip through the Checkers affair, his humiliations at Eisenhower’s hands, and the gubernatorial loss in 1962. That … does show a certain resoluteness, I guess, but would a movie like that have helped him? The argument for Nixon was that he was an obviously smart, ruthless, familiar old hand who knew how to operate in Washington. That’s the argument for Hillary too. You can win running as that character in certain circumstances, but what the hell kind of hagiography is that? If I want to watch that story, I’ll cue up “House of Cards.”
Bottom line: For all the mockery made of Obama in 2008 for running on the power of his celebrity, Hillary will be running as a sort of celebrity too. Her resume’s better than his was because she does, in fact, have lots of experience navigating Congress (dating from her time as Bill’s “co-president”) and she has foreign-policy cred from her time at State, but given the lack of big-ticket achievements, this stuff operates mostly as window dressing for Hillary the Icon. Who’s voting for her because of what she did at State rather than the mere fact that she possesses the credential? Nearly everyone considered her an overwhelming favorite for the nomination in 2008 at first, despite her Iraq vote and despite the fact that she had only five years’ more experience in the Senate than Obama. Why was that? Partly it was perceptions that a black candidate couldn’t win, but mainly, I think, it was the sheer size of Hillary’s celebrity: How was a charismatic unknown from Illinois going to beat someone who’d been so famous for 15 years that virtually every voter could identify her by her first name alone? The same is true for 2016. Measuring by accomplishments alone — influence over policy, legislation passed, etc — Joe Biden’s clearly more qualified than Hillary for the nomination, but he’s starting out 50 points behind in some primary polls. Why? Because he’s Joe Biden and she’s Hillary! A miniseries hagiography wouldn’t address that, even though it’s key to her phenomenon. And it wouldn’t help her politically if it did.