Maureen Dowd: Curtains for the Clintons

Sea of empty seats on arena tour a sign of delusional Bill and Hillary’s lack of relevance

“The Clintons refuse to be discarded. It has been their joint project for half a century to be at the centre of the public scene and debate.” Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

“The Clintons refuse to be discarded. It has been their joint project for half a century to be at the centre of the public scene and debate.” Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

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Toronto: 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, organisers 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. (I passed on the pricey meet-and-greet option.) 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. But even with all the herding, I’m still looking at large swathes of empty seats – and I cringe at the thought that the Clintons will look out and see that, too. It was only four years ago, after all, that Canadians were clamouring to buy tickets to see the woman who seemed headed for history.

Sad contrast

It’s a sad contrast with the sold-out boffo 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 ageing rock stars and go on a tour of Canada and the United States at a moment when Democrats are hoping to break the stranglehold of their cloistered, superannuated leadership and exult in a mosaic of exciting new faces.

What is the point? It’s not inspirational. It’s not for charity. They’re not raising awareness about a cause, like Al Gore with global warming. They’re only raising awareness about the Clintons.

It can’t be the money at this point. Have they even spent all the Goldman gold yet? Do they want to swim in their cash like Scrooge McDuck?

The Clintons’ tin cup is worthy of the Smithsonian. They hoovered more than $2 billion in contributions to their campaigns, foundation and philanthropies.

The Clintons refuse to be discarded. It has been their joint project for half a century to be at the centre of the public scene and debate

After the White House, the money-grubbing raged on, with the Clintons making more than 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. Even leading up to her 2016 presidential run, Hillary was packing in the speeches, talking to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the American Camp Association, eBay, and there was that infamous trifecta of speeches for Goldman Sachs worth $675,000.

“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 legendary liberal 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.

Indeed, in the era of Trump, greed is not only good. It’s grand. The stock market is our highest value. Mammonism rules.

But watching the Clintons hash over their well-worn tale of falling in love at Yale Law School, I realise that it’s not only about the money.

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 name when they write about 2020 candidates.

Focus groups

And Bill has given monologues to old friends about how Hillary knows how she’d have to run in 2020, that she couldn’t have a big staff and would just speak her mind and not focus-group everything. (That already sounds focus-grouped.)

After losing to an orange puffer clown fish who will go down as one of the most destructive forces in American history and flushing the Obama legacy down the drain, 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.

Bill was radioactive in the midterms and Hillary was the Ghost of Christmas Past. Her approval rating is at a record low of 36 per cent. The only American who seems truly interested in her these days is president Donald Trump, who can’t stop tweeting about her. She’s still money in his book.

The Clintons refuse to be discarded. It has been their joint project for half a century to be at the centre 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 travelling 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.

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