Hillary Clinton: Madam President, I presume

Hillary Clinton: Madam President, I presume

She might not have the star power of the Obamas or the aura Nelson Mandela but Hillary Clinton does have something distinctive about her. At a campaign rally in Pittsburgh on Friday, there was an air of authority, perhaps stemming from the weight of the establishment behind her, and sharpness in the messaging that says “I actually know what I’m doing”. It’s all political theatre and heavily packaged, of course, but Clinton is not only poised to be the most powerful leader in the world, she is determined to crush Donald Trump in the process. RANJENI MUNUSAMY reports from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Season five of the hit American political satire Veep begins with events post elections with fictional president Selina Meyer still in office because there is no clear winner. Despite her frustration and comical underhand strategizing with her aides about how to remain in the Oval Office, President Meyer is asked to go out and thank election volunteers.

“Thank them for what?” she asks. “The Olympic-sized swimming pool full of shit I’m doing the backstroke in?” 

Hillary Clinton is no Selina Meyer, a woman who burst through the glass ceiling through a series of bungles – though you have to wonder whether there was a Veep-style meltdown behind-the-scenes when the FBI effectively sabotaged her campaign last week. Neither is Clinton the “Iron Lady” archetype that almost every woman political leader around the world is measured against.

Photo:US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (C) shares the stage with Beyonce (L) and Jay Z (R) during the ‘Get Out The Vote’ concert at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, 04 November 2016. The US presidential election is scheduled for 08 November 2016. EPA/DAVID MAXWELL

Clinton is the prototype US career politician running for president – with one major difference. She is the only person without a dick to make it this far in the world’s biggest dick-swinging contest.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, takes massive cojones – even for a former First Lady, senator and Secretary of State.

“I am afraid for her,” says Beverley Jackson, a pastor from Growing in God Church in Turtle Creek, a borough on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. Jackson is a volunteer at Clinton’s Pittsburgh rally, and is responsible for ushering people onto the platform to the right of the stage. It’s all done for the cameras to create a bank of fired-up supporters around the stage. But Jackson says she has played a much bigger role than simply creating visual effects for the Clinton rally. She has been working as captain at her campaign office’s “phone bank” that contacts people to urge them to vote, and has also been doing door-to-door campaigning. 

“I am tired of all the slander from Donald Trump against Hillary. I’ve been telling people to go out and vote, to keep the faith and to pray for Hillary. We gotta hope it turns out alright on Tuesday,” says Jackson.

“I’ve been telling people that for black people like us, this is a no-brainer. You don’t even have to think this one through. My parents were from the South where there was lynching, segregation and toilets in outhouses. We can’t go back to that and that is what Trump will do,” says Jackson.

Brittanie Murray, an accountant at one of Pittsburgh’s steel companies, is less gracious about Trump’s intentions.

“He is a racist, misogynist, homophobic prick who will treat workers in America like peasants,” she says.

A ruling by the National Labour Relations Board this week that Trump’s Las Vegas hotel was breaking the law by refusing to recognise its workers’ labour union is proof of this, says Murray. She was among hundreds of people queuing outside Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, where Clinton addressed an estimated 2,500 people, hoping to sew up the vote in the swing state of Pennsylvania.

Murray says it is necessary for Clinton and her supporters to fight hard in this campaign. “This has not been an election of policies or rationality. It’s been about fear mongering and hate. So you can’t fight back with logic.”

Further back in the queue is a commotion. An anti-abortion campaigner dressed in a garment resembling the vestments of a Catholic priest is stirring people up by bellowing on his loud hailer that Clinton supports the murder of babies. He is wearing a Trump “Make America Great Again” truckers cap.

Mary Lou Ferraro rolls her eyes and turns away. She has been waiting over an hour to get into the stadium to hear Clinton speak. “I’m praying Hillary wins. It scares the crap of out of me that people like that might get in,” she says, cocking her head towards the Catholic crusader. Her contribution to the Clinton campaign will be to “puppy sit” for friends who will be working at the polling stations on Tuesday.

Brad Butcher is a doctor in Pittsburgh. He says he has never been politically inclined until this campaign. He is now addicted to the wall-to-wall news coverage of the elections. As a medical practitioner, he has in-depth knowledge of Obamacare, which is a major campaign tool of the Republicans. He says it is not a perfect policy but is able to provide affordable healthcare. Claims about premiums going up are being exaggerated as this will only affect a small number of people.

“I had to be here today because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. As a gay guy, I support her and what she stands for but you also cannot overlook the fact that she will be the first woman president of the United States and that is historic,” Butcher says.

The Pittsburgh rally follows the format of events throughout the country that Clinton, her running mate Tim Kaine and high profile surrogates, including President Barack Obama and her former Democrat rival Bernie Sanders, have been addressing. Clinton has also had big name celebrities join the last dash “Get Out the Vote” events as there are worries that complacency and polls showing she has the edge on Trump will lead to Democratic supporters not bothering to turn up.

The rally gets going with local politicians and state representatives whipping up the crowd and signature campaign tunes like Katy Perry’s Roar and Rachel Platten’s Fight Song being belted out.

Clinton aides, campaigners and volunteers appear visibly exhausted. It has been a long and hard campaign and Tuesday cannot come too soon. It’s cold in the hall at the Pittsburgh Steelers homeground and many people seem sleep and caffeine deprived.

Looking even wearier are members of the press corps travelling with Clinton. They have heard her stump speech dozens of times and can recite the lines themselves. There is a slight variation in each address, depending on the region and audience. Signs are stuck on the tables for the media pool: “You are in Pittsburgh, PA for a Pennsylvania Democrats Pittsburgh Organising Event with Hillary Clinton on Friday, November 4, 2016”.

Could it be that the journalists are so shell-shocked that they need to be reminded where they are and what they are doing?

One of the newscasters for a major news network says it has surprised him that the race is this close just days away from the poll. Pittsburgh was a surprise on Clinton’s schedule as Pennsylvania had been voting blue for several cycles and should not be a big worry for the Democrats. “I guess she doesn’t want any surprises,” he says. “It’s still difficult to read. I was in the room when Trump questioned (John) McCain’s military record. I thought his campaign was over then but he is still going,” the newsman says.

TV personality and billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks Mark Cuban, a Pittsburgh homeboy and Trump nemesis, is churning up the crowd. America cannot have a president who wants to invest in science but “can’t even spell the word” and who “doesn’t know when to shut up”. He introduces Clinton, who strides on stage with local football greats, sending the crowd into raptures. She acknowledges the notables in the hall, including the president of the United Steelworkers union, Leo Gerard. He commands a major constituency in the city, a primary target of this campaign stop.

“I’m all about making sure the American dream is big enough for everybody,” Clinton said during a 30-minute speech advocating an increase in the national minimum wage, equal pay for women and affirming the rights of the LGBTI community. Her voice is a little hoarse from doing this too many times a day. She camouflages her exhaustion by playing to the gallery, giving shout outs to Pittsburgh’s football team, workers and entrepreneurs. 

“I am the candidate to vote for, not just someone to vote against,” Clinton said, saying people could hold her accountable for the promises she makes.

“If we have a big win on Tuesday, we will have a big wind behind our backs. We are on track towards having the biggest turnout in history,” she says, informing the cheering crowd that 31 million people had already voted in the election.

Clinton is accomplished at the game, carrying the crowd through her campaign targets, and scornful of her opponent. There is no mention of the emails that have haunted her campaign or her chequered record as Secretary of State.   

Clinton’s disdain for Trump is evident throughout the speech. But she is not vulgar and refrains from spouting untruths as the Republican candidate is fond of doing.

“She tries to be the grown up in the room, even when they come at her,” another political correspondent travelling with Clinton confides. “There is anger sometimes, but she always acts presidential.” 

Clinton tells the crowd how she had to stand four-and-a-half hours next to Trump during the presidential debates and how ill prepared he was. “It was really hard not to go ‘What did you say?’” she says animatedly. “If you know anyone thinking of voting for Trump, please stage an intervention.”

Trump, she says, owes hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign banks. If he is president, would he put his own interests before America’s interests, she asks.

“Sometimes the fate of the greatest nations comes down to a single moment in time. This is a make or break moment for the United States,” Clinton says before rounding up with her payoff line: “Love trumps hate”.

She shakes hands, signs autographs, poses for pictures and is then bustled away by a phalanx of US Secret Service officers.

She came and she conquered.

Stacey Stamm is five-and-a-half months pregnant and had a t-shirt custom made for the campaign. “We’re with her,” it says with arrows pointing at her face and her belly. She says as a working mother-to-be, Clinton’s messages on childcare and equal pay hit home.    

Laurie Mann says Clinton’s campaign has been on target and will be successful. “I want her to have a big and comfortable win so it will be harder for the Trump people to claim the vote was fixed.” The election has caused strain in her family as her 87-year-old father votes Republican. Clinton’s speech convinced her she is on the right side.

“She is the smartest lady you can find,” says Jody Nowry, who has been in Clinton’s corner from her 2008 failed campaign. “I truly hope to God she wins or I’ll be moving to South Africa,” she smirks. 

According to the polls, she won’t have to. And if the polls have it horribly wrong, fictional president Selina Meyer’s assessment of the election results being an “Olympic-sized swimming pool full of shit” might not be so funny. DM

Ranjeni Munusamy is participating in a 2016 US General Elections Embed program administered by the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) and sponsored by the US State Department’s Foreign Press Centres and US Embassy Posts.

Main photo: Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton holds a ‘get out the vote’ rally at Pitt Community College in Winterville, North Carolina, USA, 03 November 2016. EPA/JIM LO SCALZO


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