You can read this series from the beginning here.
I had a full staff of ten interns now, which was more than I needed, but that meant I could assign one intern to each of the toss-up Senate races. Emma was a Mount Holyoke grad with a decisive female gender expression, if you like pantsuits, and I do. I had put her on the Kentucky race after she’d complained about getting Arkansas. I tried very hard to explain to her why it wasn’t a good idea to say anything negative about Arkansas where certain people could take note, but she hadn’t believed me at first. I had to go to Wikipedia to convince her that, in fact, former Secretary Clinton had, at one time, been the First Lady of Arkansas at one point in her illustrious career.
Emma still hadn’t wanted Arkansas, so I put her on Kentucky, which she was even less excited about at first. I sat her down and showed her a couple of hours worth of Mitch McConnell speeches on CSPAN-2, and she emerged from the experience ready to do what needed to be done to unseat him. (By way of contrast, I’d put a young Bryn Mawr grad in charge of the Arkansas race, and she’d voluntarily quit after developing an unexplainable, and frankly weird, crush on Tom Cotton.)
Emma was usually upbeat about the changes of challenger Alison Grimes, but today she was glum as she dragged herself into my office. "You’ve seen the YouTube clip?" she asked.
"The one where she wouldn’t say if she was an Obama voter? I thought that showed a great deal of loyalty to former Secretary Clinton." I tried to work the word "loyalty" into every sentence that referenced former Secretary Clinton.
"It was so depressing," she said. "I thought she had more courage than that."
"You can’t let yourself be disappointed by politicians," I said. "They’re politicians. They always disappoint somebody. What you do is turn the attack back on the attackers."
"What attack are you talking about?" Emma asked.
"This was a racist, sexist attack by the right-wing press," I said. "They were trying to discredit a strong woman leader for her courageous decision to vote for an African-American candidate. Spin it that way, and it doesn’t look that bad for her."
"That’s not the problem," Emma said. "I can do that. I mean, I know how to do that. It’s just that I’ve got a lot of respect for Secretary Grimes, and I can’t help but wondering…"
"What if she’s right?"
"Right about what?" I asked.
"Right to be embarrassed about voting for Obama."
"I don’t understand," I said, because I didn’t understand.
"Maybe she didn’t want to say that she voted for Obama just because it would hurt her in the election," Emma said. "Maybe she legitimately felt bad about voting for Obama, because Obama has been so ineffective."
"It just seems as though Obama has been ineffective because the Republicans have been obstructionist. Not to mention the opposition he’s faced through the deep-grained racism in this country." I said it, and I knew it was the right thing to say, but the words felt cold and heavy in my mouth. I was making excuses for Obama, and I knew it.
"You know better, Justin," she said. "I mean, yeah, Obamacare, and I’m on my parent’s health insurance another couple of years, so that’s good. But other than that, what’s he done? Can you tell me?"
"No," I said. "But I know someone who can."
We went upstairs to Aunt Joan’s office and sat on her comfy couch, which fortunately was big enough that Emma and I didn’t have to sit next to each other and risk non-consensual contact of any kind. Not that I would have minded, perhaps, if her thigh touched mine a slight bit, but there was no room for that sort of thing in the modern professional genderly-equal workplace.
"You got five minutes," Aunt Joan said. "After that, I have to reassure the North Dakota delegation that there won’t be any anti-fracking plank in the former Secretary’s energy platform. What’s the problem?"
"We’re both feeling a little disappointed in President Obama today," Emma said. "Not anything specifically, but overall. We’re wondering if Secretary Grimes was right not to tell those reporters that she voted for him."
"Understandable," Aunt Joan said. "And not without cause. It’s one of the issues that we’ve looked at closely with regard to our overall Readiness. We can’t let fatigue over having to defend the President’s record affect our message."
"I mean, I used to feel proud that I voted for the President. But now I’m not so sure I feel anything," I said. "It’s just after everything that’s happened recently, you know, with ISIS and the beheadings and the Ukraine and all that, it’s hard to feel good about the Administration anymore."
"Especially with the IRS scandal," Emma said. "And Benghazi."
"The supposed IRS pseudo-scandal is none of your concern," Aunt Joan said. Her eyes narrowed, which I knew was a bad sign even if Emma didn’t. "And if I hear that other word out of your mouth ever again, you’ll be looking for work somewhere else. Like Mexico. We do not pay even the tiniest bit of lip service to that hateful right-wing smear."
"Sorry," Emma said, in the smallest, stillest, quietest voice you could imagine. I wished I had warned her not to say the B-word, and made a note to limit the exposure of interns to Fox News in the future.
"Nevertheless, no matter what the real source of the President’s current unpopularity might be, we are going to have to address it in order to be successful in November. There are three important aspects that we have to consider. The first is that he was over-hyped to begin with, for a number of different reasons. Nobody could have delivered on everything that he was supposed to have been able to do. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he’s been disappointing, no matter how much he’s delivered."
"That makes sense," Emma said.
"Of course it does," Aunt Joan said. "It’s been testing very well in focus groups. The second part is that he’s been taking all sorts of unfair abuse, which has detracted from his own relevant contributions."
"Like the Affordable Care Act," I said, being careful not to use the O-word.
"I don’t have to explain to you, Justin, that the Affordable Care Act was the culmination of decades of hard work by all sorts of people throughout the Democratic Party, most notably the former Secretary, and that it’s wrong and, quite frankly, sexist to give the President all of the credit. But he did sign it. The implementation will need some work, obviously, and we’ll need someone with real experience in the field to address the problems."
"So the trick is to acknowledge the Administration’s problems, and explain how Hill… I mean, the former Secretary can improve on them?" Emma asked.
"It’s not a trick," Aunt Joan sniffed. "Really, you millennials have to take more care in how you say things. Being Ready is not about the illusion of hope and change. It’s about how we make that hope and change a reality."
"And the third thing?" I asked.
"Well, I should think that would be obvious," Aunt Joan said. "Ask yourself. Why will the former Secretary be more effective than the President?"
"Because of her leadership style?" Emma guessed.
"Because she’ll have Bill helping her," I said.
Aunt Joan shot me a look. "Quiet, Justin. Go on. You’ve almost got it, Emma."
"Because of her policy expertise?"
"Because she’s a woman," Aunt Joan explained. "The President is many things, but he is primarily a man. We can only expect so much from him. The former Secretary is a woman, and therefore can be expected to be more effective, particularly on women’s issues."
Emma’s face brightened considerably. "That makes sense," she said. "And it’s helpful for Secretary Grimes, too, especially considering what McConnell is like on women’s issues."
"Glad I could be of help, then," Aunt Joan said. "Now shoo, both of you. Back to work. Oh, and Justin?"
"Yes?" I said, being careful not to say the words "Aunt Joan." All of a sudden, there were lots of things I couldn’t say.
"We’ve been spending too much time on defense," she said. "TIme to go on offense. Do you understand?"
"Yes," I said. "You spend too much time being defensive, you start acting defensive."
"Get back to work."
I rode the elevator down with Emma. "I feel so much better now, Justin." she said. "Thanks."
"Don’t mention it," I said.
I took care not to stand too close to her, but I could smell her hair and feel her renewed enthusiasm for making a difference. I felt it, too. The Kentucky race was close, and I knew we’d be talking again soon. I couldn’t wait.
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