You can read this series from the beginning here.
Emma sent me a note that said she wanted to sit down and talk with me at work, so I scheduled a meeting for 9:30 in the morning. I always like having meetings early in the day. By then I’ve had my organic shade-tree grown fair-trade coffee, and my rice cakes spread with gluten-free flax-seed butter, so I’m full of energy and the deep unwavering desire for social justice. Emma came into the conference room with a couple of Munchkins and a big travel mug of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, so maybe I scheduled it a little earlier than she would have liked.
"What do you make of the news about the former Secretary’s campaign not starting until July 1?" she asked.
"I’m a little disappointed that the campaign hasn’t officially started yet. I don’t understand what the deal is. I don’t know what to do about it except to work harder. We need to work harder, all of us."
"I disagree," Emma said. "I think we need to work smarter. I think we need to have a strategy. You know, outside of making fun of the Koch Brothers and Fox News."
"I’m sure the campaign is busy working on that," I said. "I mean, you’d think."
"Right now, the campaign, such as it is, is working on fundraising and logistics. They are trying to raise enough money over the summer to scare off the competition. What they’re not doing is working on a strategy for actually winning the election."
"They have a strategy," I said. "It’s a replay of Obama 2012. Wait and see who wins the Republican primary, and grind his character into dust. Aunt Joan calls it the dog-on-the-car-roof strategy."
"And look at what Obama was able to accomplish in his second term," Emma said. "I think we can do better. I think we need to do better."
"I don’t disagree," I said. "I just think it’s kind of presumptuous, you know? I mean, you’d think that the former Secretary and her team should be able to come up with a compelling rationale as to why she should be elected President."
"But it’s not happening, Justin. Look at that ridiculous list they put together about everything they didn’t want to talk about. The former Secretary of State doesn’t want to talk about foreign policy? The architect of Hillarycare doesn’t want to talk about the employer mandate? We can’t get through the entire campaign season without any discussion about any of the issues, can we?"
"That’s a very high-level decision," I said.
"I know, and it bothers me that we’re the only ones who are noticing it, or who are willing to do something about it. It’s not like either of us really has that much political experience."
"Well, we’re in Washington, DC," I said. "Political experience is a commodity around here."
"What we need," Emma said, "is not just someone with experience. We need someone who’s not a kneejerk Hillary loyalist. You know, someone who can tell us when we’re on the wrong track."
"I have someone in mind," I said. "We’ll need to buy her some beer, though."
We met in my apartment. Polly got there right when I did, and I set her up with a bottle of the Doghead Fish beer she liked. She went into the living room and turned on MSNBC. I hung out in the kitchen and sliced up vegetables for a crudite platter. I was whipping up a cream cheese dill tapenade when Emma walked in.
"That’s her?" Emma asked.
"That’s her," I said. "Polly had the intern coordinator job when I started. She got fired when Aunt Joan found out she was from Delaware and had a Joe Biden bobblehead on her desk."
"Can we trust her?"
"She wants to make a difference," I said. "I know that, even if she isn’t a hundred percent Ready. She taught me a lot when I was first starting out. I think we should hear what she has to say."
"You didn’t sleep with her, did you?" Emma asked.
"No," I said. "We went out, once, right after the election. You know, as friends. We had a beer or two. But nothing happened."
"This was right around the time you were breaking up with me," Emma said.
"Technically, yes," I said. "But there’s not a connection, really."
"We’ll see."
We did introductions and crudite and that thing where you talk about Rachel Maddow’s hairstyle as a pretext to determine if the other person has any hidden biases they’re not telling you about. Finally Polly got down to business.
"I am a 27-year-old single woman living in Delaware who’s been unemployed for five months. I have student loan debt out the wazoo, and I probably drink more than I should. Convince me I should vote for Hillary Clinton."
"I don’t have to," I said. "The former Secretary got 42% of the vote in Delaware in the 2008 primary. If you assume that there isn’t a strong African-American vote in 2016, she ought to wrap up more than 50% of those votes, which would put her over the top. And Delaware is a solid 60% Democratic stronghold."
"Justin, that’s not an answer," Emma said. "We’re trying to do strategy, not demography, and no, they’re not the same thing. We need a message for Polly here, not for some pollster."
"So answer my question," Polly said.
"Well, we can go with the War on Women approach," Emma said. "Abortion rights. Contraceptive rights. Equal pay."
"I’m out of work and don’t have a boyfriend," Polly explained. "Next."
"Other gender-specific issues?" I guessed. "Catcalling? Campus rape? Microaggressions?"
"I am not on a college campus, and I have pepper spray and know how to use it," Polly said. "Next."
"Well, Beck beat out Beyonce for the Grammy," I said. "Other than that I got nothing."
"Quit fooling around, Justin," Emma said. "This is serious. So let’s be serious. I’m thinking…. not foreign policy. Not education policy, unless you need to go back to community college or want job training. Right so far?"
"Go on," Polly said.
"That leaves economic inequality. So what do you need? More EITC benefits? Bigger healthcare subsidies? Housing assistance?"
"Any Democrat can promise me all of that and more," Polly said. "What can Hillary do?"
"Get elected," I said.
"That’s not a strategy, that’s wishful thinking," Emma said. "What Hillary can do is work with liberal Republicans to get a budget passed that reflects reasonable priorities."
"There’s a slogan for you," Polly said. "Hillary Clinton 2016: Reasonable priorities."
"So you come up with something," Emma said.
"This is my theory, for what it’s worth," Polly said. "You guys spent your college years focused on social issues. Equality. Gay marriage. Microaggressions and all that politically-correct crap. Am I right?"
"Well, sure," I said.
"And now you’re out of college, and all of a sudden all of that politically-correct crap is not anywhere near as important as paying for rent and health insurance and beer. Present company excepted, Justin."
"I didn’t ask to be born rich," I said. "It just kind of happened."
"You guys know how to sell people on social concerns," Polly said. "But you have no idea how to sell people on economic concerns. That’s especially true if you’re like Justin here and have more money than small African nations."
"This is what Russ Douthat was talking about," Emma said. "Progressives have cultural energy but not economic energy. And Hillary isn’t going to press the cultural issues. She’s going to push everything towards economics."
"Which is where the voters are at," Polly said. "There’s your starting place. Forget all that other crap."
"It’s the economy, stupid," I said. "So what do we know about the economy?"
"I know it sucks," Polly said. "Look. This was fun, you guys. But I have to catch the train back to Wilmington and go back to my parents’ basement and spend the rest of the week looking for a job. Okay? Glad we made some progress here. Let’s do it again sometime."
After Polly left, Emma and I were alone.
"So it’s not enough that we have to set the direction for the entire Hillary Clinton for President campaign," she said. "We need to fix the economy, too."
"That’s a lot of work for two people," I said. "Even two charming, attractive people with an undeniable attraction to each other."
"Oh, no you’re not," Emma said.
"You said it yourself. We have cultural energy on our side. And it’s pushing us toward one another. Can you feel it?"
"Valentine’s Day was nice," Emma said. "But that’s all it was. We have to focus on economic issues. Stuff real people care about."
"I care about you," I said.
"You care about social justice," Emma said. "You told me that, when you broke up with me in November, right before the holidays. Did you think I forgot that?"
"I was upset," I said. "So were you. I think we needed a break then. Now I don’t think that we do, so much."
"Let’s leave it at this," she said. "I need to figure out what I need to do to steer this campaign towards the issues. You need to figure out what you need to do if you ever want to see me naked again. Got it?"
"Got it," I said.
"Good. You do what you need to do, and I’ll do what I need to do, and if either of us figures it out, we’ll let the other one know. Understood?"
Emma walked out the door. I picked up the crudite platter and started putting the uneaten vegetables back in the crisper. All of a sudden, I wondered if I was making a mistake in putting all my cultural energy towards making a difference.
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