They had a term for her, but I’ve forgotten it. It was a name applied to a person who could not say no to a door-to-door salesman. The one I remember from my brief career selling magazines was totally upfront about her intentions. “I’ll buy whatever you’re selling,” she said. I sold her Esquire and two other subscriptions. Salesmen back then had a name for such people. Today, I would call them conservatives. They, too, will buy anything.
The current evidence for this is Edward Klein’s latest book, “Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas.” It has just jumped over Hillary Clinton’s book, “Hard Choices,” on the New York Times best-seller list and zoomed past it on Amazon. The problem with Clinton’s book is that it doggedly presents her as she really is. The virtue of Klein’s book is that it presents a Hillary Clinton who is a right-winger’s harridan, obscene, dishonest and likely to say the most astonishing things. You did not know, probably, how foul-mouthed and indiscreet she is.
Not too many pages into the Klein book, Clinton purportedly tells a reunion of college friends what she really thinks of Barack Obama. The time is May 2013, the location is a Westchester County, N.Y., restaurant called Le Jardin du Roi, and the wines are Chateau Hyot Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux and Croix de Basson, cheap stuff. Obama, Clinton tells about half-a-dozen women, “has turned into a joke.” “Incompetent and feckless,” she adds.
And then, with the wine possibly loosening her tongue, she does a spot-on imitation of my basic training drill sergeant. There’s “no hand on the [censored] tiller.” “And you can’t trust the [censored]” because “his word isn’t worth [censored].” As for her husband, she told her friends, should she become president and he get to thinking she’s really just the first lady, “I’ll have his ass thrown out of the White House.”
These passages do not pass the smell test. They trigger deep cynicism and read like raw, untreated gossip. Matters are not improved by the interjection of the supposedly compelling detail, such as the labels of the wines or, later on, the sofa in the Clintons’ Washington living room. It’s “caramel Rose Tarlow velvet,” should you wonder.
With the exception of the occasional anodyne anecdote, none of the gamey stuff is sourced. Everyone is anonymous, and sometimes one or more times removed from the actual event. The dialogue is so wooden that even Rush Limbaugh, no fan of the Obamas or the Clintons, detected the tell-tale sound of the wooden nickel: “Some of the quotes strike me as odd, in the sense that I don’t know people who speak this way.” Neither, I would guess, do the Obamas or the Clintons.
The reason I started with that woman who just had to buy whatever magazine I was selling is that by nightfall the sale had been canceled by her husband. As I recall, this was a provision in the law to protect people who were incapable of saying “no thanks.” I lost a nice commission, but that was all right with me. I was ashamed of how I earned it.
Now I feel something ought to be done for the poor, innocent conservative. What I recommend is a federal agency — the Conservative Protection Commission — with an appropriate headquarters in Washington and, of course, a fair number of regional offices, more in the South than, say, the Northeast for obvious reasons. I recognize that this is a liberal solution to a conservative problem, but — truly — these people need help. They will buy anything.
Klein clearly knows this. He is a former editor of the New York Times Magazine and a onetime member of the Manhattan literati. Yet, to the dismay of his friends, he has turned out books designed — or so it seems — to pick the pockets of the gullible. In a previous book on Hillary Clinton, he managed to find what other authors have not — sapphic sex, for instance. He has written about Ted Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy and Katie Couric, but it is the Obamas and the Clintons that are his specialties. As far as Klein is concerned, they embody race and sex, the United States’ twin obsessions.
Writers and publishers must look upon the conservative book market in the way drug dealers see junkies. Conservatives will buy anything because anything is literally what they believe of the Clintons, the Obamas and, of course, liberals in general. I can’t remember the name the salesmen had for that woman of so long ago, but I know what to call these conservatives: suckers!
Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.