Marginalized groups have long known that the only way to defeat the power of a label is to own it. At any bar in West Hollywood, you will find gay men calling out to each other “hey Girl” or referring to themselves as an “Old Queen” and occasionally “Faggot.” Black people, of course have known this forever. My brothers and I asked my Mom what the “N” word meant and she only told us it was a bad name for Black people and we should never, ever say it. Later though, I would find out that it’s practically not a real rap or hip hop song if it doesn’t use the word nigger somewhere (usually nigga’). Immigrant laborers working with one of my brothers occasionally call themselves mojado (Spanish for wet, equivalent to “wetback”). Lesbians use the word dyke. And so on and so on.
Hillary has no choice. The campaign ought to co-opt the “Crooked” label rather than trying to prove she is straight. The harder she tries to prove the label wrong, the more powerful it will become; and in this instance, ignoring it will not make it go away. Any Clintonista reading this will cringe reading the mere name of Maureen Dowd, but her column following the 2012 election put it perfectly about the Republicans:
“. . . . the more they insulted the president with birther cracks, the more they tried to force chastity belts on women, and the more they made Hispanics, blacks and gays feel like the help, the more these groups burned to prove that, knitted together, they could give the dead-enders of white male domination the boot.”
The Minority is the Majority. And, with the exception of white liberals who are currently buying snake oil from a Vermont septuagenarian (and I will get to that later), all of the other groups in the Democratic Party have felt crooked and have felt like outsiders; occasionally askew and deformed in comparison to the mythical, white picket fence narrative of the American Dream.
In fact, I’m Crooked and I’m with Her.
Those of you who know me, know that it wasn’t a straight path to confront my sexuality. We gays have always lived outside of the mainstream. Further, my strong proclivities towards dating black men certainly puts me well, well outside of the norms peddled in my childhood in the 46237.
Hillary’s marriage is most certainly a crooked, winding path. Own it. She would do much better to talk about the aspects of it that were excruciating rather than acting as if no problems ever existed. Where is the Big Interview in prime time with Oprah talking about It? We are in the Age of the Confessional Interview!
But more importantly, why does the campaign seem to be afraid of this topic anyway? In real life, all couples struggle and yet fight and knit together a life that makes sense for the people in it. There are couples with passion and yet no fidelity and couples who have fidelity without passion. Sugar daddies with their buxom young babes and women career warriors with their stay-at-home dads. The thrice divorced and those who permanently cohabitate in love without ever getting married. I know a long time gay couple who chose to decamp to separate residences in the same ZIP code. My friend’s parents in Orange County remarried after being divorced and separated for over twenty years.
Tell me about a perfect relationship and I will try to guess the title of the movie. Who isn’t a little crooked?
Hillary’s path on policy positions has often been crooked too, but who wants to dine with the bore who has always been right? In the immortal words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Yes, of course she was wrong on Iraq and that is shameful. But, enough. She was properly castigated by losing the 2008 election. Her dexterity in reaching out to the Black Lives Matter movement is in stark contrast to her husband’s crime policies and even if her path there has been crooked, what matters most is that she has arrived.
And, truly, haven’t we all made mistakes?
For fun, let me tell you about some of my mistakes. I bought stock in Washington Mutual Bank literally months before it crashed. Lesson: don’t be easily lured by what appears to be extremely high dividends. I started a company once with 50-50 ownership that turned disastrous when each of us disagreed about the direction and neither of us had the power to shift. My clients have benefited greatly from the wisdom I gained in that experience. I took a job on a campaign for congress after a telephone interview. The campaign ended up being a total blowout, but I had already packed up my life and moved to California. Lesson: always demand an in-person interview.
I’ve pushed people away who I have later wished were closer; I’ve kept others near even though our commonalities had faded; I’ve bought cheap things and wished I had spent more for quality; I’ve bought expensive things and realized I paid more for brand than for quality; I’ve skimmed when I should have read; and I’ve read when I should have skimmed.
Or as my Grandpa has always said, “we get too soon old and too late smart.” But we learn, we change and we grow on that crooked path of life. Critics may point out that my personal mistakes are not on the magnitude of Hillary’s mistakes and yet that misses this point. From mistakes, we gain judgment. And finally, as this relates to Hillary, I would paraphrase a great philosopher from my youth: let those of us who have never been wrong throw the first stone.
I’m Crooked and I’m with Her.
Apparently there are some in the world who have never been wrong; who are certain that bankers are evil rather than other human beings wishing to thrive as well; who believe we should erect trade barriers as if people outside of our borders are lesser beings undeserving of participation in the global market; who believe policies can be enacted unilaterally; and who want a savior who is pure. One time South Park featured these people.
This group largely doesn’t feel as crooked as the rest of us in the Democratic coalition. The white picket fence life has always been promised to the vast majority of them. But we need them. And in fairness, that all of us who are crooked may thrive has largely been their vision too. But they are wrong on this election.
One day a graduate student will write a thesis about the parallels between Trump and Sanders. Both campaigns attracted throngs to huge and yuuuge rallies. Both campaigns relied on the fear of boogie men (Brown People or Banks). Both campaigns relied on narratives of pastoral white life that supposedly existed in this country before all of us crooked people. Trump, overtly, of course with the slogan of Make America Great Again. Sanders by painting a picture of a country ruined by free trade as well and harkening back to better days. The original of this gauzy Sander’s campaign video with the music of Simon & Garfunkel’s America (released in April 1968 before the assassinations of RFK or MLK) is exemplar of the campaign’s authentic tone.
In short, both campaigns are afraid of the future.
Where can those us of excited about the future go? A politician with more natural gifts might summon those impulses and remind to us: Don’t Stop thinking about tomorrow. But our candidate got to her nomination following a crooked and winding life path. Perhaps it’s better for us to accept that, like us, she is crooked and a better campaign song would be J. Cole’s Crooked Smile (Released 2013):
A perfect smile is more appealing but it’s funny how
My shit is crooked look at how far I done got without it
I keep my twisted grill, just to show them kids it’s real
We ain’t picture perfect but we worth the picture still
And, later in the song and pertinent to Hillary herself:
Take it from a man that loves what you got
And baby girl you’re a star, don’t let ’em tell you you’re not
Now is it real? Eyebrows, fingernails, hair
Is it real? if it’s not, girl you don’t care
Cause what’s real is something that the eyes can’t see
That the hands can’t touch
That them broads can’t be, and that’s you
Never let ’em see you frown
And if you need a friend to pick you up, I’ll be around
And we can ride with the windows down, the music loud
I can tell you ain’t laughed in a while
But I wanna see that crooked smile.
I’m Crooked and I’m with Her.
Los Angeles, California
** Special thanks to a lively conversation with Jean Picker Firstenberg at a Dodgers game where I began to formulate some of these ideas.