It was doubly fitting that Hillary Clinton should grab a much-needed ball of flame from Ellen "Yep, I'm Gay" DeGeneres, who made a surprise big-screen appearance onstage yesterday evening during Hillary's fundraiser rally at George Washington University here in D.C. ($200,000 raised, mostly at $25 a pop).
First: It was 1997, after all, at the height of the Bill Clinton presidency, when Ellen came out publicly as a lesbian. Second: Fitting because the audience tonight was packed with gay Hillary supporters. (How do I know? I just do.)
I'll spare you a long, tortured "Wizard of Oz" analogy ("Pay no attention to that lesbian behind the curtain!"), but the scene just evoked it symbolically and visually, with little Dorothy/Hillary (she is tiny!) bravely imploring the Great and Powerful Oz/Ellen to help send her "home" (back to Kansas/back to the White House)...
Ellen's joking "tough question" to Hillary was whether Hillary would promise to ban glitter. I would advise quite the contrary: Hillary needs to throw gobs of it around the stage when she debates Barack tonight. Glitter, or fairy dust, or do some ruby-slipper heel-clicking ... something ... because Barack's got the poppies ready ...
This event was clearly intended to gain Hillary some youthful new supporters, and including this unexpected Ellen DeGeneres Show satellite taping was quite smart in that GWU was likely buzzing after the rally with students who went home to their dorms and said, "We're going to be on Ellen tomorrow, you guys! I was there! Look for me!"
It was cool. And just in the nick of time, too.
I got there at 4:55, and waited about half an hour in line. Someone (police? Hillary organizers?) unfairly split the line and sent the back half up to the front to form a second line. I just jumped out of my half and joined the stream of cut-takers. Then my friend Will jumped out of a cab in front of Lisner Auditorium and joined me, thus also taking cuts. Lyndon LaRouche's (young!) acolytes were there singing something against the backdrop of an anti-Michael Bloomberg (??) banner. Three anti-Hillary supporters were listlessly stationed across the street with two posters ("Hell No, Hillary").
We got in pretty fast, then sat for about an hour and watched the rakish Jake Tapper floating somehow in front of the ABC News camera above a stairwell to our left, bathed in light, being prepped and BlackBerrying.
At one point Will (who is a diehard Hillary supporter) admitted, "Hillary's kids aren't as cool as Barack's." I started to ask what he meant, but he just pointed at the stage where, as "A Change Would Do You Good" by Sheryl Crow played, the two bleachers full of students were ... undulating, I guess? In the way that people who can't dance undulate. The kid holding the preposterous sign "Our Generation, Our Candidate: Hillary" was looking down at his sign in seeming bafflement.
Hillary took the stage exactly half an hour late (not too bad) with Ed Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania, who gave her a froggy-voiced, rousing intro geared toward pointing out that he hoped his state would be in the bag for Hillary by this time in two weeks.
We were sitting with Will's friend David and David's friend Michael. Michael kept yelling supportive things out while Hillary talked, but she seemed to knowingly welcome the (jarring, to my ears three feet away) interruptions, each of which led the crowd to start cheering again and broke up what would otherwise be just a lecture.
Even in small ways Hillary knows how to manage expectations, even in a rally. She promised to talk for "a few minutes," and I feared this would truly be just a drive-by/rip-off, but she talked for at least 40 minutes (including the Ellen exchange), and stayed for another good 20 minutes signing autographs and shaking hands. She had also begun by pulling out a folded sheet of paper, and I thought, "Oh, no..." but a moment later she put it back in her pocket.
While there were lots of applause lines, her biggest moment centered around something this crowd cared about foremost: Making college affordable. She told how when she went to law school, she worked, but also took out a loan at 2% interest (the crowd gasped), and gradually paid it back. She wants to make it easy like that again, and let people work off their loans through service, etc.
I like it when she tells stories. She also needed to grab someone from the audience and talk to them, as Bill would have done. But she's too careful for that. As someone in my row said, "She's connecting with the crowd, but through someone else (Ellen)."
Indeed, the entire Ellen thing was completely scripted, you could tell. But I will forgive that because the overall effect was one of a delightful surprise. We need some more fun surprises like this from the Clinton campaign. At the debate last week, I kept waiting for her to go all ninja on Barack, to say things that would make me, a tough debate-watching customer, get excited. To surprise me. But she just harped again on Barack's supposed 15 million uninsured under his health insurance plan.
I liked what I saw of Hillary tonight, she was poised and smooth, a real pro, as expected. But she really needs to display all her courage, brains and heart for the Ohio debate. The hourglass is running out fast.
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